With Pakistan's entertainment starved citizens catching cricketing fever amidst the Independence Cup, another cricket team from the United Kingdom currently visiting Pakistan seems to have so far flown under the radar.
“We are mad about cricket … and since Pakistan was undeservedly isolated, we are making a conscious attempt to bring Pakistan and the cricket world together,” Peter Alan Oborne, a British journalist and broadcaster who captains the Wounded Tiger Cricket Club in United Kingdom, told Dawn.
The cricket team is part of an 18-member group of journalists, lawyers, businessmen and academics aged between 21-62 which is touring Pakistan's with the aim to improve its image as a sporting nation. Of the 18,14 are players, one is an umpire while the rest, including two women, are the organisers.
“We have a clear message for the whole world: You can come and play cricket here. Indeed, it is joyful to play here [in Pakistan],” said Oborne.
On Wednesday, the team played a Twenty20 match with the AJK Prime Minister-XI team in the Chehla Bandi campus of AJK University.
The group had arrived in Muzaffarabad on September 13, on the invitation of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan.
The AJK president had extended the invitation at a function organised at the Pakistan High Commission in London.
The second match, which had to be played on Thursday, had to be cancelled due to heavy rain.
Before Muzaffarabad, the team also played two matches with the Aitchison College team in Lahore and one match against a team from the University of Sargodha.
It will play six more matches in Pakistan.
The members of the visiting team are all praise for Pakistan for its "rich culture, history, hospitality and the standard of sports".
“Pakistan is very different than what people in many parts of the world believe it to be. It has been misrepresented and misunderstood in the world,” says Oborne, who is the associate editor of The Spectator and former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph.
Oborne has written several books. Of them, Wounded Tiger is about the history of cricket in Pakistan, while White On Green — which has been co-authored by Richard Heller — “celebrates the drama of Pakistan cricket.”
He has visited Pakistan a number of times, but it’s the third time since 2014 that he has brought a team to play friendly matches in the country.
It was after the attack on Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 that “we decided to help bring international cricket back to Pakistan,” he said.
“I was quite determined to take a team myself. I dreamt about it and planned the idea for several years, and eventually materialised it in 2014 with the kind courtesy of colleagues in England as well as in Pakistan,” Oborne said.
Alexander Massie, an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and the team’s vice captain, said the tour is "a big learning experience", as all except him and Oborne were visiting Pakistan for the first time.
“It is quite an experience to learn more about the kind of Pakistan you don’t read about in newspapers or see on TV overseas,” he said, adding that it is sad that Pakistan has been in the news more for negative reasons than positive ones.
“But when you come here, you discover there are lots of wonderful things about Pakistan. And that’s what we learnt here: we learnt more about Pakistan’s history, Pakistan’s culture and it's complicated politics,” he said.
“You actually have to come to Pakistan to experience the place yourself and realise that its is a different country than the one shown in the news,” he added.
"Pakistan does face difficulties," Massie acknowledges; "These issues do need to be addressed for the sake of its peoples' welfare."
“But one can tell that the country is also full of ambition, it just needs to be given the opportunity to realise its full potential,” he added.
Talking about Kashmir, the team's vice captain called it a beautiful place where the group “received a magnificent welcome with unmatched hospitality and generosity.”
“The world does not get a chance to learn more about Kashmir and the circumstance in which it finds itself in … We will be returning home with a greater understanding of this region,” he said.
Oborne also noted that resolving the Kashmir issue was in the interest of not only Pakistan, but also India.
“Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the situation, these two great neighbours should realise that [having their] daggers drawn [all the time] is a great pity,” he explained.
The team's captain further said that England also bears “a heavy share of the responsibility” for the circumstances surrounding the partition of the sub-continent 70 years ago.
“I would like the British government to play a much more creative role in sorting out this problem. And it’s not just the question of saying we are going to be impartial between two sides: it’s a question of saying this is right and this is wrong,” he added.
Regarding the ceasefire violations at the Line of Control in Kashmir, both journalists said that very few people in UK knew that shelling and firing in the region is taking place almost on a daily basis.
“People know about the Kashmir issue and they understand there are two armies along the border, but they think they are just staring each other — People aren’t really aware of their military duels. Even I wasn’t aware of the extent of cross border shelling,” Massie said.
“Two nuclear powers confronting each other is something that neither India and Pakistan nor the world can afford,” he warned.
“The issue warrants a bit more international attention," Massie said, adding that a bit more international involvement will " perhaps [help] in trying to find a solution that both sides can accept without losing face.”
Oborne also dismissed US President Donald Trump's recent statements about Pakistan as “regrettable and dangerous.”
“We have a very difficult and dangerous situation at hand because of the US president. The remarks he has been making and the signals he has been sending to Pakistan are troublesome,” Obrone said.
“If the people in Pakistan are worried [about Trump’s statement], the people in London and elsewhere are also worried — except Moscow, perhaps,” he said.
To a question, Oborne said his group members bear their own expenses, “On each visit, we try to visit a new place. In our next visit, I would love to play at the Bugti stadium in Quetta.”