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Sun, Sandwiches and the West Indies

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Sun, sandwiches and the West Indies

On the eve of return of the West Indian Cricket team, a fond look back at the good old days.

If ever there were to be a nani amma, who were a cricket enthusiast, she would have told stories about an era when the West Indies reigned supreme in cricket fields around the globe.

Stories would have revolved around larger than life characters that commanded respect, fear, awe and admiration throughout the cricket world. There were master batsmen, fierce fast bowlers, magical spinners and leaders of the character and sagacity of Worrell and Lloyd. West Indies, a motely nation of islands scattered over thousands of square miles of ocean have only got cricket, English language and a colonial past common amongst them. Because of their natural physical prowess and aptitude, they kept churning out one legend after another for decades. Super stars that allowed people of the islands to demonstrate their superiority over their former masters and thus provided a sense of pride to their various nations.

At the eve of the current West Indian team’s visit to Pakistan, I am going to talk about an era when this global super power of cricket visited Pakistan.

In 1975, the West Indies were going through a rebuild. The former giants Worrell, Walcott, Weekes, Hall, Sobers and Griffith had retired. A young Clive Lloyd was the skipper and was overseeing reorganisation of the team. The fearsome future pace quartet of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall was not yet in place and only Andy Roberts was playing. Viv Richards was a promising rookie and Gordon Greenidge had not yet made his debut. The team however had the formidable Roy Fredericks as the opener and dependable Alvin Kallicharran in the middle order. With Lloyd himself in the lower middle order and the ever resilient Derryck Murray keeping wickets and providing strength to the batting, the team had the wizard off spinner Lance Gibbs completing the star studded line up. It wasn’t yet the champion team of the next decade but it was an opposition that was to be respected.

It was a game against this team in Feb '75, that I had the good fortune of seeing. In those days, watching a cricket match did not use to be such a big deal. Ticket prices, particularly for the general enclosure, were only five to ten rupees a day. Tickets were easily available and security around the ground used to be fairly nominal.

I was taken to the Gaddafi stadium to watch first day of the first cricket test of the series by my mamoon. I was ten years old and my brother Zahid, was eight. Both of us were dropped to my nani ami’s house on the Friday night. Next day had been declared a local holiday in Lahore because of the game. (In those days, Saturday used to be a working day with Sunday as the weekly holiday).

Nani ami made us the delicious 'flying saucer' shaped sandwiches. These sandwiches were prepared in a special sandwich maker which was shaped like a flying saucer. The inside was buttered and the slices of bread were packed with the sandwich mixture. Nani ami had her own recipe of eggs, chicken and vegetables. The two halves of the sandwich maker were closed and the whole unit was warmed up on low heat. The device was flipped on both sides and after five minutes or so, the two halves which were joined on a hinge were opened up to reveal golden brown sandwich! This was then divided in two halves and the piping hot sandwich was allowed to cool before wrapping them up in foil. This sandwich remains one of the most delicious sandwiches that I have ever eaten. Along with sandwiches, we had mango squash in a large thermos with ice cubes and all these goodies were packed in a little basket that had plates, ketchup and napkins.

Ah! the excitement of going to the stadium, crowds of people thronging the stadium gate, hangama of disorganised public and police! We were dropped at the outer gate of the stadium by a cab. Our tickets, which had been bought in advance, were for the general enclosure.

Mamoon shepherded Zahid and I through all of this in to the ground. Security at the gate was managed by Police constables. They did a cursory check of our tickets and food basket and ushered us in. We were a few decades away from the time of metal detectors and three ringed security arrangements!

Whilst we were meandering through the snaking ques, the game had already started. As we were a few meters from the iron grilled gate, we heard a loud noise of clapping and applause. Someone, who was ahead of us in the que, announced that Pakistan had already lost its opening batsman! To our disappointment, it was our hero Majid Khan, who had been dismissed for 2 by Andy Roberts. Thankfully we didn't lose any more wickets before we could take our seats.

We saw all the others get out in front of our eyes!

