Barmy Andy's blog

Pakistan memories: An absolute gem of a country to tour

Whenever you hear anyone say "When do you think we will tour Pakistan again?" the standard response is "not in my lifetime". For those of us lucky to have toured there this usually followed by a sinking feeling of disappointment for the loss off the cricketing calendar of what was an absolute gem of a country to tour.

Now most cricket fans of my acquaintance, particularly those yet to sally forth to foreign fields, are nonplussed by my ongoing yearn to return to Pakistan but I know I'm not the only one that wishes this broken country could overcome its myriad of problems to once more play host to the England Cricket team and its loyal band of supporters.

So why is Pakistan so special? To try and explain I'm going to share some memories of the 2nd Test in Faisalabad as, though the match ended a draw, my stay in the “Manchester of Pakistan” was packed with incident, tragedy and was an experience I will never forget.

Back in 2005 I set off in mid November for England's tour with high hopes of seeing my first away series win on the back of that momentous Ashes summer. Work commitments meant that I couldn't make the 1st Test in Multan and following that Test from home I witnessed a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory chasing a small total (why do we go one nil down so often?). This was my second venture onto the sub-continent after Sri Lanka in 2003 but that was only a gentle introduction to the sights and sounds of this part of the world.

Having made use of my Police connections, I arrived into Islamabad accompanied by my companion Daz confidently expecting us to be met and escorted to our hotel by a local high ranking Police officer. However instead of seeing a man in uniform with a sign saying “Welcome to Pakistan, Mr Andrew Thompson”, I discovered that my contact had been called away urgently to suppress an uprising or some other crisis. Taking this in our stride and after a few enquiries we jumped into a battered taxi. The driver promptly reversed, accidentally, into the car behind, drove off without stopping and then took us on a hair raising drive to the Rawalpindi bus station. There we booked onto the Daewoo bus to Faisalabad and within the hour were off. Welcome to Pakistan indeed!

During a rest stop on the country's single motorway where we tucked into our first taste of the nation's excellent street food, a middle aged and smartly dressed gentleman, approached us, and in impeccable English said “Excuse me, but are you members of the famous Barmy Army?” When we responded in the positive he introduced himself as Raza, Radio Pakistan's English Language radio commentator and promptly invited us to lunch on Day 2 in the commentary box! Would that happen in Melbourne?

We arrived into Faisalabad and after rejecting our chosen hotel on the grounds that we didn't want to share a double bed, we linked up with fellow Barmies Katy Cooke and Nicky ‘Bagpuss' King and made arrangements to check in to their hotel, the Sandal Bar.

We then went for a wander around the City and for the first time we noticed that every pair of eyes was firmly fixed on us. Eventually a shy young man sidled up to us and asked politely if we were members of the England Cricket Team. After getting over his astonishment when we explained our presence he then invited us to a nearby Dhal* snack bar in order that he could practice his English over a meal. Despite the huge gulf in our respective earnings he insisted on paying (this suited our Daz right down to the ground).

Upon leaving the shop we found a large crowd of curious young lads had been waiting for us to emerge. We then gained an insight into the world of celebrity as, surrounding us, they began bombarding us with questions, asked us for our autographs and then posed with them for mobile phone selfies. They may have been poor but everyone had a phone!

The following day we took a tuctuc (called motor rickshaw here) to the stadium and the second Test began. The local Police, armed with ‘Karachi Kop' 4ft long night sticks and pistols, respectfully ushered us into the women's stand where they obviously thought we (and the women) would be safe. There we found a small band of 150 to 200 English tourists and the usual travel and adventure stories began as old acquaintances were renewed and new ones were begun. The first subject for discussion is usually the quest to find out who is spending the least for their tour with the price of hotel rooms gaining bragging rights for the cheapest. Veterans such as Lindsay and Mad Dog tend to wipe the floor with everyone - in fact I reckon Mark had got his hotel to pay HIM to stay there!

The camaraderie that springs up on these smaller tours is often missing from say an Ashes or a South Africa Tour where self contained groups are in the majority. On these tours no one thinks twice about travelling alone because they know that, even if they haven't communicated since the last tour, the “usual suspects” like Bury Phil, Phil Long and Andy Clark are bound to be there and this gives the tour a certain reassuring feeling of familiarity. Everyone speaks to everyone else with cricket the common denominator. There is a refreshing lack of fancy dress, stag parties and people spending a day at the cricket just to get pissed and build beer snakes.

Day One was memorable for more than one reason first and foremost because we lost one of our own that day. I had only met Robert Padmore the night before when we shared some food and he seemed a thoroughly decent chap. He was spoken of very highly by his tour buddies. Feeling unwell he returned to the hotel during the afternoon session and later that evening collapsed and succumbed to a fatal heart attack. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have had their fair share of stick over the years but they not only ensured that a permanent memorial plaque to Rob was installed in Sandal Bar Hotel before we left the city they continue to commemorate his passing at the commencement of every series since. RIP Rob.

