The Rangers sniper and Zed’s dinner

People who live on the side of an active volcano don’t wake up every morning thinking: “Gosh, this is a dangerous place to live.”
They may think that when they move in, but very soon thereafter they simply appreciate the view and get on with life.

The same happens during a Test match in Karachi. There is a crack division of the Pakistan army called “The Rangers” which is assigned to take care of the majority of security requirements for the South African team and the National Stadium.

The day before the Test they were intimidating, largely because one of the prerequisites to be a Ranger appears to be the ability to grow a full beard inside three days. And the machine guns, of course.

In order to get from the main gate to the press box, it is necessary to ¬†negotiate two x-ray scans and a bag search. There wasn’t much smiling to begin with, but by the time we reached day three we were on waving terms. The Rangers have their names stitched onto their camouflaged uniforms and the two conducting the bag search were called ‘Akmal’ and ‘Gul’.

By day four we felt confident enough to suggest that officer Akmal might do a better jon behind the stumps than his namesake dressed in white and that officer Gul had every reason to feel proud of his younger, fast bowling brother. The humour was shared and reciprocated. This wasn’t nearly as intimidating as we had first thought.

Then, on the fourth afternoon, I wandered up the final flight of stairs and up towards the roof of the main stadium. I hadn’t dared before but you quickly acclimatize.

On the roof there were two snipers with extremely powerful weapons and telescopic sights, one permanently trained on the road leading to the main gate and the other towards the field of play. There were 10 more Rangers with them on the roof and they were not slacking. All were armed. Reality kicked in once again.

While we sat in the air-conditioned press box downstairs, sipping water as inconspicuously as possible out of respect for the majority of our colleagues who were fasting during Ramadhan, there were men upstairs ready to eliminate any vehicle which ran the barricade before the main gate or which approached the stadium at a dangerous or inappropriate
speed.

Meanwhile, one of the most gracious batsmen ever to hold a piece of willow, a man once called “The Asian Bradman”, was hosting a dinner party. Zaheer Abbas and his wonderful, equally gracious wife Samina (“call me Sam, everyone does”) live in a house so elegant, so cleverly designed to beat the heat, and so stylishly decorated that one could rightly call it a small palace.

He is revered in Pakistan, and rightly so. With 110 first-class centuries to his credit, nobody disputes that he was a
genius.

Most of his memorabilia is piled up in the basement. Sam, an interior designer, has salavaged some of it and displayed it in his
‘den’. ‘Zed’ finds this most uncomfortable: “It’s yesterday – now is today and that was then,” he says with a wave of his cigar.
Zed and Sam have invited 20 people for dinner. Not just his fellow commentators, and internationals, but the ‘workers’, too, like cameramen and video editors – and me!

Just when I’m on the point of forgetting, once again, that this is Karachi, and there are security issues, I see spot the guards outside the house, with machine guns.

In many ways it reminded me so much of home. Virtually everybody I know who has been mugged, robbed or car-jacked in South Africa had been enjoying themselves just seconds before. Nobody suspected anything let alone feared the worst. And then the volcano exploded.

If nothing untoward happens on this tour, Inshallah, then we will all return saying: “It was great, we had an excellent time…”
especially if the team keep winning!

You just don’t know what might be around the next corner. But then again, isn’t that much the same wherever you go?

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