PC Tin Tin's blog
Pakistan memories - Why I can't wait for Pakistan to host Test cricket again
With the England team already out training in the UAE, I have to say I'm not exactly counting down the days until my arrival in Dubai with bubbling anticipation. This will be my second tour to watch England play Pakistan and I have little hope that this time will match up in any way to my experiences in Faisalabad and Lahore in 2005.
Dubai may have its fair share of Michelin star restaurateurs but there's little authenticity; not for the faint-hearted, Lahore's gastronomic scene offers freshly curried testicles, brains, liver, kidney and tripe. We bravely chowed down but had forgotten that finishing our portions would cause offence: cue more portions of sheep's stomach placed in front of us. There was no getting lost amid malls and hotels: Lahore boasts Food Street One and Food Street Two and you could order the entire menu, including ice cream, for under £1.
Unlike the notorious 'welcoming hospitality' of Dubai, in Pakistan we were treated like kings. Children and adults alike followed us enthusiastically, Pied Piper style, so unused were they to foreign visitors. The innocence of this made it feel much less of a hassle than when the same thing happens in India. We watched the Lahore Test match from inside the scoreboard with a cracking view and were then invited to a lavish traditional wedding. On top of that, we were welcomed to the PCB box as guests for an afternoon. Now it wasn't exactly the pavilion at Lord's, but the sentiment was appreciated!
Given this tour came so soon after the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London, security was tight and the 30 or so travelling England supporters in Faisalabad were seated in the women's stand for our own safety. Perhaps surprisingly the women around us passed notes written on paper aeroplanes – they seemed fascinated by us and the chance to communicate with men on their own terms – and their gentle questions about our names and occupations were very endearing.
Lahore may not be known as a sightseeing hotspot: beyond Zamzama the most memorable sight may have been the family of eight balanced precariously on one scooter on their way to the Wagha border crossing with India. Cotton mill town Faisalabad, on the other hand, was historically known as the Manchester of the subcontinent: lack of culture, absence of decent beer, shabby test stadium and choking industrial smog? Sounds about right.
Talking of beer, in order to acquire any I had to register as alcoholic, which would entitle me to a monthly alcohol quota. We were then sent to a hotel to collect our Heineken cans, only to discover that if we hadn't registered we could have just got it all on the black market round the back door for half the price. The official policy of providing alcoholics with more alcohol is certainly a novel one. Officialdom in general was a little less intimidating than I'm expecting in Dubai: the extra security guards positioned at our hotels were fast asleep, heads resting on Kalashnikovs, by the time we made it home each evening.
There are some things I'm hoping won't be the same once the cricket starts: a repeat of England's batting collapse in Lahore is not to be desired, for one. And given the strictness of anti-homosexuality laws it would be a good thing if there was no repeat of Matty Hoggard playing Billy's trumpet in the International Journalists' Club – the euphemism alone could easily result in jail terms!
So the alternative I and other UAE tourists are facing is a culturally void, sterile and artificial environment that will sadly attract the least intrepid of England supporters. And although Ian Botham quipped that Pakistan was a great place to take your mother-in-law, my own view is that, as no one else in history has ever said, the sooner we get back to Pakistan, the better.