Gray day and a black night for fireworks

Diary from Pakistan

It had been a long but spectacular night. Almost 1,000 guests were present to see five Pakistan cricketers honoured for their great achievements. Scores of other great players were in attendance. The fireworks display had been dazzling, a fashion show was to come. An event to remember was taking place inEscort Gardens, Lahore.

It had been a long but spectacular night. Almost 1,000 guests were present to see five Pakistan cricketers honoured for their great achievements. Scores of other great players were in attendance. The fireworks display had been dazzling, a fashion show was to come. An event to remember was taking place inEscort Gardens, Lahore.

The speeches had meandered, but at last they approached a climax. Step forward Malcolm Gray, president of the International Cricket Council, who has impressed everyone with his candour. The Australian was swiftly to demonstrate that it is possible to be too candid. Gray began an interminable speech with what he supposed to be a joke. This does not bear repeating, here or ever again, but was based on Gray's assumption that the fireworks had actually been a cross-border invasion by the Indian army. Ho, ho.

Since relations between Pakistan and India are at an extremely low ebb because of the everlasting dispute over Kashmir, since the Indian government two days earlier had refused to allow the country's cricket team to tour Pakistan and since the fireworks were a delight, the remarks were at best indelicate.

Gray then proceeded to make the undiplomatic error of sticking to his original text, thus inflicting further torture on the assembled company, who had already listened to 10 speeches. The whole thing was a cardinal error and the ICC suffered yet again.

It is pleasing to report that Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who spoke earlier, was brief, pertinent and courteous - and admitted that England's failure to tour Pakistan for 13 years was inexcusable. Lamb, who has been under pressure, deserves a break.

Unfortunately, his sentiments did not appear to be shared by the England squad. Privately, they considered the whole ceremony was a hypocritical farce because the players awarded medals had all been mentioned in the Qayyum Report on match-fixing. Mentioned, accused, doubted, but never found guilty. There is a big difference. When England muse on this they might also consider that Alec Stewart was only mentioned in another report. No hypocrisy there, of course.

One other noticeable feature of the awards was the part played by one-day cricket. There is still a tendency to be sniffy about it, not least because of its central role in match-rigging, but the Pakistanis recognise that it has become the game of the people. Thus, Wasim Akram's two limited-overs hat-tricks and Saeed Anwar's 17 hundreds were given star billing. One-dayers will not go away.

Beer we go

Perhaps the man with the most unusual job in Pakistan is Nazir Ahmad. He is a master brewer. For 37 years, Nazir has worked at the Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi and is now their general manager. He is a charming, chatty man but sometimes he marvels that he still has a function and that his company still have a product. A beer after the match is not something that cricketers here are allowed. Or anybody else, for that matter. It is 29 years since alcohol was officially declared illegal for public sale and consumption in the country. Nazir and the Murree have struggled on.

The brewery was established in 1861 by the British to serve the needs of its troops in the subcontinent. Hence, of course, India Pale Ale. Murree Beer, which accounts for half the brewery's sales, is a smooth, light, malty but by no means weak bottled beer which has won prizes (USA 1876, France 1900) and has helped to sustain this Diary these past six weeks.

"It is difficult and we're under-producing," said Nazir, who trained in Edinburgh and London. "We are living in hope that the ban might be lifted one day. But there ought to be a rethink because the consumption of other drugs is proving much more harmful." The company have 300 employees and naturally their own cricket team. Beer after the match? "Well, not officially," said Nazir.

A leg to stand on

When Moin Khan was adjudged lbw in the First Test, it was to general astonishment. This was partly because umpire Riazuddin had been, until then, steadfast in his refusal to uphold any appeals, partly because it looked no closer than countless others, and partly because Moin is Pakistan's captain.

It has become a truism that Pakistan captains are not given out lbw by Pakistani umpires in Pakistan, so Moin could consider himself multifariously unfortunate, could he not? Actually, no.

On England's six previous tours here - all when Tests still had two umpires from the home country - three Pakistan skippers were lbw (Wasim Bari, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad), while only two from England, Colin Cowdrey and Mike Gatting, were so dismissed. Mind you, Gatting was leg-before three times 13 years ago.

In all, England have now lost 41, or 15.3 per cent, of their total of 267 wickets lbw (that includes six in one innings in 1977-78), while Pakistan have lost 36, or 13.8 per cent of 246. Somebody will doubtless make a conspiracy of that.

Sound bites

So, not everybody in this cricket-crazy nation is enamoured of the great game. Mr Najeeb Laved of Lahore had this to say in the Nation last week: "I would like to draw the attention of the Chief Executive and the Chief Justices to a problem. From dawn to dusk we are victimised by cricket-playing vaga-bonds. Unfortunately, we live on the corner of a road surrounded by three roads and the crossroads are used by these cricket-playing youths. When the bat strikes the road it produces a horrible thuk-thuk noise. It is a permanent nerve-taxing agony from which we have no escape." Ah, the sweet sound of leather on willow.

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