They call Karachi the ‘City of Lights’, but its greatest connection to English cricket was a moment of near darkness.
Their last visit here for a test 22 years ago is famous for Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe walking off the field arm in arm, inflicting Pakistan’s first defeat at the National Stadium and securing England a maiden victory in series in this country. since 1961.
England are aiming for history again. Ben Stokes’ side are already the first English side to win two Tests on a tour outside Pakistan. No team has ever left this country with a 3-0 victory.
This is the latest leg of a historic first visit to Pakistan in 17 years. For the first test in Rawalpindi, England stayed in the well-maintained capital of Islamabad before moving to Multan, one of the oldest cities in the world. The bustling city of Karachi gets its nickname of the City of Light from its vibrant nightlife.
The welcome given to everyone on tour was the warmest one could imagine. There is genuine gratitude to those who have made the journey. Shopkeepers, waiters and hotel staff want to know what English people think of Pakistan and if we will be back.
On the pitch, Pakistan took hospitality to an extreme by choosing just one bowler, Abrar Ahmed, who appeared to take a wicket.
Home fans enjoyed the sword cricket played by England, albeit at the expense of the hosts.
Multan’s stadium was too far from the city and too big to fill, but the intimate Rawalpindi was intensely atmospheric. Witnessing Captain Babar Azam’s Hundred was like being invited to participate in a mass worship ritual.
England have risen to challenges. The illness that struck the team the day before the first test almost delayed the game by a day.
Stokes assessed his team’s fitness the morning of the match through replies in a WhatsApp group and the captain had to persuade spinner Jack Leach to play. The disease also persisted in Multan. Stokes nearly threw up during his post-match press conference.
Security in Multan was stifling for all travelers – players, media and fans. Even though gunshots were heard the day before the start of the second test, the shots were attributed to rival business owners. There was some unease over the closure of an entire town, disrupting shops, schools and daily life, just so the English could get into cricket.
Culturally diverse, Karachi, the largest city in the country, offered the opportunity to experience life in Pakistan.
Camels that used to roam along the road in Multan can be driven into the Arabian Sea on Clifton Beach, where a snake charmer will play music to a hissing black cobra. Cows’ hooves are on sale at Empress Market. In the hills, the home of two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the pinnacle of Karachi’s high life.
Not that English players can see any of that. They stay inside their hotel, only go out for cricket or golf – and there’s a golf simulator in the team room. Their greatest danger is slipping into the pool, a fate that has befallen them Australia’s Alex Carey earlier this year.
They are on the eve of their final test in a year of redemption, revolution and regeneration.
No team in Test history has ever followed a nine-game winless streak by winning as many as eight of their next nine games. It’s a niche stat, but it serves to underline just how dramatic England’s reversal of fortune has been.
Slowly thoughts turn to ashes – Stokes admitted as much when explaining the decision to exclude 40-year-old James Anderson from the Karachi test. There are only three left after that before England begin their bid to reclaim the famous urn.
Even without the injured Jonny Bairstow, the English stick looks stronger than it has for several years.
In 2022, England has recorded 21 individual centuries, more than the previous three years combined.
Eight different players hit triple figures, a far cry from the days when England’s hitter was essentially Joe Root plus whatever else the rest could cobble together.
It was interesting to note that Root, without a century on this tour, was one of the few to undergo optional training on Thursday, no doubt eager to take the last chance to leave his mark on one of the few countries he has not yet mastered. .
Ollie Robinson has proven he has the skills to succeed in all conditions and is the natural successor as attacking leader when Anderson and Stuart Broad retire. He’s already ahead of Broad in the pecking order.
And the sight of Mark Wood’s bowling rockets in Multan raises the tantalizing prospect of a deal with Jofra Archer, who is firmly on the comeback trail.
However, the biggest storyline in Karachi will be 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed, the leg player who is set to become the youngest man to ever play a Test for England. Not since Alfred Archer in 1903 have England fielded a player with as few as Ahmed’s three first-class appearances.
It’s an exciting selection. Ahmed is a fast bowler, has a googly villain, and already has a first-class century to his name.
With the series won, his inclusion is somewhat of a free kick, but there are five Tests in India next winter to plan.
An impressive performance could also see Ahmed put pressure on Leach.
The left arm is the only bowler to have bowled in every Test since Stokes took charge and is an immensely popular member of the England squad. However, there is a lingering feeling that Leach is throwing too many deliveries that good players can hit for four.
Admittedly, not helped by Stokes’ reluctance to drop outfielders, on this tour he conceded a limit of four or six on 10.5 balls played, up from 16.5 previously.
If those numbers are skewed by the speed and number of runs scored by the two teams, Root’s part-time off-spin has conceded a limit every 15.1 balls here, down from 16.7 previously – a difference not so important than Leach’s figures.
As Ahmed steps onto the Test stage for the first time, former Pakistan captain Azhar Ali prepares to bow out after tearfully announcing his retirement on Friday.
A Pakistani cricket giant, Azhar helped carry his team through the years they were exiled from playing at home. It would have been a great shame if he had never played for Pakistan in his home country. If he does feature in Karachi, it will be his 10th home cap out of 97.
The word is that the pitch at the national stadium will turn, that we could be in for a quick test. England say they are not focused on clean sweeping, but the chance for history will not go unnoticed.
A last boost in the City of Light before the house, and the Christmas lights.