Pakistan – what a place! It’s a country that, to state the glaringly obvious, absolutely adores its cricket but has so much more to offer besides. Culturally the obsession with cricket is relatively recent when one considers that the country’s first test was played against neighbours, India, in 1952, 4 years or so after partition. Compare that with the immense, colourful history of the region and you can understand why off the field there are so many extraordinary places to visit.
I came back to Pakistan for the first time since the start of the century for a trip to the mountains above Shogran and then for tv work on the PSL in Karachi and Lahore, plus a spell in Islamabad for PTV Sports over the T20 World Cup in 2021. Covid and security bubbles sadly restricted the opportunities to get out and explore but the welcome and the hospitality were extraordinary.
2022 eventually saw England playing T20is and test matches for the first time in Pakistan for 17 years and making amends for withdrawing from their scheduled very short visit of the previous year.
The T20 tour seemed to be stage managed beautifully with the 2 teams at 3-3 before the final match in Lahore, England finishing in style to take the series. The 7 matches had been enthusiastically attended with full houses in the 2 cities used and the cricket had seen enough ebbs and flows to make it great entertainment.
The big question at the start of the 3 test tour in December was whether the ultra positive style adopted by Ben Stokes’s side in the English summer (Bazball, if you insist!) would work in Pakistan, where the Australians had played a largely attritional series at the start of the year.
The answer came emphatically in the first day of the first test in Rawalpindi, where England finished the day on a mere 506-4, denied the chance to post the most runs in a day of test cricket ever only by fading light. Admittedly it was the flattest of pitches, described in the current vernacular as a “road”. I have issues with that term!
It presupposes a perfect, flat surface as in a newly made tarmac road, but whether you are in the lanes of Hampshire or negotiating the traffic in the cities of Pakistan it is more the potholes and obstructions that spring to mind. There were none in ‘Pindi!
Even then forcing a result was not going to be easy. It took a marvellously open declaration that gave England time to extract the 10 wickets required but also time for Pakistan if they batted well to reach a target of 343, which at times seemed possible. In the end the biggest worry for England was fading light but victory came with 10 minutes or so to spare.
Multan was another close run affair with Pakistan looking more competitive by the inclusion of mystery spinner, Abrar Ahmed, but 2-0 to England it was and, after a long history of England struggling to win even the odd test in Pakistan, let alone a series, the chance was there for a clean sweep.
It was achieved emphatically in Karachi, where Harry Brook made his third century of the series, finishing with a tally of 468. In so doing he broke the record for an England batsman in a series in Pakistan set in 1984 by a young lad named Gower! We could argue whether my battles with Abdul Qadir were more testing than his dismissing of Abrar but he was simply brilliant in this series and is very much one for the future and a long future at that.
Another landmark was the debut of Rehan Ahmed, 18 years old, who became the youngest ever England test cricketer and then marked his debut with the outstanding figures of 5-48 in Pakistan’s 2nd innings.
England’s cricket since the accession of Stokes and McCullum has been breathtakingly exciting and with the emergence of these young players on this tour of Pakistan the biggest problem in the future will be fitting everyone in!
New Zealand comes next, a very different environment, and even though the home side will be hoping to avenge the thrashing doled out by England last summer and to make the most of home conditions they will have to play mighty well to halt the England juggernaut.
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