Charm of Faisalabad

SHOAIB AKHTAR, no doubt, a big hit with the fans.-

A hectic industrial centre, Faisalabad, which is also known for its rich music, has expanded significantly in recent years, writes S. Dinakar.

Faisalabad was originally called Lyallpur, named after Sir James Lyall, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during the days of the Raj. And its present name commemorates Saudi King Faisal.

Much like Khartoum in Sudan, the original town was laid out on the lines of a Union Jack. A clock tower or `Ghantaghar' stares down, from the centre, into eight markets spreading outwards.

It is a bustling maze of bazaars. And you can see the Ghantaghar from any of the markets. As one of the shopkeepers there said "Aap ko malum nahi hoga aap kis bazar main hain (you will not know in which bazaar you are in.)"

Indeed, going around the markets, that have the whiff of the oriental, in Ghantaghar is like moving through a labyrinth of shops, all similar to one another.

Faisalabad is a hectic industrial centre that has expanded significantly in recent years. For a small town, the roads are broad and one could spot at least three flyovers in the place.

This is a town known for its rich tradition in music. That legendary Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is from Faisalabad. His ancestral house still attracts plenty of visitors.

Even today, some of the brightest music talents of Pakistan emerge from Faisalabad. As they say, "Music is in the air" here.

MICHAEL HOLDING'S bowling was certainly not music to the ears of the batsmen. One catches up with Holding, now a busy commentator at the ground for an informal conversation. And he does talk about the West Indian pace bowlers of his days. "Even Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel were not able to make it to the team on a regular basis. They played the odd games. These are the guys who would walk into most teams," he mulls. When the great West Indian bowlers of his time — Andy Roberts, himself, Joel Garner, and Malcolm Marshall — are mentioned, Holding adds another name to the list. "Colin Croft was an outstanding fast bowler maan. He would bowl wide off the crease and still straighten or move the ball away from the batsman. Good pace and bounce." He breaks into a laugh when someone mentions that a few of the present-day Caribbean pacemen have been able to generate impressive speeds. "It is not about speed. It is more about where you land the ball."

Holding has a lone word to describe Vivian Richards' batting — "awesome." He is pained at the state of West Indian cricket but doesn't say so in as many words.

THERE IS A SIZABLE crowd outside the team hotel. But the security is tight. The scenario is the same at the Iqbal Stadium.

The Iqbal Stadium also serves as a shopping centre on the outside ring. From Hollywood saloon to Lollywood music, everything is here. Only yards away from the stadium is the Sindbad Wonderland with a variety of games, and joy-rides for the kids. It is a colourful place buzzing with activity. And the children come in droves.

And the Iqbal Stadium proves a Wonderland for the batsmen. They too could essay a variety of strokes on a pitch where it would take some doing to get dismissed! And it certainly is a joy-ride for them. There is much speculation about the weather. But the sun breaks out and everyone is happy.

The talking point in the Test is the crowd. The PCB's decision to keep 50 per cent of the tickets free is working wonders, especially in a centre such as Faisalabad. And the spectators are delighted when Shahid Afridi, quite their biggest favourite, makes merry.

Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly has been dropped from the XI, but he takes the disappointment in his stride, walking up to the Indian fielders on the boundary line and serving them water.

A group of special girls visit the match. They receive an opportunity to spend time with their hero as well. And they present him a painted portrait of himself. Akhtar is delighted.

The match is meandering into a tame draw. But the power Afridi wields over the audience is quite extraordinary. The moment he is dismissed on the final day, the capacity crowd melts away. These entertainers... they are a special breed.

THE TEST MEANDERS into a tame finish. Among those who watched the game is V. B. Chandrasekar, a member of the National selection panel from the South Zone. He is convinced that the team is moving in the right direction. He is also keen to get a quick glimpse of Lahore on the way back. "It has a lot of old buildings and monuments. I like the feel of the city," he says. The cricketers go through the formalities on the final day. In the night there is an enchanting musical show in the team hotel to raise funds for the earthquake victims.

Among those taking in the melody in the land of music are Indian captain Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Rudra Pratap Singh. They would have found the experience stimulating.