On the eve of the return of the West Indies Cricket team to Pakistan: remembering the good old days.
If ever there were to be a nani amma, who was a cricket enthusiast, she would have related stories about an era when the West Indies reigned supreme in cricket fields around the globe.
Her stories would have revolved around larger-than-life characters that commanded respect, fear, awe and admiration throughout the cricket world. There were master batsmen, fierce, fast bowlers, magical spinners and leaders, and there was the sagacity of Worrell and Lloyd. West Indies is a motley nation of islands scattered over thousands of square miles of ocean. They share cricket, the English language and a colonial past as a common legacy. Because of their natural physical prowess and aptitude for the game, they kept churning out one cricket legend after another for decades – Super stars that allowed the people of the islands to demonstrate their superiority over their former masters, and thus provided a sense of pride to the nations.
On the eve of the current West Indian team’s visit to Pakistan, I am going to talk about an era when this global super power of cricket visited Pakistan.
In 1975, the West Indies were going through a rebuild. The former giants Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Wes Hall, Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Charles (Charlie) Griffith had retired. A young Clive Lloyd was the skipper, overseeing the re-organisation of the team. The fearsome future pace quartet of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall was not yet in place and only Andy Roberts was playing. Sir Viv Richards was a promising rookie and Gordon Greenidge had not yet made his debut. The team however had the formidable Roy Fredericks as the opener and dependable Alvin Kallicharran in the middle order. With Lloyd himself in the lower middle order and the ever-resilient Deryck Murray keeping wickets and providing strength to the batting, the team had the wizard off spinner Lance Gibbs completing the star-studded line up. It wasn’t yet the champion team of the next decade but it was an opposition that was to be respected.
It was a game against this West Indies team in Feb ’75, that I had the good fortune of seeing. In those days, watching a cricket match at the stadium was not such a big deal. Ticket prices, particularly for the general enclosure, were only five to ten rupees per day. Tickets were easily available and security around the ground used to be nominal.
I was taken to the Gaddafi stadium to watch the first day of the first cricket test of the West Indies series by my maamoo. I was ten years old and my brother Zahid, was eight. Both of us were dropped to my nani ami’s house on the Friday night. Next day had been declared a local holiday in Lahore because of the game. (In those days, Saturday used to be a working day with Sunday as the weekly holiday).
Nani ami made us the delicious ‘flying saucer’ shaped sandwiches. These sandwiches were prepared in a special sandwich maker which was shaped like a flying saucer. The inside was buttered and the slices of bread were packed with the sandwich mixture. Nani ami had her own recipe of eggs, chicken and vegetables. The two halves of the sandwich maker were closed and the whole unit was warmed up on low heat. The device was flipped on both sides and after five minutes or so, the two halves which were joined with a hinge, were opened up to reveal a golden-brown sandwich! This was then divided in two halves. The piping-hot sandwich could cool before being wrapped up in foil. This sandwich remains one of the most delicious sandwiches that I have ever eaten. Along with sandwiches, we had mango squash in a large thermos with ice cubes, and all these goodies were packed in a little basket that had plates, ketchup and napkins.
Aah! the excitement of going to the stadium, crowds of people thronging the stadium gate – the combined hangama of a disorganised public and police! We were dropped at the outer gate of the stadium by a cab. Our tickets, which had been purchased in advance, were for the general enclosure.
Maamoo shepherded Zahid and me through the crowds, in to the ground. The security at the gate was managed by Police constables. They did a cursory check of our tickets and food basket and ushered us in. We were a few decades away from the time of metal detectors and three-ringed security arrangements!
Whilst we meandered through the snaking queues, the game had already started. As we were a few meters from the grilled iron gate, we heard loud clapping and applause. Someone, who was ahead of us in the queue, announced that Pakistan had already lost its opening batsman! To our disappointment, it was our hero Majid Khan, who had been dismissed for 2 by Andy Roberts. Thankfully we didn’t lose any more wickets before we reached our seats.
We saw all the others lose their wickets right in front of our eyes! A menacing West Indies Bowling attack had ripped through our batting order!
In those days, the spectators in the general enclosure sat on cemented steps. Gaddafi stadium was yet to receive its fiberglass seats. We settled on one of the upper tier steps which allowed a good view of the ground. The dark green of the lush outfield welcomed our gaze. It was a late winter/early spring Lahore morning. It carried a faintly foggy air accompanied by bright sunshine – so typical of Lahore, making it an ideal day for playing and watching the gentlemen’s game (these days, this magical haze has been replaced with the miserable fog!).
The shining sun offered a pleasant warmth and a rather brisk wind made it more refreshing than cold. It was the same wind which was behind Andy Roberts who, bowling from the ‘college end’ (named after FC College), had managed to get rid of the priceless wicket of Majid Khan.
Roberts was still bowling and was causing all sorts of trouble for our formidable batting line up. Majid had been replaced by the, ’Asian Bradman’ Zaheer Abbas who had joined the debutant opener, Agha Zahid on the crease.
The on-field action was not as clearly visible to us, as the ball was just a blur and we could only see it well once it had been caught by the diminutive Deryck Murray behind the stumps. None of our top batsmen could stay too long at the wicket. We would realize that someone had been dismissed when a catch was taken in the slips and we spotted the tall West Indian frames celebrating, the towering figure of Clive Lloyd being the most prominent.
Lunch break approached, and we took out our goodies from the basket. We were sitting near a man who must have been in his late 30s. He was a gentleman of generous proportions, wearing trousers, shirt and a brimless hat on his head. He did not have anyone with him. We wondered what kind of person would go to watch a game of cricket on his own? Did he not have any friends or family members? We felt sorry for him.
In the stadium, many vendors were selling various food items. There was the ubiquitous Hico ice cream, hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, burgers, samosay, pakoray, fruit and of course paan. One of the paan sellers had a unique style of selling his wares. He would carry his paan-making tray strapped around his torso and while standing on the stadium steps, he would call out at the top of his voice, “ Kam az kam paan to khaao!”
The gentleman who had been watching the game on his own, and for whom we had been feeling sorry, began to sample the various goodies on offer.
He started with fruit, devouring a dozen kinnus (oranges), followed by some ganderees (sugar cane), moving on to the samosas and aalu chaat (potato salad), all washed down with Coke and Shezan. For lunch, our hero opted for the lunch pack with pulao (aromatic rce and meat dish), chicken curry and mitthai for dessert.
After eyeing this gastronomic episode of unending food festivity, we were now feeling sorry for ourselves with only home-made sandwiches to keep us satisfied! Delicious as they were, we did not have the variety to match the sumptuous array before him. He really made a picnic of it … while we were mere onlookers!
We nevertheless enjoyed a fantastic day’s cricket. We watched world class players like Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Muhammad, Waseem Raja, Andy Roberts, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd perform before our very eyes. We enjoyed a lazy winter’s day, a sun-soaked snooze and an excellent picnic. All for as less as ten rupees per head!
The West Indies cricket team ruled the world for twenty plus years but then gradually embarked upon a downward spiral. The reasons for this decline are a separate discussion.
Those good old days might never return. Moreover, we have now entered an era of enhanced security. Tickets are not only exorbitantly expensive but will need the use of extensive social contacts to secure. For the moment, we must be happy and optimistic that our beloved international sport has finally returned to the country.
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