Contributed by: Oliver Fisher from Australia, Intern for Change in Progress 2.0 Project
“You are from Australia. Shane Warne, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, you know?
This is often the reaction that I get when I tell people that I am from Australia: people decide to start listing their favourite cricket players from Australia. They may not know much about Australia, but that doesn’t stop the people here from idolizing our cricketers. As a nation that is obsessed with cricket, if you have nothing to talk about then you can always ease the tension with some cricket talk. Coming from a cricketing country has definitely helped me connect with the locals.
Pakistani’s are brought up with cricket, from a young age they are fed a diet of cricket, cricket and you guessed it more cricket. You can’t escape it, everywhere you go you’ll see people playing cricket. It may not be the national sport, that title is held by hockey, much to the contempt of many people here. But cricket is the game that truly captures the heart of the nation. It can be said that in a land of many different dialects, cricket acts as a universal language.
My first introduction to cricket wasn’t a kind one; I was invited to play with some of the children outside of where I am staying. I decided that I would be kind and bowl a few slower balls as I was playing with children and what did I get for doing this? Well I got to watch my first two deliveries come flying straight back over my head for six. Lesson one when playing cricket in Pakistan is that you should never take it easy, because chances are they are a lot better at cricket than you are.
I’m yet to see any defensive strokes played here, it seems you either hit out or you get out. Every delivery is treated as an opportunity to hit a six. It is quite fitting then that the national hero of Pakistani cricket is big hitting all rounder Shahid Afridi. This style of play makes for some exciting viewing and explains why Pakistan is so dominant in the T20 form of the game. It also explains why they are not as successful in the longer forms of cricket like test matches.
All you need for a game of cricket here is a tennis ball, often covered in white tape to give it a bit more weight and a bat. The rest is fashioned from whatever is around you, no wickets? That’s not a problem, just stack up a few rocks and you are good to go. Luckily Islamabad is a city with a multitude of parks so space is not normally a problem, not that that would stop anyone from playing. I’ve seen plenty of matches played in the small side streets running through the city, the game only stops when halted by passing traffic.
Street cricket or backyard cricket as I like to call it is where the future stars are born. It is where everyone first learns the game and also where they first fall in love with the game. It is where the fiercest of rivalries are formed; the only thing to play for is pride. You’ll see shouts erupt as the bowler appeals for an LBW decision, you’ll see the batsmen raise his head in anguish as he contemplates why he played the stroke that was to be his end. Cricket may be played for fun, but that doesn’t make it any less competitive.
A game of cricket provides the perfect backdrop for this country, more often than not you’ll see the dust kick off the pitch as the bowler starts his run up. You’ll see the ball head skyward, with the magnificent red sun setting behind it. You can’t really truly understand Pakistan until you have been a part of a game of cricket, which shouldn’t be difficult in this cricket mad nation.