Even by the substantially chequered years of yore that have witnessed player revolts, match and spot fixing scandals, brawls between team members and ball tampering accusations, the last five years have been the darkest for Pakistan cricket. Since the March 3, 2009, attack on the Sri Lankan team outside its headquarters in Lahore, international cricket has remained off-limits for Pakistan despite being one of the leading members of the International Cricket Council (ICC). While the ICC and leading teams continue to shun travel to Pakistan, there are a few passionate cricketers and fans of the mercurial cricket-loving nation who are still willing to undertake the ‘risk’ to travel to cities like Karachi and Lahore and remind the world of Pakistan’s potential.
The Wounded Tiger XI cricket team comprising of British journalists, businessmen and university professors lost all the matches during the tour. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN
The Wounded Tiger XI batsmen confront the experienced Karachi Gymkhana bowlers. PHOTOS : ATHAR KHAN
Peter Oborne, journalist and author of The Wounded Tiger — which recaps the history of Pakistan cricket — recently took it upon himself to paint an accurate picture of the sport in the country. During his latest trip, he brought with him a team of veteran journalists, businessmen and university professors on a 10-day cricket tour of Karachi and Lahore, aptly naming the team ‘Wounded Tiger XI’.
While on field the team was bowled out repeatedly by the brilliant opposing teams, off the field it was the traditional Pakistani hospitality that bowled them over. “We have been extremely well received in both Lahore and Karachi. We lost all seven games against some good opposition but the tour has been a great success,” says Oborne, insisting that international cricket needs to return to Pakistan at the earliest. “The upside for the cricket board these days is that they have a capable and top quality diplomat Shaharyar Khan heading them. He was the force behind the Indian tour in 2004 and certainly has the pedigree to do the needful again.” According to Oborne, the country’s cricketing achievements and the emergence of talent from the depths of despair is simply remarkable. He cites the example of spinner Tauseef Ahmed, who turns up to bowl in the nets and practice with the players and then goes on to play a test match the next day. “One gets transfixed in recounting these accounts,” he says. “Cricket in this part of the world is magical, and there is no other way to put it.”
Players from The Wounded Tiger XI strategise before the start of their innings in a friendly match at the historic Karachi Gymkhana. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN
Charles Alexandar, a contributor for The Wounded Tiger. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN
Oborne has always been awestruck by the abundance of cricket talent in the country. From his early days he was captivated by the brilliance of star batsmen like Hanif Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad and the all-rounding capabilities of his old friend Imran Khan. “Some of the great names of the game have been brought up in the environs of Pakistan cricket,” he adds, also mentioning more contemporary players such as Inzamamul Haq, Misbahul Haq and Younis Khan who have contributed to the game with their skill and craft. “Misbah is a hero. He deserves great accolades for his captaincy and the fact that in such turbulent times for the country and the game he has led from the front with such determination,” he says, adding that the world should acknowledge his achievements and give him the credit he rightly deserves.
The author of The Wounded Tiger Peter Oborne. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN
The Wounded Tiger project also attracted businessman and cricket enthusiast Charles Alexander, who was also one of the contributors for the book. “During my work for The Wounded Tiger, I visited Pakistan and realised that cricket was deeply embedded in the culture here and that feeling has re-emerged as we play here,” he says, adding that the tour was all about developing and nurturing friendships. He believes that resuming Indo-Pak cricket — a rivalry bigger than the Ashes (a Test cricket series played between England and Australia) — can improve the game further.
Richard Heller, also a contributor for The Wounded Tiger, has great hopes from the tour — especially after they made an appearance at the historic Karachi Gymkhana ground. “This is the venue where the newly-born Pakistan defeated the Marylebone Cricket Club and earned their due by getting the Test status shortly afterwards,” he says, hoping that their tour to Karachi, especially here at the Gymkhana, is effective in paving way for the return of top-level cricket in the country. Echoing his expectations, Oborne, who is confident about the resilience of Pakistan cricket, adds, “Throughout their history Pakistani players have shown great courage to come back despite some deep-seated controversies and intrigues and due to their efforts cricket is still alive and kicking here.” One hopes that the Pakistan Cricket Board builds on this humbling gesture by the Wounded Tiger XI and makes an equal effort to put this cricket-deprived nation back on the pitch.
Emmad Hameed is an editorial consultant at The Express Tribune. He tweets @Emmad81
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 30th, 2014.