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On April 6th, the Lancaster University Men’s Cricket team (LUCC) flew out to Pakistan to play in the first international cricket match on Pakistani soil in five years. The Gaddafi stadium in Lahore played host to a four day Twenty20 tournament between COMSATS Lahore, Islamabad, Abbottabad and COMSATS Vehari & Sahiwal.
Captained by Joe Molloy – also the wicket keeper – Lancaster knew they had no easy feat ahead of them. In unfamiliar conditions, in the third largest stadium in the world, with a 2,000 strong crowd, LUCC had no idea what to expect from the other teams.
After losing the toss to Islamabad, Lancaster bowled first opening with spin bowler Ben Ingham. Islamabad got off to a strong start and kept up a high batting performance throughout the first innings with 180 for 4. Marley Ali had a great bowling performance conceding the least runs through the first innings.
Lancaster looked nervous during the second innings, sticking close to the wickets after each bat and rarely having the confidence to try for 2. By the fifth over, Lancaster had loosened up a bit but still seemed to be in the mind set of 50 and over cricket, much more common than T20 in England.
Though Lancaster bowled and fielded well, Islamabad took the game by 80 overs and were the stronger team overall. After the match Molloy said, “There were mitigating circumstances, but we knew about those circumstances before we arrived here”.
After a day off, feeling more positive and knowing what to expect from the conditions, Lancaster played COMSATS Lahore in the next game of the round robin tournament. Lahore had also lost to Islamabad and so neither team were going to make it through to the final, but that certainly did not affect the standard of cricket played.
Hoping to bat first Lancaster lost the toss and once again bowled first. Lancaster opened the bowling well with Freddie Hammond, who had not been able to play against Islamabad, giving away no boundaries and Marley Ali making a great catch within the first 10 overs. Somewhere between the 10th and 13th over the temperature shot up and Lancaster began to slow down and the score rapidly went from 100 for 3 in 13 to 195-6 at the end of the first innings.
First year student James Collinge opened with some great batting for Lancaster in the second innings before being run out in the 10th over. By the 14th over Lancaster looked in much better shape, with 107 for 4 and Marley Ali running up half a century but was bowled out in the 17th over. Lancaster finished with 150 runs, but had played a much better game – by making fewer mistakes in the field and showing a lot more bravery when batting. Had the toss gone Lancaster’s way, the results could have been very different, but either way it was a fantastic game of cricket to watch with great sportsmanship between the two teams and even the crowd cheering for both sides. COMSATS Islamabad went on to win the tournament, beating COMSATS Abbottabad to the trophy.
On April 12th LUCC topped off the tournament with an exhibition match against the Pakistan under 19s team. Winning the toss Lancaster chose to bowl first, with Molloy saying he believed it would “give Lancaster some inroads”.
During the first innings Lancaster played a very tight game, switching between Freddie Hammond, Andrew Zimmer – a fast bowler – and Sam Dyson to bowl during the first 6 overs. With the score at 52 for 2 in 6 overs, Pakistan under 19s suddenly stepped up their game, every other ball felt like a boundary. Lancaster kept up strong fielding until the 15th over when, once again the heat seemed to be too much. After the first innings the score was 204-5 with Sam Dyson playing a great game and taking 4 of the 5 wickets.
Going out into the second innings with heads held high, Sam Walsh and James Collinge opened the batting for Lancaster. Facing fast bowlers both Collinge and Ali who bat third did not put in the performance they had the day before, but this made no difference to the crowd who cheered for Lancaster over their national team keeping the team’s spirits alive.
Lancaster were all out by the 13th over with 45 runs scored, beyond the mitigating circumstances previously mentioned, nothing could have prepared the Lancaster team for the speed of the bowling or the style of cricket played by the Pakistani under 19s team.
It is fair to say that this was not just a chance for Lancaster to play cricket with a partner university, this was a chance for Pakistan to prove that their country is safe for sport again; to bring international cricket back to a country that is so dedicated to it and a chance to show what a fantastic country Pakistan really is.
LUCC may not have won their matches, but this tour was clearly much bigger than cricket and the Lancaster team, as well as myself and VP (Activities) Emily Pollitt, were privileged enough to be a part of it.