Playing cricket in Pakistan is the safest of occupations
As international cricket venues go the King City Stadium (a very loose term) in the outskirts on Toronto must certainly rate as one of the most picturesque. Set in the western outskirts of the Ontario capital it would be the equivalent of Bradman Oval in Bowral or perhaps Lilac Hill in the Swan Valley, home of the annual Chairman’s XI versus the touring team.
The recently conducted four cornered way 20/20 tournament between Sri Lanka, Canada, Zimbabwe and Pakistan provided a 21st century view of where international cricket is heading, in more ways than one.
October is generally not the month to be playing cricket north of the 45th parallel but Ontario turned on its very best weather for the four days after an extraordinarily wet summer.
The NHL ice hockey league opened that weekend with the Toronto Maple Leafs getting hammered at the home opener by 5 goals. Could be a long winter for the Blue and Whites.
The local cricketers, Iqbal and Rashid, told me that their season generally only runs 3 ½ months and the finals had already been conducted. While the temperatures ran from 6 degrees centigrade overnight and made a sweltering 27 on the final afternoon. (The French had the metric system well established in Canada years before we dipped our toes in the antipodes, while an hour’s drive south across the border the yanks still measured miles, feet, inches and Fahrenheit.) In Saskatchewan, on the prairies of western Canada, in was snowing!!
The red maples at fine leg were turning even redder, the ash and beech at 3rd man, a golden brown and the sugar maple at mid wicket, a deep gold. You could stare at the trees for ages if not distracted by the seamless azure sky.
Canada has 70,000 cricketers and 700 clubs, many of which are in Toronto. Most are ex-pat Sri Lankans, Indians, West Indians and Pakistanis.
Those at the game had mostly Canadian twangs accenting their English urdu. The passion that sub-continental supporters have for the game and their teams is in no way diluted in north America, they just dress more western style. Although a few dupattas and head scarves were spotted, most ladies were colloquially attired with face paint and jeans. I didn’t spy a beer tent though.
The ground itself is a recent addition to the cricket venues of Toronto with a number of tournaments previously played at the Toronto Curling, Skating and Cricket Club where Australian touring teams had played in the 1970s on their way through to the Ashes. An excellent fielding surface but the pitches, so late in the season, had lost their pace and found plenty of spin. Ideal for Sri Lanka’s new found spinning match winner Jayantha Mendis.
Mendis not only won the man of the series award, an apartment in Dubai provided by the sponsors of the tournament Al Barrakah Developments, but attracted the attention of a group of protesters.
It was quite bizarre to drive into the ground on the 3rd day to find 30-40 placard wielding Sri Lankans lining the Bloomfield Road armed with signs demanding ‘The end to Genocide in Sri Lanka’ and ‘Mendis is a killer’.
I knew he was taking plenty of wickets but he wasn’t bowling fast enough to cause a haematoma let alone a fatality . The reference was to his vocation as a Lieutenant and gunner in the Sri Lankan army.
On inquiry with the Sri Lankan team they reckon he had never even fired a gun and spent all his time practicing cricket (as did 3 other members of the national cricket squad). On the final afternoon a Cessna floated across the ground dragging another sign demanding ‘….an end to the killing’.
I thought this was a most peaceful way to voice the concerns of the Tamil people, you could not even hear the engine above the crowd noise and the vivid blue sky was only interrupted every 10 minutes or so as the light plane did its laps, and if you didn’t look up, you wouldn’t even know it was there.
My view changed slightly when the Sri Lankan coach, Trevor Bayliss, said that his team were quite concerned as the LTTE rebels had been using Cessnas to dump explosives from a few hundred feet. It just didn’t seem right. This was a cricket idyll, full house, postcard ground, ideal weather, a close, exciting final … and a terror threat.
But that folks is the way of the world at this end of the 21st century.
The dangers of living in Pakistan seemed minuscule compared to the adjacent protesters and the thought that the aircraft circling unopposed, a few hundred feet above us, might be carrying some dangerous material.
Playing cricket in Pakistan is the safest of occupations and the grounds are the safest places to spend your time. If you follow 3 basic rules the chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are zero. Not close to zero but the actual number.
1. Don’t go near politicians
2. Don’t attend public political rallies
3. Don’t go to gatherings of police or army
The recently completed 5 day post Ramazan 20/20 Cricket tournament with a dozen regional teams was played in Lahore just prior to our departure for Canada (i.e the final finished at 9pm and the Etihad flight lifted at 10:45 pm).
The Qaddafi Stadium had 25,000 for the final, there were three matches a day, coloured uniforms, a festival atmosphere and not one moment of trouble.
But try to tell that to ferengi (foreigners) who just don’t want to listen.
Geoff ‘Henry’ Lawson played 46 Tests for Australia and is currently the national cricket coach of Pakistan. He joins The Roar as a columnist. Welcome aboard, Henry!
Geoff Lawson OAM is a former Australian cricketer and the former coach of the Pakistan cricket team. Nicknamed "Henry" after the Australian poet, Lawson was a fast bowler for New South Wales and Australia.
The Ashes journey begins
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