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The Scene Story: Behind the Scenes with Team Pakistan

Behind the Scenes with Team Pakistan
Expats throng to watch boys in green practice

SYDNEY – February 6, 2015: A little past noon when Team Pakistan boarded the coach for its training session Friday, clouds hovered and now and then there was a bit of a drizzle. But around the practice time, set at 14:30, it was pleasantly sunny and windy. Nearly four scores of expat Pakistanis and a not insignificant smattering of Aussies was already there at Campbelltown Camden District Cricket Club, lying in wait for the high profile cluster of stars that they may not have seen together live in the suburban town an hour and a quarter’s drive from this colourful cosmopolitan, but only if the traffic is light on a four-lane motorway. It takes far longer if the driver misses an exit while going and the traffic on return is as dense as one should expect on a weekend!

This being a Friday, the size and number of the enthusiastic audience was likely to grow as the shadows lengthened, with schools closing and parents shutting shop early for the weekend – so one was told at the outset by Kamil Khan, the guy who runs his own hospitality group that fed the Pakistan squad at start and end of training. That forecast turned out to be spot on, raising the number to well above 300 in the park when the team filed out for a ride back to Sydney at six.

The Pakistanis here are as starved of seeing the stars they idolize in flesh. And for them, like most Pakistanis back home since March 2009, this was a rare opportunity, a treat indeed, to come watch them in action from close quarters – even if it was in a practice session.

There were mums, young and old, trying but failing to keep bouncy children under check; adolescent and grown up women and men – all wanting to have a momentary glimpse of what to them were larger-than-life figures coming from where their roots were.

There were young kids keen to still get closer to the boys in green, beseeching for an opportunity to serve in the nets or in the outfield, only to be disappointed because the host club had a monopoly on that.

Such was the interest generated by the Pakistani cricketers’ visit that the local weekly newspaper, the Macarthur Chronicle Campbelltown sent its reporter and a photographer to do scene stories for its upcoming edition.

Peter Way, the Chronicle reporter, in a chat with this scribe said, the Chinese football team had trained here ahead of the Asia Cup recently (where incidentally the Aussies triumphed) but in a cloistered environment, and that the welcome openness of the Pakistani cricketers had been so well-received that many had left work to come watch them practice!

An interesting aside: The Campbelltown Camden District Cricket Club is home to a team titled, ‘the Ghosts’. Yet Haris Sohail was the very personification of peace, and blissfully unaware of proximity of such creatures that had perturbed him in Christchurch, remained keenly busy in his diverse workout without a care in the world!

As the crowd grew in number, so did the boisterousness.

The overflow of exuberance touched heights when first Ahmed Shehzad mingled with the folks on each side of the sprawling greens, with Shahid Afridi following suit at the culmination of his final stint. Misbah ul Haq coming out of the indoor nets was thronged and engulfed. Seated in the club house at a distance, probably fearing someone unwittingly harming the skipper, manager Naveed Akram Cheema was up in a flash, the power in his stentorian voice, far more commanding than a company commander’s in the thick of battle, prevailed and Misbah was escorted out of the throng by the Ghosts’ thickset no-nonsense characters.

As everyone trudged his way back to the coach for the return journey, it was ever-popular Younis Khan’s turn to get bogged down by a swarm of people. The club’s burly lead minder finally getting him out and on to the bus, amid chants of ‘Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga…’

The departure had been delayed by a few minutes from the appointed hour, yet manager Cheema, a stickler where timing and discipline is concerned, stayed quiet – the satisfaction of a day’s job well done keeping the tongue-lashing away.

Tailpiece: While Mushie was overseeing Afridi and Haris bowl in their version of the ‘bowler and stumps’ session at the fag end, the ‘keeper was the local lad, accompanied by a club ‘suit’ standing at leg umpire’s position, photographing and now and then guiding the young one imbibing on how to keep to quality leg spin – all the while fighting with his paunch but still staying on top of the action. Back home perhaps, much like times olden but not forgotten, we need a few of similar ‘suits’ and the almost-vanished breed of volunteers to spot talent, nurture it and find ways at getting them opportunities to get noticed. And thrive, the unique Pakistani way!

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).