The whole country has of late been in the grip of T20 Cricket fever that has pushed all other issues temporarily on the backburner. Traffic dwindles to a thin trickle on the day that the green shirts walk onto the field. In Multan and Islamabad fighting broke out between fans when Pakistan lost to the Indians and dancing was seen on the streets when South Africa crossed the crucial 122 run line to ensure our place in the semi-finals. In my own home, all activities go on hold whenever the home team is playing its fixture - a win is celebrated boisterously while a loss elicits unprintable language from young and old alike.

Cricket has changed much from what it was in the 50s and the 60s and so have the players. There was a time when this game was played by individuals, who had other comfortable means of livelihood and it was passion alone that drove them to carry their bat and ball.

There was no ODI or T20 format and the ultimate category was a test match, which went on leisurely for five days. Major venues were located in Lahore, Karachi and sometimes Rawalpindi. The ground in Lahore was located amidst lush green surroundings of the Lawrence Gardens unlike the concrete and steel prison cages that one sees these days.

Stands were constructed temporarily out of wooden beams and metal frames. The pavilion was provided with comfortable sofas, while first and second class enclosures were equipped with folding wooden chairs. Spectators in the general stand brought their own ‘durries’ and cushions. A waist high ornamental fence skirted the ground, the sanctity of which was rarely, if ever, violated.

It was customary for the government to declare one day of the match as a holiday and that is exactly what it became. Entire families came to witness the game in the knowledge that there would be no harassment or eve teasing. Spectators brought their own cooked food, while a catering company provided lunch boxes in the pavilion and first class areas. An army or police band provided entertainment to the spectators during the lunch and tea intervals.

We lived only 15 minutes walking distance from the Lawrence Garden Venue and my family’s association with the game and some of its legendary figures such as Fazal Mehmood, Mahmood Hussain and Imtiaz Ahmed, was sufficient to secure a five day break from school. It was thus that we got ample opportunity to enjoy the comfort of the pavilion and mingle with the players.

Fazal Mehmood was then a Deputy Superintendent of Police and his frequent visits to our home as a family friend were always looked forward to, by the children. The man with the magic ‘leg cutter’ was a dashing, handsome figure with blue eyes and a lock of hair that hung nonchalantly on his forehead. I vividly remember him hoisting me and my two siblings onto the canvas top of his jeep so that we could get an unobstructed view of the ‘Muharram’ procession, as it reached its climax opposite ‘Karbala Gamay Shah’.

Mahmood Hussain, another legend worked for a multi-national that had its offices in Shah Din Building, facing Charing Cross. It was often that I accompanied my father to his office and then to the ‘Zamzama’ lemonade fountain vehicle parked opposite the building for a summer ‘pick me up’.

I consider myself privileged to have shaken hands with the likes of Wesley Hall and Rohan Kanhai and seeing them in action. In one unforgettable match, it was Wesley Hall’s bouncer that hit Ijaz Butt on the nose, fracturing it. Ijaz retired hurt, but returned towards the end of the Pakistani innings to repeatedly hit the West Indian pace-man out of the ground.

We came to know Imtiaz Ahmed, Pakistan’s celebrity wicket-keeper and opening bat through Fazal Mehmood. I later found out that two of his nephews were my classmates at school. It was during a break in one of the matches that Uncle Imtiaz was heard to say that while standing behind the stumps, he could see the cricket ball expand to the size of a football as it left the bowler’s hand. No wonder that this man’s quality of keeping wickets was unparalleled in the world of cricket.

I often bite my nails in abject frustration when I see young cricket players of today lose themselves in the limelight of becoming a celebrity and luxurious returns from the game. If only these cocky young guns could replay the games of yore and watch how figures like A.H. Kardar, Maqsood, Hanif, Imtiaz, Shujauddin, Mahmood Hussain and Wallis Mathias brought ball to bat and vice versa.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.