Honouring the legend
At first glance, there seems to be no obvious connection between the political upheavals in Libya and the cosy cricket universe of Pakistan.
Yet a connection very much exists. It is deep, significant, and increasingly alarming. You know what I’m talking about.
In 1974, presumably overcome by brotherly love, our late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto named Lahore’s great Test centre after you-know-who. It must have seemed a good idea at the time. Bhutto had just convened a major Islamic summit conference, a breathtaking show of diplomatic and political skill on the world stage, and the Libyan leader had been a key participant. Colonel Gaddafi had little interest in cricket, but in that atmosphere of mutual back-slapping, Bhutto’s magnanimous gesture must have really tickled him.
It helped that the stadium’s previous name was nothing distinctive. The arena hosted its first Test in 1959 and used to be known simply as Lahore Stadium until Bhutto renamed it. Visiting teams, especially ones from England and Australia whose governments never thought much of the Colonel, would look the other way. Pakistani cricket followers were indifferent; to them, the name Gaddafi was just that—a name.
But now we are in 2011, and it is clear beyond a shadow of doubt that this name has to go. Without getting into any discussion about the merits or otherwise of Gaddafi’s influence in Libya and beyond, all you need to know is that he came to power in 1969 and refused to step aside. That’s a totalitarian rule of 42 years, more than half a lifetime. And look at what it took to remove him—a violent rebellion with many deaths. That and the sheer length of his autocracy confirm that the man had truly nasty and evil designs.
Lahore’s great Test centre is no ordinary stadium. It is a travesty for it to carry the name that it does. It is the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board, which makes it not just the spiritual but also the official home of Pakistan cricket. It is a magnificent arena that has seen some stirring cricketing moments. This is where Javed Miandad made his Test debut in 1976, scoring 163 in a landmark partnership of 281 with Asif Iqbal that is still Pakistan’s highest for the fifth wicket.
This is also where Inzamamul Haq belted his way to 329 as Pakistan routed New Zealand by the crushing margin of an innings and 324 runs in 2002, which is the fifth highest Test victory margin ever. In 1996, this is where Sri Lanka made history under floodlights lifting the world cup.
Contemplating a new name for this hallowed turf is not a straightforward exercise. One could give it an impersonal name with a regional connotation—such as Shalimar, Ravi, or Badshahi Stadium, perhaps—but it would be hard to reach consensus on that. Attempts to name it after a contemporary political figure like Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif would also prove divisive.
You might name it after some of Pakistan’s iconic national figures—such as the Quaid or Allama Iqbal—but that’s already been done quite a bit.
It seems to me that the best chance of reaching universal agreement would be to honour a cricketing personality of enormous significance, and who better than some who also happens to be a son of Lahore. No, I’m not thinking of Imran Khan, although God knows he deserves it. The problem with Imran is that his political dimensions would prevent any such attempts proceeding further in our current national climate. And since Gaddafi is now a laughing stock, we really have no time to waste.
I believe the ideal new name for Lahore’s famous Test centre would be Kardar Stadium. Just saying it out loud is gratifying—it resonates with a lovely ring. As Pakistan’s inaugural Test captain who led the team to some memorable performances in its formative years, Abdul Hafeez Kardar casts the longest and most influential shadow over Pakistan cricket. He united a group of inexperienced players and motivated them to produce their best—not just in Pakistan but also in places like Lucknow, the Oval, and Bridgetown. He later became chairman of the PCB and instituted a corporation-based domestic first-class set-up that has been a prolific nursery for Pakistan’s national sides over the years.
Kardar’s regional credentials are beyond dispute. He was born in Lahore in 1925 and schooled at some of the city’s best-known institutions, including Islamia High School in Bhaati Gate, Dyal Singh College, and Islamia College. As an attacking left-hand batsman and a left-arm bowler capable of clever slow-medium, Kardar rose to prominence before Partition and played three Tests for India on its 1946 tour to England. He then went on to play 23 Tests for Pakistan, all of them as captain, winning six, losing six and drawing 11.
Kardar was in fact central to Pakistan getting Test status. We take it for granted today, but after Pakistan emerged as a new country in 1947, it was required to compete for full membership to the ICC. England’s national team arrived in November 1951 to play two unofficial ‘Tests’ and decide if Pakistan were up to it. The first match in Lahore was drawn and it all came down to the decisive encounter in Karachi. Kardar was fabulous in that match. As an astute tactician, he used his bowlers and field settings to great effect. In the final innings, with Pakistan needing 285 to win, he battled bravely for 50 not out to see his team home by four wickets.
The rest, of course, is history. Pakistan cricket owes a great deal to Kardar’s towering father figure. We haven’t thanked him properly. Let us finally do so.