So Zimbabwe has come and started their tour of Pakistan. Except it seems, as it partly is, a presidential status event, something that is witnessed when heads of state come calling. As things stand, no one is allowed close to the Zimbabwe players except those especially screened and vetted and there is a cordoning off of the part of the hotel where they are staying.
It’s not all today’s making; it’s been that way for some years especially after the match fixing accusations began doing the rounds and bookies were spotted in the corridors of the hotel where the players were staying. But at least then a spectator in Pakistan of any sort could walk up to any player and have his photograph taken or ask for an autograph. Today these will be especially orchestrated by the handlers, ensuring after many layers of clearance who can approach the Zimbabwe players - women and children first I would presume.
It got me thinking of the time when everything used to be so simple and accessible. You could just walk into a hotel, take the lift, go up to the touring cricketer’s room, knock on the door and say “Hi, I’m looking forward to take a brief interview with you. Hope you can talk for 5 minutes.”
I remember doing exactly that when the Indians were here in the winter of 1982-83. I was a university student, just into IBA and I’d started freelancing for MAG in December ’82 called up by the late Wahab Siddiqui. He wanted some anecdotes on what the Indian cricketers experienced on what for many of them was their first exposure to Pakistan.
So I got talking to the liaison manager attached with the Indians, Masood ul Hasan, a former Pakistan off spinner who had been Twelfth Man in a Test Match at Dacca in the 1960s. He told me that he’ll have a word with as many players as he can and the rest was up to me.
So there I was, walking the corridors of the Pearl Continental (then Intercontinental Hotel) at around 10pm after the players had had their dinner. I was able to talk to some 10-12 players relaxing in their rooms watching TV or chatting. A couple of them called over some of the other players into their room for their comments.
I can’t recall that there was any security outside their rooms, even in the corridors.
The next night I’d booked an interview with Sunil Gavaskar. I’d just called the hotel on the evening of the first day of the first Test and asked to be connected to his room. No problem. He asked me to come over on the evening of the last day. We sat talking for over an hour as his wife packed around us and his little son, Rohan (who eventually played for India) ran around the suite.
A few weeks earlier I’d walked in and out of open doors at one end of the corridor of the same hotel talking to Australian players led by Kim Hughes who had been beaten 0-3 by Imran’s men. It was the night before the departure and there were a few vendors who had been serving them for their private needs during the tour, also interacting with them in corridors or in their rooms. I remember being tapped on the shoulder after I left Kim Hughes’ room after taking his interview; it turned out to be Peter Sleep, the Australian leg spinner who had had a miserable tour. He told me if I’d be interested in his cricket boots as he just didn’t want to take back - the memory they brought with them! I took them as a souvenir and even wore them a few times.
Some years earlier in the mid 1970s I remember sitting next to some West Indian players at the National Stadium as they came out to be seated in the players enclosure after the Pakistani innings ended and their openers went out to bat. This was when the National Stadium was simply a round disc structure and the changing rooms were under the Players Enclosure stand that was probably some 12-15 feet high. So to watch the game, the players would come outside and sit on the chairs that had been placed on the cemented terraces mingling with the spectators. It was like sitting in a cafeteria where you could go and chat up with anybody. The policemen were far away manning the gates and probably no more than 5-6 in number. No barbed wire in between the players and the spectators.