Do not fear the Pakistan phenomenon

Some of the tourists' fans may be a problem but their patronage is worth encouraging
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The Independent Online

Most of Tuesday is spent at Trent Bridge compiling an Identikit of the Pakistan cricket fan who, in the course of a couple of weeks, has become sport's Public Enemy No 1. It is arduous but not distasteful work, and the resulting deafness is almost certainly temporary. That is another reason for deciding not to put his picture on the most wanted list.

Most of Tuesday is spent at Trent Bridge compiling an Identikit of the Pakistan cricket fan who, in the course of a couple of weeks, has become sport's Public Enemy No 1. It is arduous but not distasteful work, and the resulting deafness is almost certainly temporary. That is another reason for deciding not to put his picture on the most wanted list.

Let's call him Raz. He is in his early twenties, plainly works out in the gym and is a bit of a peacock, with plenty of personal jewellery. When his budget stretches he likes to wear, along with green and yellow Pakistan robes and face ­ and hair ­ paint, Emporio Armani T-shirts and designer jeans. He is essentially amiable and well mannered, proffering a ready apology when you jump at the whistle he blows so shrilly a few inches from your ear and the banner he has carelessly jabbed in your ribs.

Unlike the culturally homogeneous football thug, his head does not appear to harbour a hundred demons and he seems infinitely more likely to nod and smile than smash you over the head with a beer, or in his case, a Coke bottle. There is a link or two, however. His attention span, even when one of his heroes, that prince of pacemen Waqar Younis, is in full pomp, is generally just a few seconds. This is the key to Raz. He is, despite all of his exaggerated enthusiasm, not really a cricket fan.

This is not to say that what happens on the field is irrelevant to him. He adores the explosion of communal passion which comes when a rival wicket falls or when somebody like Yousuf Youhana drills the ball past cover point, and when a war drum is produced at the height of Waqar's brilliant performance in the victory over Australia he eagerly joins a hand-clapping procession around the boundary fence. But then, just as quickly, he is on his mobile phone, demanding to know: "Where the bloody hell are you, Waz? I feel like an ice-cream."

One of his number gives you the low-down on Raz: "He means no harm. He is just a boy wanting to have a little fun ­ and maybe smoke a little weed."

Spending a little time with Raz and his companions is certainly a surreal experience. Even when a firecracker goes over the fence and lands perilously close to Australia's young fast bowling star Brett Lee, thus provoking the team captain, Steve Waugh, into his promise to march the team off the field if he feels their safety is endangered, you could still distil all the latent menace in the ground and have scarcely enough to create an unruly bonfire party.

"Hey, man," Raz tells a steward for who several hours has worn an expression of such immutable good nature you wonder if he hasn't invested a little in some face-painting of his own, "we've paid good money for our tickets, 10, 15 quid, what's wrong with a few high spirits." It is an argument which plays better, at least on the surface, with the steward than it does later with the aggrieved Waugh.

The Australia captain, who a few years ago was threatened with decapitation when a flying bottle narrowly missed him when he rushed from the Kensington Oval in Barbados during a rather more serious riot, is susceptible to none of Raz's arguments. Such people, he says, are "idiots difficult to control". But they must be hammered by the kind of fines which have been legislated back home in Australia. "That works," Waugh says, "and it has to be installed here. We've had problems for some time. They must be resolved. Certainly as captain I don't have any problem at all with insisting on absolute safety for my players. If a similar situation comes up at Lord's in the final on Saturday I won't have any problem doing the same as I did here tonight."

Mercifully, most of cricket, and the new Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, who has poked his head above the parapet briefly here after the revelation that in a head-to-head sporting knowledge contest with Raz there is no guarantee he would win, has recoiled at the idea of the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, Lord MacLaurin, that "snarling dogs" might be the answer. That, and possibly the importation of a few squads of lathi-wielding policemen from the subcontinent, is a bold idea roughly 50 years out of date. Most of the game accepts, it seems, that it has to do better.

Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club's chief executive, Dave Collier, is, not without some justification, pleased with the handling of the security crisis. He agrees that but for the rogue firecracker, and the walk-off it promoted, it would have been a near-optimum performance. The pitch invasion at the end was relatively low-key and, as Collier points out, signs in English and Urdu had pointed out that spectators were free to go on to the field once it had been vacated by the players. At the potentially troublesome Ratcliffe Road end, where security is most concentrated, the invasion only happens when police and stewards put down the plastic fencing and clears a way.

An obvious dilemma for cricket is that if the majority of Raz's companions have come to Trent Bridge without the foggiest idea of the great Inzamam-ul-Haq's batting average, they have filled the ground and created an extraordinary level of excitement. It is bogus excitement, according to one immaculately suited enthusiast who has travelled from Pakistan for the cricket. "It has little to do with the game," he snaps. "These people have not grown up with the game. It is not really part of their culture, like it is back home. It is something they have picked for the excitement of it ­ and maybe some identity."

It is a forcefully expressed identity, heaven knows. Those who can't run to Raz's Armani gear, wear shirts and robes which bear such legends as "100 per cent Paki" and "Proud to be Pakistani" and many carry life-size cardboard cut-outs of heroes like Waqar and Inzi and Wasim Akram. One of Raz's pals marches interminably along the boundary carrying a huge sign which proclaims, "Saqlain is the Spin Doctor, Warne is the Patient." Another shouts, "Waqar will win this Waugh."

During the game there has been a steady stream of the worshipful to a room assigned for "prayers". There are many families whose youngsters are daubed in green and yellow. In all the tumult there have been just two unpleasant incidents witnessed at the Ratcliffe end, excluding the firecracker apparently aimed at Lee. In the press at the boundary fence at the end, a stout Pakistani fan is exchanging insults with a police officer and one of the policeman's colleagues picks up a missile which has landed, weightily, in the outfield. But there is no arrest.

What English cricket plainly has in the Pakistani community is a passing and vexatious phenomenon which needs careful but unofficious handling. From his perspective, Waugh, a superb cricketer and a deeply impressive leader of men, naturally sees Raz as an idiot. He is a nuisance, an unwelcome distraction from the serious business of playing world-class cricket. But he also helps to fill a ground with life and, most of the time, considerable humanity. His patronage, in the long run, is probably worth encouraging ­ and shaping.

A brilliant start would be to get him to watch the cricket.