Magazine article The Spectator

Cricket Must Return to Pakistan: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Cricket Must Return to Pakistan: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

In a tiny courtyard just off the teeming alleys of Lahore's old town, a young Pakistani boy in a gleaming white shalwar kameez picks up his Adidas cricket bat and proceeds to clout to all corners the plastic ball his pal is chucking down. Behind him on the wall the outline of three stumps is drawn, and the word Out! chalked there, more in hope you feel. In the corner a little schoolroom has emptied out and excited young boys and girls, books in hand, look on, giggling happily.

Is this the new Imran? Almost certainly not, but we are in one of the holy places of Pakistan cricket, and in this troubled but vibrant country, only cricket comes close to Islam as a unifying passion. For near this courtyard is the birthplace of one of the legends of world cricket, the great leg spinner Abdul Qadir. The man himself is now nearly 60, and devotes himself to the cricket academy he runs here in Lahore, one of the great seminaries of the sport in Pakistan.

He is also, happily, willing to turn his arm over and has joined our touring team for a couple of games. The tour has been put together by the distinguished political journalist Peter Oborne, a member of this parish, who has written a mighty history of Pakistan cricket, Wounded Tiger . The book has the status of a secular bible over here and no wonder.

But the fact that the first team to tour Pakistan since the appalling terrorist attack on the Sri Lankans in 2009 is made up, largely, of elderly white blokes from London, is not the least of this great country's sadnesses. The reception for the first major team to play here after the 2009 tragedy would be fantastic. The visiting fans would find the warmest of welcomes, good and very cheap hotels, some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the subcontinent, and a rich and most varied of cultures -- not least of which is the food. …

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