I was probably the first spectator in the stand along with my brother Ishtiaq. Play was supposed to start at 11:00. It was barely 9:30. That’s how early I have always been for cricket matches. Be it my first ever experience at Niaz Stadium in Hyderabad for a Pakistan – Srilanka match before 1992 World Cup or numerous other experiences at National Stadium in Karachi. I love to get in there early, get a feel of the ground, soak the atmosphere (or lack of it), and then watch players warm up and practise. But this was different. As we sat on our seats I said something to Ishtiaq and he replied, ‘let me absorb this for a while, I am at Lords to watch a test match. This is my dream come true.’ I could totally understand. He was a being a fan just like me. We were afterall at Lords cricket ground.
This day has more signifance due to the fact that Pakistan was playing. Last time I went to see a cricket match was for a Asia Cup game between Pakistan and Srilanka at National Stadium in Karachi in July 2008. Soon after, the attack on Srilankan team happened and international cricket stopped in Pakistan. So I was watching my team play after eight years. Now to he honest, I was vary of my record (or jinx) of Pakistan losing matches whenever I go to see them in stadium. Their win ratio is about 20% when I am in the crowd. And Pakistan hadn’t won at Lords since 1996. I don’t need to go into more details about what I was fearing despite the decent position we were in.
Another reason for coming in early was that from my experiences in Pakistan, I assumed it would take quite a bit of time to find the right gate and then enclosure to enter. When we reached the ground we saw a long que of MCC members formally dressed in the striped or baige blazers and ties. We were swiftly guided to right entrance by stewards and as soon as gates opened it was a smooth sailing. Unlike Pakistan, spectators were allowed to bring in their food and liquor (in limited quantity). However flags or banners were not allowed. Crowd in other stands was a good mix of people casually dressed in chappals and shorts to people in suits as well as uber cool fashionistas in smart casuals. As we entered we saw Nursery ground which is a small ground used for nets. It is situated behind the spaceship looking media centre and that is where the name Nursery End comes from. We stopped by there to see Sohail Khan and other coaching staff giving net practise to Muhammad Amir and Yasir Shah. Though none of it came to any help as Pakistan innings folded before we could open our packs of crisps. Before entering the stand, we decided to get some coffee and this is where we had our first encounter with Lords’s knowledable crowd. An old gentlemen wearing MCC jacket was sipping his tea and as I was mixing sugar to my latte, he asked us politely ‘do you lads think your team can finish the game today?’. I honestly didn’t think so. So I said that it will go to 5th day and I think England has a good chance considering lot of their first innings dismissals were poor shots to Yasir Shah and I expect them to play better. He said, ‘He is a good leggie this chap. And perhaps you are disregarding a weary fourth day pitch.’ As it turned out, I was. He left saying may the best team wins.
Our stand was right below media centre, opposite pavilion. We had a good view (mid/Long off position from Nursery End) and were under the shade on a sunny but breezy day. In terms of support, England had an edge but there was a vociferous Pakistani contigent scattered which made it’s presence felt throughout the day. English support was typical Lords. Neutral, sporting and sophisticated in it’s behaviour. There were usually some turned heads and raised eyebrows at Pakistani slogans and chants but plenty of smiles as well. On my left were two English gentlemen with whom I had numerous interesting conversations throughout the day. They would burst out laughing during Wahab Riaz’s great spell everytime he would beat a batsmen. He once commented that if there was rule that batsmen would have to walk back if they were beaten 5 times, both Woak and Baistrow would be out by now. His departing remark was that in the end, atleast England had more reviews left in DRS so they won on that account. On my right were couple of Desi young men, one of who didnt know Muhammad Aamir.
What I like about watching matches in grounds is you get to see some stuff which somehow is not evident on television coverage. I saw suited Wasim Akram talking to Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz before start of play for good 15 minutes. He was holding a ball up in the air so it must have been either about release of the ball or arm positioning. Regardless, both Rahat and Wahab bowled well on the day. There were lot of memes on social media about Muhammad Hafeez and his utility to the team. Before Pakistan’s turn to bowl, Micky Arthur spent time with Hafeez on catching drills. Also, watching Wahab Riaz trying to make crowd clap for Muhammad Aamir when nothing seemed to be working for him was great to see.
I must admit during England’s main partnership, I did contemplate leaving early to avoid the rush. But my brother insisted to stay and thank goodness we did. As we were about to walk out after end of play, I saw Pakistani team line up on the ground and I thought I have never seen a match presentation ceremony on Lords ground so what are they upto? What happened afterwards will remain in our minds forever. And the fact that I saw it live, I can only express by saying that I was there when it happened. As we were walking out, Lords and its surrounding streets were resonating with Pakistan Zindabad slogans and for fans who had not seen their team in action for so long, you could feel nothing but pride.
P.S: I have tried resisting the urge to write a match report for two reasons: 1 – They are already out there and written by people who can do more justice than I can and 2 – You watch very little of the actual game itself when you are on the ground.