Tuesday, March 21

Security and sound the abiding memories of docile Rawalpindi draw | Australia cricket team

TOs far as the cricket goes, you can probably gather all you need to know from the fact that it was the first Test in history with a century opening partnership for three innings in a row. Or from the fact that Australia never got close to batting a second time. In the end Pakistan made 728 runs for the loss of four wickets in the match. Fold in the Australian innings and it read 1187 for 14. What else could be expected on a pitch the color and character of a tranquilized Labrador.

Those conditions were the home team’s choice. Usually the Rawalpindi surface is green with grass and helpful for pace, but after Pakistan’s fast bowlers were scythed down by illness and injury, they turned the mower as ruthlessly on to the pitch itself. Fear of Australia’s bowling supremacy saw Pakistan surrender the team’s own edge: Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah showed pace and skill despite the lack of assistance, but were left a task too tall.

But still, in other ways none of that seemed to matter. A team of Australians were playing Test cricket at Rawalpindi, the ground last trod by Mark Taylor when he made his famous triple century in 1998, and the match itself was secondary to everything that surrounded it for the full five days.

Take the sound. Never at a cricket ground would you expect to hear such a sound. Hundreds of small horns, each being blown to form a single buzzing note. Abrasive on their own, annoying in clusters. But as each one in the ground was sounded at once, such as on the four occasions when Pakistan players reached centuries, the individual parts joined into something bigger, something singular, the noise vibrating through your body as if you were only a conduit.

Take the weaponry. Never for a cricket match would you expect to see this. Police and soldiers stationed along highways, clustered under trees, riding in the backs of trucks that bristled with rifle barrels like war-bound porcupines. Snipers on the rooftops of hotel and stadium. Trucks and checkpoints and barricades for blocks around. Sniffer dogs and bomb-finders and metal detectors. Tall saturnine rangers. Through it all, chatter and jokes at each stop along the way, the camouflaged man checking your bag for the fourth time smiling brightly and asking, “How are you enjoying our security?” Even with this contribution, the clear sense of pride.

Take the enthusiasm. On the final day, with the match all but mummified for display in a museum, the crowd still suffused it with life. Crowds of school-age girls matched Pakistan flag face-paint with hijabs while taking endless rounds of selfies in the stands, before their half-day adventure was over and they were back to class. Pindi Boys strutted the concourse with the vocalizing and the strut of the residents of the Poultry Research Institute next to the stadium. Mosh-pits of fans still celebrating with the score at none for 220.

There was no thought of a declaration, Pakistan choosing instead to keep Australia in the field with only three days until the next match. There was the ceremonial finishing move of Usman Khawaja becoming the ninth player to bowl, in front of the crowd from the town of his birth, a man with a solitary first-class wicket taken back in 2010. There was the Azan echoing over the ground from the towers of the Bait-ul-Mukurram mosque. Rush to prayer, rush to prayer. There was something that mattered in every part of this, something affirmed.


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