Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 4)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

The ground only exists because of Pakistan's anti-Ahmadi tenets. The land was originally earmarked for the annual Ahmadi jalsa, a large, multiple-day religious event. But the Pakistani government refuses to grant permission to hold the event, which is now organised in other countries with sizeable Ahmadi populations. Rabwah has also repeatedly been refused permission to host sports events, including inter-community tournaments. So the community decided to develop the property as a cricket ground instead. This explains why it doesn't have an official name.

Until about 12 years ago, there were rumours that the property was ridden with snakes. It was a rock-strewn, disused piece of land. It took months to clear, and a PCB advisor was asked for help with plotting out the pitch. Cricket is now played in Rabwah through the year, except for a couple of months in the summer when the punishing heat and the humidity from nearby paddy fields make it difficult to do so. Rabwah's cricketers repeatedly describe the ground as a blessing. They brag that there isn't another ground like this in the entire district.

Fazl-e-Umar's players find themselves at the ground every day. Work hours at the Ahmadiyya community's offices end at 2pm and there is little else to do other than amass at the ground. "Awaragirdi karni hai na?" [We have to loaf around passing time right?] Naveed says. "I start playing instead."

Like many of Rabwah's cricketers, Naveed has had a shot or two at aspiring to the major leagues: playing for the district, a trial for a first-class team. When he played in other cities, he says his team-mates, including Misbah-ul-Haq, were often surprised he had never been called up for bigger sides. He doesn't have an answer for them, because, he says, he has never been told the reason outright. But he believes that his faith "is the biggest reason".

For now, he has to lead his team to victory. Folding chairs are quickly set up, a thermos of tea and a couple of cups circulate among the players, and the toss takes place. The hosts lose and are asked to bat first. Coach Haye settles into his chair. He has already run a few miles this morning, he says, rebuking the player sitting next to him, whose belly is straining against his shirt. "He's eaten gobi parathas today," the coach says, in mock exasperation.

"I'd planned to eat these parathas today," the player responds.

"Planned!" Haye snorts, setting off a round of teasing and admonitions.

Earlier that weekend Haye was watching a match at the ground, sitting in a folding chair that creaked under his sizeable frame. Rabwah Cricket Club, the other prominent club in town, was hosting a team from Faisalabad. The clubs split use of the ground, taking turns on alternate Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays.

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