Bad news comes in battalions. There was the death of Shakoor Rana, one of the most famous Test umpires in the world, for the wrong reasons. He was, of course, the umpire who was involved in the finger-wagging incident with Mike Gatting in Faisalabad in November 1987.
I do not wish to dwell on the incident except to say that I was present at Faisalabad and was doing the television commentary and was on the air when the incident took place. There is no doubt in my mind who was at fault and it wasn't Shakoor Rana.
I counted Shakoor Rana as a friend and whenever I was at the Gaddafi Stadium, he would come up to the commentary box and we would talk of many things and I would pull his leg and tell him that I bring greetings from Gatting. He would laugh and say something (unprintable) in Punjabi. It is that laugh, that cheerfulness that I will miss. My deepest sympathies to his family and to his brothers Shafqat, Azmat and Sultan, all three first class cricketers and very decent human beings.
Then, I learnt with consternation that Farooq Mazhar is seriously unwell and is awaiting results for suspected lung cancer. Farooq is one of the senior-most sports journalists and though his forte is hockey, he has been very much a part of the cricket scene. He went as media manager of the Pakistan cricket team to New Zealand and carried out his duties to the best of his ability, never revealing to the team management how seriously ill he was.
I rang up Imran Khan to tell him about Farooq and he told me that he had heard and had already alerted his Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. He had followed that up by telephoning Farooq.
Farooq told me that he had been touched by Imran's phone call, which was so typical of this very decent man. Nur Khan and Wasim Bari have also telephoned him, as has the PCB. I am very concerned about him. He has been very close to me but he's a tough character. He will "rage, rage against the dying of the light". Hang in there, old friend. Our prayers are for you, mine and your countless friends.
On a more cheerful note, Pakistan is looking good at Sharjah. When a team is fielding as well as Pakistan is, it is a sign of a happy team. The body-language of the players shows this. They are, obviously, enjoying their cricket. The choice of Waqar Younis as captain for Pakistan's tour of England is an excellent one.
I remember Imran telling me that Waqar was captain-material. "He's mentally tough and will lead from the front", he had said.
I respect Imran's judgement about players and my mind goes back to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1992. Even before the team had left Pakistan he had openly said that Pakistan would win the World Cup and one of the players who would play a major role was Inzamam-ul- Haq. At that time, I had actually never seen him play. He told Inzamam that no matter what, he would play every match. I used to spend a lot of time with Imran and we would have long sessions, more often than not, have dinner together. He was absolutely convinced that Inzamam had it in him to become the world's best batsman and he shouldn't be "messed around with". How right he has proved to be.
Inzamam would walk into any Test or one-day team in the world and this includes Australia and I would almost say the same about Abdur Razzaq and I see him as a future Pakistan captain. Nothing seems to faze him and he has the same "ice-man" quality as Steve Waugh.
Lt-Gen Tauqir Zia has done some blunt talking in Sharjah and I am glad that he has not minced his words: "Why can't the ICC take a leaf out of FIFA's book and use necessary sanctions and isolations to make countries play each other?" he asks. The reference was to India's refusal to play against Pakistan.
The answer is that the ICC is a paper-tiger. Even when one joins a social club, one has to adhere by the rules of the club. A member cannot be selective about the rules. Tournaments played at non-regular venues have the approval of the ICC. I really don't know which is a regular venue and which is not.
Besides, it seems elementary that a non-regular venue will only become regular if it hosts tournaments. To make a distinction between regular and no-regular venues is to turn your back on the ICC's own plan of globalising cricket. It's not just a case of the right hand not knowing what the left-hand is doing. It's case of the right hand not knowing that there is a left-hand!
The final at Sharjah on Friday promises to be a cracker of a final. Pakistan is looking very good but Sri Lanka, though beaten twice by Pakistan is no push-over. No team that has Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan in it can be one.
One of the finalists could have been India and I am wondering whether there is any regret among the Indian players that they will be watching the final on television. For the sake of their own cricket, if not Asian cricket, they should have been at Sharjah.
But Pakistan will have its hands full and winning the final is the task that lies ahead. Pakistan go into the final unbeaten but it must not forget that every match is a new match and what has gone before has no relevance. That's the beauty of cricket.
When the two captains go out to toss, all past triumphs and sorrows are forgotten. Both teams will start on level terms, a fact that will not be lost on the fans who will jam-pack the Sharjah Stadium and will start, not one but two carnivals as competitive as the two teams slugging it out on the field of play.