That day I witnessed for the first time the massive hero worship sub continental fans bestow on their heroes. Until Shahid Afridi strode to the crease the stadium had been half full. By the time he had taken guard it seemed the crowd had swelled to near capacity and when he began to smite the ball to all corners, mostly aerially, the excitement was palpable and the noise deafening. And when he got out the following day the stadium emptied even quicker than it filled the night before.

As Pakistan closed in a strong position the crowd began to stream out still in a state of high excitement. The Police ushered us all into the centre of a roundabout outside the stadium whilst the crowd streamed past helped on their way by some injudicious and totally unnecessary swipes of the night sticks. Proper crowd control tactics, that! Some of the crowd obviously felt this was our fault as much to our amusement we heard a distinctly Mancunian twanged Asian voice shout “Why don't you lot just Fuck Off home?”

With no pub to go to, Daz and I wondered what to do next, after all it was only around 5pm, and beginning to get dark. So off we went to the 5 Star Serena Hotel where we tucked into Tea and Cakes instead. We discovered it was the England team hotel and got chatting to their security guys including the boss going by the name of Dougie Dick. “Don't take the piss”, we were told, “He's ex SAS”. We didn't. Later in the tour Dougie was to apologetically have us both thrown out of the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore for an ill advised and failed attempt to infiltrate the huge Pepsi Can wheeled out during the drinks breaks.

Day two match highlights consisted on two major incidents. During a somewhat tedious passage of play with England grinding away at the crease there was a huge explosion over to our right. Obviously the worst was feared and as we watched the Police beating the crowds attempting to flee directly back over the potential crime scene Afridi took his chance and performed two graceful pirouettes on a length at each end in an attempt to rough up the lifeless surface.

Unfortunately for him a few of us including Marcus Trescothick spotted him and drew Messrs Hair and Taufel's attention to the misdeed that ultimately resulted in a ban for ‘Boom Boom'. It actually turned out that a gas canister from a Pepsi Stand had exploded that day but we went though a few anxious minutes.

From that point on Afridi was subject to very special attention from our section. He took objection to this and unceremoniously gave us the finger. This was caught on camera by Aussie Snapper Jason O'Brien. We also later penned an amusing ditty based on “Let's Twist Again” by Little Richard to commemorate the incident.

The following day saw us we skipping a session to go and get our Licences to procure alcohol. After a rigourous interview we left successfully and proceeded to the only outlet in the city, a strong room in the Serena Hotel and loaded up with Murree Lager a local brew produced in Rawlpindi at a brewery built by the British Army during the Raj and still going strong.

It is forbidden to consume alcohol anywhere other than in private so the evenings took on a familiar routine that involved tea and cake in the Serena, back to the Sandal Bar for a few beers in the room, out for a meal then back for a nightcap and an exciting game of Connect 4. Okay it definitely wasn't party central but it meant we respected the local laws and we were treated with respect in return. The girls took care to dress modestly and consequently were hardly bothered unlike in India where unwanted male attention is often the case.

We duly had our lunch with Raza in the commentary box on the pavilion roof next to BBC TMS and ended up playing tennis ball cricket with Arlo White in a break in play. I was also invited into the Police box and shown the “state of the art” stadium CCTV by the proud Chief of Police. By Day 3 we had the run of the stadium having swapped our Bet Fair lanyards and ticket holders for official PCB Lanyards early in the test. Lindsay was also striding round showing everyone his “press pass” which was a business card attached to a leather necklace and getting in everywhere.

The final highlight of the match wasn't the astonishing and dreadful decision by Mr Hair sending Inzamam packing run out by the Harmison after prodding a delivery back at him when he was taking evasive action (shades of Ben Stokes) but the fact we managed to sneak on the outfield during the presentation. We ended standing a few feet from Michael Vaughan and exchanging pleasantries with David ‘Bumble' Lloyd when he whispered to us conspiratorially “fucking security here is shocking”.

Although we christened Faisalabad “the most boring city to tour” in hindsight it wasn't at all, it was just, well, different. Yes it was dirty and dusty and almost dry but the local people were so welcoming, friendly and frankly just pleased to see us more than made up for that. We found some basic but great restaurants and even had a meal in the Serena, which was actually the most disappointing.

We could also tell the team were also grateful for our presence and that must make a difference.

When we got to the much more (and perhaps surprisingly) cosmopolitan Lahore, the numbers of England fans more than doubled. We even had a pub to go to in the form of the Expat International Club as well as lots of different restaurants to try.

We went to the Wagah border and witnessed the amazing gate closing ceremony (check it out on You Tube), went sightseeing and played a Barmy Army match against local team Model Town and all in all had a fantastic time.

This was the tour I met Addis regulars Kenny, Tom and West Ham Mike and was given a strange pink pill covered in fluff from the depths of his wallet by old Dickie Williams that would make me feel “right as rain” when under the weather. It actually worked! But the last word goes to Steve “Wisey” Hale with whom we had an amazing and eye opening (and unprintable) evening in Anarakali Bazar. “Wisey” I enquired, “What's your highlight of the Pakistan Tour, mate?”. Without hesitation he replied “Lisa's thong”.

Barmy Andy

Twitter: @AndyBarmyArmy

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