Road tests are streets ahead of England

Diary from Pakistan

There is a worthy but interminable saga in England about the need to develop cricket from the grass roots. Some bright spark at the England and Wales Cricket Board (presumably the saga is interminable in Wales, not to mention Scotland and parts of Ireland, as well) put a snappy label to it: "From the playground to the Test arena". We await its fruits.

There is a worthy but interminable saga in England about the need to develop cricket from the grass roots. Some bright spark at the England and Wales Cricket Board (presumably the saga is interminable in Wales, not to mention Scotland and parts of Ireland, as well) put a snappy label to it: "From the playground to the Test arena". We await its fruits.

In Pakistan, playgrounds are, well, thin on the ground in many places. And as for grass roots, you can imagine how deep they are in the city of Karachi, where the temperature nudged towards 100F last week. As in the rest of the subcontinent, this does not stop either the playing of cricket or the emergence of multitudes of cricketers of international class.

Nadir Khan is 23, a computer hardware engineer and the captain of his local side. He is extremely proud of his position. He bowls medium pace and bats in the middle order. He has never played a match on a turf pitch, or indeed what might be termed a cricket ground, in his life.

Nadir's experience has been restricted solely to street cricket. Yet he is captain of his side and they have regular, if ad hoc, fixtures. It is serious stuff.

"The wickets are just a plain plank of wood or anything we can manage to find," he said. "The ball is a tennis ball with tape wrapped round it to make it heavier. It also swings. We do not have pads or gloves and we do not need them. It is a very important game."

The rules hardly differ from those which apply globally in street cricket, in danger though they are of vanishing at home. Stumps are erected in the road, the makeshift pitch is usually surrounded by houses on each side. Hit the ball into a property and it is six and out. A four is arbitrary, usually marked by the end of the road. Straight hitting is encouraged.

"That is how most of us play in Pakistan," said Nadir. "Some players go on, but not many. I would like to play on a proper pitch one day, but you must have money." Cricket in Karachi, and obviously anywhere else in the subcontinent is, perversely, the way out of the streets.

Past master present

If the current crop of England players have as little knowledge of the past as they claim (their 32-year-old captain, Nasser Hussain, said on arrival here: "I don't know what happened in 1987, I was still at school") they will not have recognised the bloke with the keen eyes, the dark hair and the gnarled fingers in their hotel.

Abdul Qadir, the great leg-spinner, was the scourge of English batsmanship a few years before Shane Warne. He took 236 wickets in 67 Test matches at 32.81 each. He bamboozled England, not least on his home pitches, where he took 61 wickets in nine Tests for a mere 19.39.

The disparity in those averages never went down well with three England touring sides, who smelled conspiracy. Pity, because Qadir's9 for 56 in the first Test at Lahore 13 years ago, a brilliant exhibition of leg-spinners and googlies, was thus overshadowed by poor adjudication.

Qadir reports that he is still twirling away. He is 44, but last winter he bowled 54 overs in a day for Carlton of Melbourne in grade cricket, and the other night in Karachi he turned out in the inaugural match under the National Stadium's floodlights, between Pakistan and the Rest of Asia. Mind you, these batsmen treated him as a mere mortal.

Given his record and knowledge - he speaks highly but cautiously of England's solitary leg-breaker, Ian Salisbury - it is a wonder that somebody in the English hierarchy has not sought him out. If they could identify him.

One-day stands

While cricket's place as the national sport here is not in doubt - hockey and squash are not games of the masses - it can still be out of reach for some. Tickets for the opening one-dayer on Tuesday vary in price from 30 rupees (37p) to 800 rupees (£10). The higher-priced seats are sold out, but there were still some left yesterday at the bottom of the range in a stadium which officially has seating for precisely 34,034.

Incidentally, the cheaper enclosures are called after Majid Khan, Intikhab Alam, Nasim-ul-Ghani, Iqbal Qasim, Wasim Bari and the legendary Mohammad brothers; the middle ranges honour, in ascending order, Zaheer Abbas, Waqar Hassan and Asif Iqbal.

But there are two areas of particular exclusivity. According to the Dawn newspaper, when tickets went on sale at Allied Bank "a visibly stunned employee" saw one individual buy tickets worth 120,000 rupees (or 150 tickets) and "desperate cricket fanatics were still running round the circle in hope they would get at least one ticket for the match to remember, that he was a witness to the first international here under lights" (sic). And the place to be with 3,279 others? The Imran Khan and Wasim Akram enclosures.

Village people

Not quite everbody is fanatical about cricket. Why, some of the population here are unworried that the five floodlights - Pakistan now has three floodlit stadiums, while England has, er, none - may be affected by the constant electricity surges and power cuts in the city, caused by the electricity company's inability to pay for furnace oil.

And there are some who are followers of another game. Joseph Giil, a taxi driver, confirmed almost sheepishly the other night that he supported football with a passion and was fervent about his own team. For one dreadful moment it was possible to assume that this team was almost certainly the richest and most widely supported in the world, though there has been not a single replica shirt in sight. "Manchester United, huh, Joseph."

"No," he said, baffled, "my village, Chakiwarra." Phew.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal