WHEN an Australian cricket team last toured Pakistan 24 years ago, no one had imagined that the cricket-loving South Asian nation would become an unsafe territory for foreign teams due to the war on terror triggered by the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

As Australia prepares for a full tour starting on March 4 — comprising three Tests, as many one-day internationals and a lone T20 match, a lot has changed both on and off the cricket field since their previous contests in Pakistan in 1998.

The US dollar had barely crossed the 50 Pakistani rupee mark then, now it stands at a whopping 176 rupees.

Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup winning captain Imran Khan, who was a struggling politician in 1998 is now the country’s prime minister.

Some players who are expected to feature in the eagerly-awaited series were not even born then, like Pakistan’s pace spearheads Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, opening batsman Abdullah Shafique and Australian all-rounder Cameron Green.

Pakistan’s present captain Babar Azam, regarded as one of the finest batsmen in the game today, fast bowler Hasan Ali and allrounder Faheem Ashraf were toddlers and senior batsmen Azhar Ali and Fawad Alam were still in school.

Similarly, none of the Australian players had made their mark at first class level in 1998.

The left-handed Fawad recalled watching the Karachi Test on the previous tour.

“I went to watch the last Test and remember Ijaz Ahmed scoring a fighting century,” said Fawad of the Test which ended in a draw.

Led by Mark Taylor, Australia clinched the three-match Test series 1-0 after winning the first Test in Rawalpindi by an innings and 99 runs.

Rawalpindi will again host the first Test from March 4. The remaining two Tests will be played in Karachi (March 12-16) and Lahore (March 21-25).

Former captain Azhar Ali remembers the pace duel between Australian Brett Lee and Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar.

“There was an intense pace battle between Shoaib and Lee in Pakistan-Australian encounters,” recalls Azhar. “I also remember the 1998 triple century by Mark Taylor. As a Pakistan fan it was a tough watch but from the perspective of a cricket fan it was a huge accomplishment from Taylor to score a triple century in Pakistan.”

Taylor smashed 334 in the drawn second Test in Peshawar.

Cricket had only two formats, Tests and ODIs. It now has a third format, the rapid-fire T20 cricket which is getting popular with each day and threatening the other two formats.

A generation has not seen Australia playing in Pakistan but cricket fans now hope they keep coming and nothing comes in their way to stop them from touring Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2022

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