In Pakistan, cricket is a part our lives – from my 81-year-old grandfather to my seven-year-old brother Saad, cricket is indispensable.
It was different in my childhood, when Ainak wala jinn was my favourite television show, which also sowed the seeds of my interest in cricket. My uncle used to record cricket matches on his VCR and one day he asked me to do the recording for him while he was at work. I didn't want to sit in front of the TV for seven hours for a cricket match, but he made an offer I found hard to resist: one rupee for every match and re-runs of older episodes of my favourite show. The first tournament I recorded was the 1995-96 Singer Cup, where Sanath Jayasuriya hammered Waqar Younis and Ata-ur-Rehman (the Mohammad Sami of 1990’s), and made a world record 48-ball-100.
My interest in cricket started building up slowly and the first match I saw as a fan was the Pakistan-India quarterfinal of the 1996 World Cup. It was the beginning of a craze. I remember once we couldn't find Shahid Afridi's record-breaking innings (37-ball 100) and then somehow I found it for four times the money. I didn’t hesitate and watched that Afridi innings with the entire neighbourhood. A few months later, I started waking up early for the World Series in Australia (1996-97). I was a real cricket fan by then but the match which forced me to pick up the ball was Pakistan vs India at Madras (now Chennai) in 1997, where Saeed Anwar played one of the all-time best ODI innings.
In the beginning, my favourite players were Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram and Moin Khan. I started my cricket career as a wicketkeeper-batsman in our gully (where my highest score is 616). One day I dropped a catch, and the following day my captain dropped me. That’s when I decided to forget about wicket-keeping and switched my priority to fast bowling. I started off by copying Wasim (Akram) bhai's action and run up. I picked up the action really quickly, but I couldn’t bowl fast.
Then came the Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) and I started copying his action. I could bowl very fast with his action at that time and I was also a huge fan of New Zealand's Geoff Allot (WC 1999's joint leading wicket-taker with Shane Warne). I was a fourth-grader then and started dreaming about playing for Pakistan, but sadly no one played hard-ball cricket in my village (Sayden/Hattian, Attock), where grounds were not available either. The city was 23 kilometres away from my home and I couldn't afford to travel. I finally got to play hard-ball cricket in college.
On the first day of the college team's trials I picked up a cricket ball for the first time in my life, bowled my first delivery with a 20-yard run-up and it turned out to be a beamer. The second ball was also a beamer. I was trying to bowl as fast as I could. I abandoned the Wasim-bhai approach and tried Daniel Vettori’s action. The third ball wasn't a beamer (thankfully) because I emulated Vettori's action and it was bowled with a four-yard run up. I bowled two overs as a spinner and regained my confidence. With that in the bad, I started bowling a bit fast, with Shane Bond's action because it was working well for me. After bowling eight to ten overs, I was the first bowler to be picked. I played two practice matches but unfortunately developed a shoulder injury. Seven days prior to our first match with Chakwal College, our principal decided to scrap cricket from the college due to financial constraints. We were very upset about this decision and offered our principal Rs. 1,000 per player but he didn't change his decision. Now only hockey, football, volleyball, badminton and athletics are left but very few students are interested in those games. Some of the players from our team, who could afford it, joined cricket clubs. I wanted to play club cricket too, but couldn’t afford it (I would have to spend 100 rupees on the daily commute and travel 30 kilometres). No family support and no college cricket meant the end of my aspirations.
Or so I thought, until 2009, when I saw a poster for the Mobilink Hunt for Heroes trials. My friends encouraged me to participate but I didn't want to because I knew it was near impossible to get through without a good sifarish (recommendation). My friends also told me Wasim bhai was going to be there and that convinced me to give it a shot. I travelled 30 kilometres but Wasim bhai wasn’t there. I guess it was just a rumour. I tried to bowl as fast as I could and ended up delivering two beamers. I somehow managed to get it together and bowled two overs without any more beamers. One ball was recorded in the range of 135 to 140 kph. I was hoping I would get picked because of my speed but again they picked a sifarishi. I gave up my dream of playing for Pakistan that day but continued playing tape-ball cricket.
In January 2010, a friend told me about Twitter. He said there are a lot of cricketers and celebrities on Twitter, where they also interact with fans. I got excited and joined. My first tweet was to Lalil Modi: “thanks for allowing Pak players to play in IPL.”
He replied saying: “We're happy to have Pak players in IPL hopefully now it will become more popular in Pakistan.”
Come the IPL auction, no Pakistani players were selected. The next day I gave him a piece of my mind and he blocked me. I didn't use twitter much after that until Pakistan's tour of England. Then the spot-fixing controversy happened. Those days were so tough.
In Sept 2010, Pakistan's domestic Twenty20 tournament wasn't being shown live on PTV so I had to travel for 25 km to watch those matches as we didn't have cable television in our village. Sana Kazmi noticed my tweet and suggested I watch it online but how could I watch it online on a 50-kps internet connection?
