ISLAMABAD: In the midst of a practice session at the G-7 cricket ground, club cricketer Mohammad Ali has his ears glued to his mobile phone. “Real cricket is Test cricket,” he says as he listens to commentary from the first Test match between Pakistan and England at the Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Test cricket is where a player’s technique is really tested, he says. “I always watch Test matches very closely, because it provides youngsters like me with learning opportunities,” he says.
But Ali is something of a special case; for the average cricket fan in Pakistan, Twenty20 and One-Day internationals offer more of a spectacle and are watched with greater interest.
A trip to any market, barber shop or tea stall – usually a lightning rod for cricket-obsessed Pakistanis – reveals that the public isn’t as invested in the Tests as they would be in the shorter formats of the game. While the TVs here are tuned to the match, not everyone is watching.
“The T20 format has overtaken one-days and tests, but both formats cannot match the taste of a traditional Test match, complete with long spells by spin bowlers and passionately played innings,” Sohail Ahmed of Bhara Kahu observes as he sips a cup of tea while watching the action on a small TV screen at a hotel.
But Nazeer Hussain, the waiter, told Dawn that most customers were not interested in the five-day matches. “Most people are not following this match very closely, but they are keen to know any updates; from the latest score to the match position.”
Watching the match at a restaurant near Rawalpindi’s Sixth Road, Tariq Khan reveals why he thinks the shorter version of the game is more immersive. “T20s are more entertaining; they provide viewers the chance to see some hard-hitting from the likes of Shahid Afridi, AB de Villiers, MS Dhoni and Chris Gayle.”
But while Test cricket may not be the most exciting format of the game, there is still a loyal legion of Pakistani fans that are glued to the action. For them, this is more than just a Test match, it’s a redemption story.
The rivalry between Pakistan and England is a historic one, fraught by several ugly and forgettable moments: accusations of ball-tampering, a forfeited match and, above all, the spot-fixing scandal.
G-7 resident Zeeshan Ali views the first test as a historic moment, because it marks a return to the scene of the crime for pace prodigy Mohammad Amir.
“He is now back in action at Lord’s, the same ground where he was caught deliberately bowling no-balls. And after a five-year ban, he gets to restart his Test career from the same venue, against the same team.”
“This match is very important for Pakistan. The International Cricket Council banned young Amir and many thought he would never return,” he says, predicting that the pacer will silence his critics by playing a leading role in the series.