As we plan our tours to Pakistan for the cricket later this year, our ambassador David Gower gives us his point of view of what a tour in Pakistan is like. After spending a lot of time in the country over the last year we think he gives us a great overview of what we can expect when we visit.
"Pakistan is very much open for business, especially if that business is cricket. After years of having to use the UAE for its “home” games, for the last couple of years both domestic and international cricket has come back to Pakistan and the enthusiasm for the game in that part of the world is as vibrant as ever.
It helps that Pakistan now has some of the leading players in the world to call their own; Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are two of the finest batsmen around in all formats and Shaheen Shah Afridi is right up there amongst the best of the fast bowlers. There is some outstanding talent there and many other names that have already excited that vast army of Pakistani cricket fans.
In the last year, I have spent several months working in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi on both the PSL (Pakistan Super League) and in the studios of PTV Sport for the World T20.
The PSL is Pakistan’s equivalent of neighbour, India’s, IPL. IPL is still the bigger deal, entirely down to the major clout wielded by the BCCI and the enormous market that supports it with massive sums for TV rights and a fabulous wealth of advertising and sponsorship. PSL is doing its best to catch up and is making huge progress.
It attracts a number of international stars to complement that wealth of homegrown talent and has been able to allow more and more fans into the stadiums to enjoy the live spectacle as the threat of Covid has retreated. This year’s PSL Final in Lahore saw a capacity crowd and the atmosphere was mind-blowing all evening, building to an extraordinary climax when the home team, Lahore Qalandars, emerged as winners. With things opening up further the hope is to be able to take PSL back to all the centres that host teams rather than just focusing on Lahore and Karachi, the two main centres, where the issues of Covid and security have been easier to control.
My recent experiences in Pakistan have been marked by the sheer friendliness of all. They are so appreciative of anyone who comes to the country to support them and their cricket. It might help if you once captained England and have spent twenty odd years working on international cricket for Sky but I promise you all are welcome!
For anyone thinking about visiting later this year either for the T20 series that precedes the next World T20 (in Australia) or the 3 tests that are scheduled for late November into December I can assure you that you will indeed be made most welcome, as were the Australians, both the players and the accompanying media, who were there earlier in the year and were happily amazed at how well they were looked after.
What can we all expect? Firstly the cricket is on a high at the moment with those great players mentioned earlier leading a very strong team so any touring side will have its work cut out to compete. The pitches for that series against Australia were largely batsman friendly so the points of difference were firstly reverse swing and then spin. Even if runs might appear to be the order of the day, one good/bad session can swing a game and the likelihood is that all the matches will go the distance. So plenty of cricket to watch!
The accommodation in the big cities is high class. For PSL we were guests at the Avari hotels in Karachi and Lahore, to be honest more 4 star than 5, on the grounds that the rooms were fine but not outstanding, but in both hotels the staff were worthy of 5 stars for willingness to help. In both cities there are plenty of other very comfortable options too.
During my month in Islamabad for PTV Sports I was at the Serena, a real 5-star affair, with great amenities and a selection of restaurants from which to choose, highlighting that Pakistan is a truly vast country, with a number of countries or regions within the greater nation that all have their own cuisines and specialities. A word of advice; when in Karachi it’s probably best to praise the local food as the best in the country and, likewise, when in Lahore adopt the same tactic. I think it’s called diplomacy but be aware that both in cricket and cooking the rivalries extend across the nation!
In between the matches, there will be time to explore the broader country and culture of Pakistan. There is a long and proud history to examine and much besides.
Unfortunately for me during my forays into broadcasting our stays have been very restricted mainly due to Covid and partly down to security demands. Covid is now much better understood and for broadcasters and players any incidence is taken seriously and protocols obeyed to minimise the spread. I was unlucky and lucky in Lahore; I took my turn to catch it but suffered the mildest of symptoms, with boredom the worst part of 5 days isolation in my hotel room. A few vitamin pills and lots of French drama (Spiral, Le Bureau, Call My Agent) on Netflix and I was back in the commentary box for the PSL Final and free to fly two days later.
The irony was that after a month of the bubble we were feted at a fabulous party at the home of one of the owners of the production company. The only problem was that the airport beckoned that night and we had to abandon said party far too early!
As for security, the most common question I get asked is “Is it safe?” Routinely for players and broadcasters alike there has been a lot of protection with police and army in attendance. The norm has been police escorts to the grounds but at no stage have I felt any threat and the big advantage of that is that they clear all the traffic out of the way and thus the journeys back and forth became much speedier. In all honesty, I feel no less safe in Lahore than I do in London but in both cities, one would say that there are places you might prefer to avoid!
Days off were rare because of the broadcast schedules but during my time at PTV in Islamabad we had a break before the semi-finals of the World T20. One of my colleagues, the lovely Sana Mir, a former captain of the Pakistan Women’s team, offered to take us out and we simply hopped in the car with her and drove down to the heritage site of Taxila, where the oldest ruins date back as far as 1000 years BC, and via which you can trace the many dynastical influences that have shaped Pakistan over the centuries.
On the way back we stopped off at Khanpur Dam, parked up by the lake, watched the sheep do what sheep do and the day trippers do what day trippers do while eating oranges bought from the roadside. It was so peaceful, so chilled and a welcome release from the city and hotel life.
Back in Islamabad, it was time to hit the shops and pick up some of the most beautiful pashminas around - and grab a burger (not from any international branded chain, I hasten to add!). Again, I emphasise it was all totally relaxed and friendly – the only thing to be aware of, as is always the case anywhere in the subcontinent, is to negotiate on any price before handing over the money. There is always a deal to be done!
Pakistan has so much to offer. Cricket is most likely the most unifying factor in the country after Islam so anyone visiting for the cricket will be warmly embraced. Come and join us!"
If you would like more information about our Pakistan Tours contact the team and be the first to know when tours are released.
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