Grounded in historyArchive
The greatest gift from the British colonialists to the subcontinent would have to be the English language and the glorious game of charming unpredictability — cricket.
The language is as important as the attraction that drives swooning fans to various cricket grounds of the world where the game is being played, locally or internationally, which indeed has prompted the establishments responsible for promoting the game to develop their playing fields, grounds and facilities for holding domestic or international games.
From Kolkata to Karachi there are now hundreds and thousands of clubs, academies and venues that have their own pride of place in the history of the game. In undivided India, names such as the Bombay Gymkhana, where India for the first time played their official home Test in the 1930s, Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata boasted unmatched facilities found anywhere in India. And now they are a lot more modern than ever before.
The parts that became Pakistan may not have had such imposing grounds but they did have a few like Peshawar Gymkhana, Pindi Club, Lawrence Gardens, Aitchison College, the Dring Stadium in Bahawalpur in the north and boasting of as much history in the south, too.
The Karachi Gymkhana ground was developed in 1886, the Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) came about in 1893, Muslim Gymkhana, Hindu Gymkhana, Polo Ground, Jehangir Park besides a lot more to name, have all had their own glorious past which no doubt helped Pakistan’s cricket culture develop fast and quick before our cricket board could be recognised by the International Cricket Council as a full member, which happened within five years of the country’s existence.
With so much progress being made in the game over these years — from infancy to adulthood — there have been rapid advancements and changes at all levels. New grounds have come up in every major city of the country and the speed with which things have been changing the transformation in every sector remains mindboggling.
In my profession as a cricket writer, I have been involved in the game for more than four decades. I am fortunate enough to have seen most of international cricket grounds all over the world except Bangladesh, where I have never been and am now aiming to go, to complete that circuit soon.
It will be tough for me to go into detail about the grounds that I have seen and reported matches from because it will require hundreds of pages to describe them all along with their salient features. So I shall restrict myself to Pakistan and grounds with a lot of history and significance that we can be proud of.
The latest that I have been to, I discovered is in the north of Karachi — the Naya Nazimabad Lawai Stadium, which, no doubt, one day will be the centerpiece for at least first-class games in this part of Pakistan. I will talk about it later but first let me highlight a few of the historic grounds in the country.
The most important and one of the oldest among them is, of course, the Pindi Club ground in the heart of Rawalpindi (then Rawal Pindee), which even from colonial times has remained a garrison town. It was here in 1893 that the grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Christian Victor, posted as an officer, hit 205 playing for the King’s Royal Rifles against The Devonshire Regiment. The double century is considered to be the first-ever on the soil, which is now Pakistan. The only Test played on this ground was in 1965 between Pakistan and New Zealand. It also boasts an ODI v West Indies in 1985 and a 1987 ICC World Cup match between Pakistan and England. Pindi Club is now called Army Sports Ground with new stands but the old pavilion from the Raj still exists.
Bagh-e-Jinnah (Lawrence Gardens previously) has its own aura and proud history. Developed in 1880, the ground’s majestic pavilion, designed by one G. Stone and built by Bhai Ram Singh, according to Najam Latif the curator of the cricket museum, stands as a monument within the premises to this great game in Punjab.
It was on this ground that after the Pakistan team came into its own. The late Munawar Ali Khan Mamdot, a classy fast bowler, while playing against the visiting West Indies, bowled Joe Carew to break the stump behind him in two pieces. With his next ball he flattened the stumps of the West Indian captain John Goddard and missed a hat-trick when Clyde Walcott was dropped at the wicket by Imtiaz Ahmed. That was in 1948-49. Munawar played unofficial Tests for Pakistan. Because of professional commitments he never played in an official Test.
It was here at Bagh-e-Jinnah that Pakistan played India in the official 1955 Test match, a drawn game. Handsome Pakistan batsman Maqsood Ahmad (Merry Max) was stumped by keeper Thamane when 99, missing the only would be century of his career. A fan died of a heart attack listening to the commentary and his dismissal.
It was here in a Test against New Zealand that the stylish Waqar Hasan scored his only Test hundred (189) with partner Imtiaz Ahmed, who scored a double century.
History is written all over this venue, which still remains a popular ground in Pakistan with an immaculate environment. The Gaddafi Stadium as a Test venue came later in 1959.
Karachi Gymkhana has its own pride of place in the history of Pakistan cricket. From pre-Partition days, visiting teams to India have played here against Sindh and various teams. Arthur Gilligan’s MCC in 1926, Lord Tennyson’s England team in 1937 and visiting teams, post Partition, have all had their fare share of cricket at the Gymkhana.
Great names like Douglas Jardine, of bodyline fame, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Tom Graveney, Brian Statham, Keith Miller, Mushtaq Ali and many more famous people of the game have played at this venue.
It obviously holds a special place in the history of the game for Pakistan’s famous victory against MCC in 1951, which allowed and admitted Pakistan as a full member of the ICC. Hanif Mohammad’s match-winning 64 and his captain Hafeez Kardar’s half century along with Fazal Mahmood’s classic leg-cutters helped us achieve that despite Graveney’s century.
I can keep on going about all these venues but let’s now talk about the new ground that I visited in Karachi which has impressed me a lot. It is the latest in the north of the expanding city.
The Naya Nazimabad Lawai Stadium with its lush green outfield and well manicured turf, boasting five pitches in the centre, can be compared with any first-class cricket ground in the world. Named after Hussain Lawai, a banker and a cricket enthusiast, the ground’s backdrop is simply stunning.
Under the patronage of industrialist Arif Habib, it has already been staging club tournaments, Ramadan Festival games since 2012 when it was first inaugurated with a match between Showbiz XI and Cricket Star’s XI. Inter-school tournament and senior cup matches involving players over 40 years of age, organised by Fawad Ijaz Khan, chairman of Pakistan Veterans Cricket Association, are popular fixtures.
Fully equipped with floodlights and modern machinery to look after the upkeep of the ground, this is something to savor. Arif Habib is confident that the venue is going to be a state of the art place for the game in a few years time. “We are building a well designed pavilion, dressing rooms, a club for young and old with facilities for all sports in vogue these days besides cricket,” he tells me. “Cricket will remain our main focus though. But the purpose is to keep youngsters busy in sports and character building through this club,” he stresses.
Pakistan Cricket Board needs to look into this for future first-class games and international side matches when possible. The need of the hour, no doubt, is to make the game more viable. That is what most sports arenas in Pakistan are aiming at in order to keep the legacy in motion.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 20th, 2016