Last year, I got myself a six-inch television, which I used during load-shedding hours. Whenever the electricity is off, I carry my handy TV and take it to a nearby cell-phone tower to watch cricket (being shown on state TV). I have also bought a new generator, which I use when the match is not being broadcast on PTV. I collect money from my neighbours and friends to buy fuel, and then we all watch the match together.
I remember watching the 2009 World Twenty20 final with the entire village on a 14-inch TV at a roadside hotel, where everyone gathered because of the load-shedding but it turned out to be great because it felt like we were watching it in the stadium. The people of my village are mad about cricket, especially when it comes to Shahid Afridi (aka Lala). The hotel was absolutely packed with people but when they asked the owner, Fiyyaz bahi, for dinner and tea, he told them nothing was available until Afridi was batting! After Pakistan's win, Fiyyaz bahi gave everyone free doodh patti (tea). It was an unforgettable night for me and for the people of my village, who are crazy about Afridi.
We launched #SaveAfridi and #WeWantAfridiBack campaigns when our hero announced retirement from the game. Many of the villagers you see in these photos work on daily wages but when it comes to Pakistan cricket, they are happy to forgo their day’s pay.
I have also watched some of Pakistan's matches at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium (Pakistan-England in 2000, Pakistan-South Africa in 2003, Pakistan-England in 2005 and Pakistan-India in 2006). I remember when my uncle (the VCR guy) and I went to Pindi, which is more than 80 km away from our village, for the Pakistan-England ODI in 2000. We left at 5am without a ticket, hoping we would be able to find tickets at the ground. We only had 300 rupees - our budget was 100 for the bus fare, 100 for 2 tickets and 100 for lunch and dinner. When we reached the stadium, we found out that tickets were only available in black – two for 300. My uncle told me not to worry as there were lots of people who didn't have tickets. The crowds outside the stadium started protesting and the police started baton-charging them away (I got hit a few times as well). My uncle asked a policeman to let us in since we had travelled 80 km for the match but he was a Pakistani policeman after all. He wouldn’t give us a chapair (slap) for free, let alone free entry. So my uncle gave him 150 rupees and he let us in. By the time we entered, 25 overs of the second innings had already been bowled and Pakistan won the one-sided match by 6 wickets, courtesy Saqlain Mushtaq's 5 for 20 in 8 overs.
In 2006-07 Sohail Tanvir (aka Kukri), who was yet to make his debut for Pakistan then, and Mohammad Khalil used to come to the village (Chechi) next to ours for a tape-ball night-cricket tournament for 500 to 1000 rupees per match. I saw all the matches and then, I heard Mohammad Hafeez was coming to Hassan Abdal for night cricket. It was 25 km from my house, so I didn't tell my family and sneaked out to watch the match. If I remember correctly, Hafeez scored a 9-ball-42. When I returned home in the morning, my family was angrily waiting for me. My Abbu, fuming at me, asked me in unrepeatable words where I had been. When I told him, he gave me a tight slap on my face and enforced an 8pm curfew. I haven't seen a night match live since that night.
I was relieved that he didn’t stop me from playing cricket. I love my cricket and I don't care if I'm playing tape-ball cricket. In 2007, I played a three-match series against a team from another mohalla (neighbourhood). The winner's prize was two 1.5 litre-bottles of soda and a 300-rupee bat. We lost the first match from a winning position and I was really upset. Then someone from the crowd told me that five players from my team under-performed after taking 20 rupees each from the other team. I was furious. I kicked those players out of the team and asked the other side to let me play with six players only, allowing me to bowl all eight overs and my other five players to bat twice. They agreed happily because it would give them a five-man advantage. I won the toss and elected to bowl first, thinking whatever the target may be, we’d get there. I bowled them out for just 43 runs in 6.1 overs and we chased the target in 7.3 overs. In the final again they only managed to get 49 and we won by 2 wickets - I was the top scorer with 29 in 4 innings and we won the series 2-1. That Sunday was one of the best cricketing days of my life.
Recently when the trio were sent to jail I was very depressed, especially for Mohammad Amir, who I was following crazily. His success convinced me to play club cricket again. I thought if I have the talent, I may go to the highest level and try to convince my Abbu to let me become a cricketer. But that dream is all finished after the spot-fixing incident. I cried a lot for Amir. I have the number 90 written on my Pakistan World Cup jersey and I'm hopeful of his return to international cricket. I don't care what others say. Yes, he made a mistake, but he deserves another chance and Insha'Allah he'll back.
Me, I don't think I can live without cricket, be it playing or watching. I have almost 25 to 30 editions of monthly Cricketer (Urdu) and I used to buy an Urdu daily until 2008, when I got my computer and internet. I have all the copies of the paper from October 2005 to December 2007. I also have a big poster of the Pakistan World T20 winning team in my room.
The author is the craziest cricket fan you have never met from a village near Attock, who has been blocked by his favourite commentator.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.