In those days, spectators in the general enclosure had to sit on cement steps. Gaddafi stadium was yet to get its fiberglass seats. We got settled on one of the upper tier steps which allowed a good view of the ground. First thing to note was the dark green of the lush outfield. The morning was a typical Lahore late winter / early spring one. Morning had that faintly foggy air so typical of Lahore with a bright sun making it an ideal day for playing and watching the gentlemen 's game (these days, this magical haze has been replaced with the miserable fog!). The sun was shining offering a pleasant warmth and a rather brisk wind was blowing which was more refreshing than cold. It was the same wind which was behind Andy Roberts who, bowling from the ‘college end’ (named after FC College), had managed to get rid of the priceless wicket of Majid Khan.

Roberts was still bowling and was causing all sorts of trouble to our formidable batting line up. Majid had been replaced by the,

’Asian Bradman’ Zaheer Abbas who had joined the debutant opener, Agha Zahid. The on field action was not as clearly visible to us as the ball was just a blur and we could only see it well once it had been caught by the diminutive Derryck Murray behind stumps. None of our top batsmen could stay for much of a time at the wicket and slowly we began to loose wickets. We would recognise that someone had been dismissed as a catch was taken in the slips and the tall West Indians would begin their celebrations. Towering figure of Lloyd being the most prominent.

There was soon the lunch break and we took out our goodies from the basket. On that day in the stadium, we were sitting close to a man who must have been in his late 30s. A gentleman of generous proportions he was wearing trousers and a shirt and had a brimless hat on his head. He did not have anyone with him. We wondered that what sort of a person goes and watches a game of cricket on his own? Did he not have any friends or family members? We felt sorry for him.

In the stadium, many vendors were selling various food items. There was the ubiquitous Hico ice cream, hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, burgers, challian, samosay, pakoray, fruit and of course paan. One of the paan sellers had this unique style of selling. He would be carrying his pan making tray strapped around his torso. Standing on the stadium steps, he would call at the top of his voice, “ Kam az kam paan to khaao!”

This gentleman whom I told you about, who had been watching the game on his on, and for whom we had been feeling sorry for, started sampling these various goodies on offer.

He started with fruit, devouring a dozen kinnus, followed by some ganderees. Then came in samosa and alu chat, all gulped down with Coke and Shezan. For lunch our hero had the lunch pack with pulao and chicken curry with sweetmeat as dessert.

We now were feeling sorry for ourselves with only home made sandwiches for us! Delicious as they were, we did not have the variety to match his constant gluttony.

What I remember from that day is that he did not spare any vendor and ate his heart out. Quite literally.

After the lunch break, the game resumed. Because of the overnight rain, there was still some moisture in the wicket. This meant that batting remained difficult. Zaheer Abbas and Agha Zahid both got out. Mushtaq Muhammad and Asif Iqbal tried to steady the ship. One West Indian fielder, whose name I have forgotten was posted to the boundary in front of our enclosure. This was the deep square leg boundary. In those days, the long protective railings of latter years had not been installed and therefore players posted on the boundary could sign autographs for spectators. I recall that this player signed autographs for quite a few people.

Whatever cool there was in the air in the morning had now evaporated in the bright post lunch sun. A spectator sitting close to us took out his pocket transistor and turned the tuning switch to catch a radio station that had been playing some film songs. It was a very soothing addition to the surroundings. Us watching cricket, enjoying the late winter sun, peeling oranges whilst listening to some quality music. Life could not have been better!

After the tea break, the sun began to get low resulting in lengthening of shadows. I walked to the top of the stadium to see what the view would be from that height. I realised that from the top, the view of the game got better as one could get a more panoramic picture. I could also see the Lahore skyline that was dotted with what looked like a million kites flying. They used to celebrate the seasonal festival of basant around that time of the year which explained the huge number of kites.

It was all very colourful.

At the close of play, we had lost five wickets for only 100 and something runs. It sounds like awfully slow when I look back at it. But I can promise you that we had enjoyed a fantastic day’s cricket. We watched world class players perform in front of our very eyes. Players like Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Muhammad, Waseem Raja, Andy Roberts, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd. We lazed around in a sun soaked bliss and had an excellent picnic. All for around ten rupees per head!

Those good old days when an uncle would take his two nephews for a day at test cricket without too much of a planning would probably never return. We are forever going to be in the era of enhanced security. Tickets would not only be exorbitantly expensive but also difficult to purchase. For the last few years, we have not had a chance to enjoy even that much. It is for this reason that I am happy that international cricket is at least making a return.

I am optimistic that in future, this would be a regular event and we shall soon begin to get full fledged tours from international cricket teams.

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