Mr Stick goes to Dustville

Trip Start Nov 17, 2005
Trip End Dec 04, 2005

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Thursday, November 24, 2005

Well the second Test has just finished and England managed to come away with a draw. (I know you Americans out there don't understand how a game can be played for
5 days and there is no winner, but that is part of the beauty of cricket!)

Faisalabad was founded by the British when Pakistan was still part of India and therefore the Empire. So we could tell when it was time for high tea we built a nice big clock tower with eight streets radiating out in the pattern of the Union Jack. They still remain but have been engulfed in very unplanned urban sprawl. It's hot, dusty, noisy and polluted with nothing to do or anything aesthetically pleasing to see. Thank god for the cricket!

And what an experience that proved to be. Everyone has been very polite and welcoming, shaking hands and asking how we like their city. Obviously I lie through my teeth and say I enjoy it very much. The crowds at the cricket ground, however, are something else.

At the ground the first schoolboy error I made was buying a ticket, as I was immediately taken by a policeman from the back of the long queue to the front where a side gate was opened and I was ushered in without them even asking for a ticket. That meant I saved a total of two pounds by not buying a ticket the next four days. I thought I'd watch the first session with the locals so I went into the stand that my redundant ticket specified. Schoolboy error #2. As I went to find a seat the crowd saw whitey approaching and started cheering and clapping which I thought was nice. Then they all wanted me to sit next to them and started pulling and shouting so I just sat on the end of the first row I came across. Soon several had moved their seats and placed them in the aisle next to me and started asking question after question. Who your favourite England player? Who favourite Pakistani player? You like my city? You from Manchester? You Muslim? After about 10 minutes I had had enough of being incessantly distracted and left.

Schoolboy error #3. Once outside I started to make my way to the stand where 50 or so other English supporters were. Immediately I was surrounded by a group of boys (at this point I had seen no females around at all) and soon I was swamped. They were shouting and screaming and then started grabbing when I wouldn't shake any more hands. If I had a big stick I would have whacked the lot of them, but fortunately just then a policeman rolled up and did it for me. Whereas I normally joke about inflicting violence on the locals this time I'm serious. The kids scattered as he grabbed a couple and threw them over, and then clocked a few on the back with his bamboo cane. Welcome to crowd control, Pakistan-style. I was then ushered through to the stand and took my seat with the other English fans.

We were kept separated from the locals just because they got too excited and made it difficult to watch the game. We were surrounded by armed guards from the Punjab Elite Force - they were the ones with 'No Fear' printed on the shirts - but all they seemed to do was smoke, talk on their mobiles or tell the regular police to start whacking the kids when they got too rowdy. Even British Pakistanis who had made the trip were forced to sit with the locals, which seemed a bit harsh.

Just in front of us - and separated from the men - were the women. They were given time off from school to watch, but seeing as not many Pakistani women go to school there weren't many of them. Most were covered head to toe as per Muslim fashion, although I think the veil was either to protect them from the dust or to prevent their family from recognising them on TV. Some of the braver girls would come up and ask the four or five British women questions and ask for their photograph to be taken with them before being told to sit down by the police.

As I mentioned, there's nothing to do in the city when the cricket has finished for the day. After surviving the hoardes outside the stadium we group together and walk the twenty minutes back to the hotel by the clocktower (thankfully Mr Stick is never very far away). Some of the guys have gone through the palava of getting alcohol permits and paying silly prices for some beer which they can only drink in their rooms. I've found other things to pass time like popping down to the chai shop for one or two cuppas of very sweet milky tea, even though I don't drink tea - especially when it's sweet and milky. Then it's back to the hotel to watch the highlights of the game, the highlight of which is spotting ourselves in the crowd (see right). I'm telling you, Faisalabad is one rockin' town.

The best bit about this place is the new motorway out of town. It's now back to Lahore for the third and final Test starting on Tuesday. Hopefully we'll be able to salvage a series draw, but at least there's the Lahore International Club where we can buy booze and drown our sorrows if we don't!
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