There were many words that that came to me before departing London for Lahore – excitement and caution were two, unsure of what our welcome would be like and with all that’s happened here in recent years a little nervousness. We arrived in the very early hours. After several visa checks and bag scans we eventually got through passport control. On exiting the terminal there were railings each side and behind them there must have been close to a thousand locals. I have no idea why as it was 2:30am! On reaching the vehicle straight away the smog was very visible.
On our first day I was very unsure what we could and couldn’t do. I asked the concierge if it was safe to walk outside, he said you can walk around the hotel grounds, outside your on your own!
I decided to venture out. There were a lot of looks in my direction, being my first time here I guess you could feel a bit intimidated by it, that aside, there were motorbikes everywhere, cricket being played parallel to the main road with white soft cricket balls being hit for six bouncing off the cars! It was then that I thought “I’m going to enjoy this trip”. Sport unites the world and cricket playing countries do it in a really great way I feel.
Our first full day was sightseeing- Lahore museum, Old Gun, Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort & Royal Mosque. On exiting the mosque Tony and I were asked for a photo, within minutes there must have been 30/40 locals all wanting a photo! We had our armed policemen on hand, but to be honest the whole day was amazing. That was mostly because of the friendly welcome we had. On the second day we had another full day of sites- a walking tour of the walled city, Golden Mosque & local bazars. Afternoon we went to the India/Pakistan border for the Beating of the Retreat. I have no idea why they do it, I asked our very informative guide and he didn’t either yet hundreds of people gather and really enjoy the ceremony! All I can say about it, looking from the Pakistan side was soldiers marching up to the gate in such a way it was extremely reminiscent of John Cleese Monty Python walk!
Following on from all the excitement of the previous two days we had a game of cricket to watch at the Rawalpindi Cricket stadium. The toss was won by Stokes who elected to bat. One change to the original line up as Ben Foakes was still unwell from the virus that was sweeping through the camp was one of Surrey’s great prospects Will Jacks making his England debut and Ollie Pope taking the gloves. England batted as if there were no demons, the ball doing nothing on what looked a very flat wicket conducive to batting, so it proved, scoring a massive 506/4 a record unsurprisingly on the first day with Crawley, Duckett, Pope and Brook all centurions. England eventually all out on day two for 657.
Pakistan to their credit batted well for their 579 and they too had three centurions in Shafique, Imam & the Pakistan favourite Babar, not forgetting an excellent six wicket haul for Jacks.
England started their second innings in similar vein to the first scoring 264/6 then lost the seventh which meant tea. To my amazement Ben Stokes declared, leaving Pakistan 343 to win, I thought it was a brave decision. I couldn’t imagine any England captain in recent years dangling a carrot clearly gettable on the wicket.
Pakistan got to stumps on day 4 80/2 all three results were on the cards for day 5. Pakistan didn’t have to score anywhere near the rate that England did with their combined 921 at an average of 6.77 an over, absolutely phenomenal! England required wickets early and that didn’t happen, but they kept at it always trying something. Even though Pakistan looked comfortable we did get three. After tea everything changed, Pakistan needed just 86 and England still needed to take 5 wickets they started with two wickets in the first two overs eventually Leach trapping Naseem lbw to win. I would say this was the most remarkable test match I’ve seen abroad. It had everything as records tumbled, but the hero of the hour has to be Ben Stokes, his captaincy was refreshing. He could have quite easily taken the draw and go again in Multan but it was evident at the start that he had other ideas. Although I couldn’t see any other result then a draw, he just has belief that filtered through the team that we could do this. All the players were focussed , every one of them believed in him and in return he gets 110% from them all. It must go down as one of the most amazing test matches for many a year. Records galore broken, to be sitting on the edge of your seat sucking in every ball, just wondering if England would be beaten by the fast fading light. There must have been minutes left when Leach struck, it was one of those “I was there moments” and sets us up nicely for the rest of the series. We have heard that the PCB are not happy with the pitch and said to expect the same in Multan, whatever happens, I think the cricketing world will be watching!
All the very best