Pakistan’s first home series in England was greeted with vuvuzelas and a half built Edgbaston. It is safe to say that after the first game it doesn’t look like Pakistan are going to struggle for support in England. From the first ball, vuvuzelas or not, the ground was rocking. It seemed that most of them had something green on, including the one guy near me who had died his hair green for the occasion, or thought it was St Paddy’s day.
Everytime a Pakistani player left the changeroom he was cheered, every time an Australian left the changeroom he was booed. Even Australian reserve Steven O’Keefe – who had just turned up in England and would be unknown to most Australian fans – was abused. It didn’t stop there, Hopes was told he had none, Nannes was a traitor, Watson a wanker, Bollinger got the bird, David Hussey had one fan wanting him to bend over and anyone in yellow got some form of ribbing.
I’m sure there were Australians there – I saw some walking in – but once the game was starting finding the green and gold from among the green seemed impossible. Before the game the vuvuzelas were deafening unless Akhtar or Afridi were walking, standing still or out on the ground. Once the game started the man that made the crowd really erupt was Umar Akmal.
Akmal has the talent, eye and swagger to take over world cricket, and those who believe in divine intervention may believe that he was born in this generation purely to light up the game of T20. Waqar Younis was swooning over him in the press conference, and it isn’t that often Waqar swoons. Umar’s innings turned the ground into a party as he smacked 64 off 31. This wasn’t some slogathon either; the man plays back cuts so well that you forget you are watching some barbarian form of cricket.
On the other side of the coin was Shoaib Akhtar. This was not Akhtar’s comeback game, he represented Pakistan in the Asia cup, but he bowled like a 45 year old boxer thrown back into the ring after retiring when he was 35. His first five balls were smashed for four by David Warner who was so tired by the sixth ball he couldn’t hit another long hop away. After his second over he was not brought back on.
Instead it was Pakistan’s other Umar who did the damage with the ball. In the second World T20 Umar Gul was virtually unplayable. After a bit of time off from that kind of play, he was back. When at his best he seems to occupy the space on the batting crease. Almost every ball is a quick Yorker, and then he throws in a touch of reverse swing for good measure. His 3 overs went for 12 runs and he only didn’t get a 4th because Australia never made it to the end. Young (he probably isn’t 18, but he is still young) Aamer was also brilliant picking up 3 wickets and looking more threatening than anything Tait, Nannes and Johnson could work up.
This was a statement game for Pakistan, their first game in a new home against the team that had beaten them in the previous 12 games. Winning this was something they desperately wanted. In contrast, Michael Clarke could not have been more relaxed about the loss afterwards. Australia might have to get through these two T20s first, but they are clearly much more focused on the tests. They would have struggled to beat a Pakistani team with so many in form bowlers regardless.
For the Pakistani fans it was the perfect start of their nation of birth – or the birth of their parents or grandparents in many cases – coming to their home. When the game finished there it was like no one wanted to leave. They could not have made this feel more like a home game if it was in Lahore. The whole crowd stayed and screamed every time a highlight or a Pakistani player was shown on the big screen. They clearly didn’t want this to end, and luckily for them such is the nature of T20 cricket they can come back tomorrow night and watch the same two teams again.
If you like pain, listen to the noise of the fans below.
You can find Jarrod talking about momentum over at cricket with balls.