IT was in 1955 that I watched my first Test ever, here at the National Stadium Karachi against India. As a cricketer and a first-year college student, it was exciting enough sitting on a hill across dressing rooms at the other end, watching the stars of the time of both the home and visiting teams.
Hafeez Kardar and the Indian captain Vinoo Mankad shaking hands and then tossing the coin on a newly built ground and that too built within just two and a half months, primarily due to the efforts of PWD Engineer Kafiluddin Ahmad, was an unforgettable sight.
In the following years, I also had the privilege of being at the ground when the New Zealanders came to Pakistan and also when he first Australian side led by Ian Johnson in 1956 toured. Later, the West Indian team of Gerry Alexander toured in 1958-59 followed by the formidable Australian team led by Richie Benaud when Dwight D Eisenhower — the USA President — was also in attendance.
That was history, indeed, to which I was an eye witness.
The NSK as the venue also holds a special place for me, to have played my last first-class match in Pakistan’s domestic cricket here, signing off with an unbeaten 68 in December 1963 against Karachi Whites which included six Pakistan Test players.
Since then, I went on to witness great feats and deeds including that first Test century ever made on this ground by Alimuddin against India in 1955, a first-ball wicket on debut by Intikhab Alam against Australia, a brilliant century before lunch on the first day of the Test against New Zealand by the ever majestic Majid Khan and a fabulous double century by Javed Miandad in his debut series in the same match.
Now what pleases me most is that on this same ground, Pakistan is playing a Test of a historic series which marks the return of Test cricket in Pakistan after a decade since that tragic incident at Lahore in March 2009 when the Sri Lankan team were attacked by a bunch of terrorists that caused isolation of Pakistan from international cricket.
The Sri Lankans, in that fateful series, was led by great batsman Mahela Jayawardene. In the Karachi Test, it was a high scoring game in which 1,553 runs were scored in all in a drawn game. Both Jayawardene and Samaraweera had made a double century each – 240 and 231 respectively.
For Pakistan, who piled up a massive 765-6 declared, Younis Khan had the lion’s share with his monumental 313. Kamran Akmal also scored a fine 158. Besides that, Faisal Iqbal, Shoaib Malik, and Yasir Hameed all chipped in with half-centuries.
But that is not what I wish to highlight but the goings-on during that Test off the field. Sitting in the press box watching Younis’s fabulous knock, I read on the muted TV set that the government in Punjab has been dismissed and a Governor’s Rule had come into force. I was worried about the fact that the visiting team, which had been provided presidential security after agreeing to come to Pakistan after India and Australia had already backed out, may not have the same security in Lahore for the second Test in view of the political upheaval.
I sounded out then PCB chairman Ijaz Butt, who was present at the National Stadium, that it would be safe to have the second Test in Karachi as well but he wouldn’t listen nor did he seem to have any apprehensions about it. How I wish he had paid heed to my request.
My fears turned out to be true when the visiting Sri Lankans were attacked in Lahore which resulted in deaths and injuries to officials and players. I was an eye witness to that ghastly incident, watching it from behind a wall near the famous Liberty roundabout where I could see the backs of the two gunmen. It was, indeed, a narrow escape for me.
A bit of farsightedness would have helped avoid the horrible scenario. I sometimes fail to understand why those who are the helm do not see things in detail to avoid such incidents. Likewise, I am utterly disappointed that the Pindi Test last week became a kind of non-event except that for the debut century by Abid Ali and Babar Azam’s fluent hundred.
We all know by experience that in December and January at times it becomes impossible to play when fog engulfs the place or even rain for that matter in that region.
It was important that they should have had planned the Test played here at the NSK where the weather is almost guaranteed.
Also, things that bother me are the way the teams are picked to play. Why can’t the coach, the captain, and the selectors see and judge for themselves a pool of talent that Pakistan has and which is wasted owing to likes and dislikes of individuals in the position of authority?
Abid Ali is one example who had been sitting on the bench on the tours without getting a fair chance. Couldn’t those captains and selectors see in him what we as journalists were taking notice of? His hundred has exposed them all.
Fawad Alam is another case in question. Why persist with Haris Sohail who was an abject failure in Australia and was dropped at Adelaide. Why was a part-time all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmad selected for the first Test of the series? We all know how prolific Fawad has been or for that matter how good Sami Aslam and Tabish Khan have been this season and the season before.
It will be a pity if Fawad is left out yet again. For this, the authorities must take a serious note of the way the selection process is being handled.
Whatever be the case, let us give both the teams a big hand for gracing the historic ground for a historic Test which is a massive occasion by all counts for everyone who adores the game of cricket.