Australian cricket fan Luke Gillian last visited Pakistan in 1998, when his family threw stones at him when he dared to appear in public. Nowadays everyone wants a selfie. Gillian has returned to Pakistan with a small group of Australian fans on their first tour of the country in almost a quarter of a century, and is amazed by the reception they have received.
Australia for 24 years, along with many international groups, refused to tour Pakistan for security reasons.
The situation worsened in the aftermath of the 2009 Lahore Sri Lanka bus bombing, after which Pakistan had to play “home” matches abroad for a decade, mostly in the United Arab Emirates.
But the cricket-mad nation is surpassing the current tour of the world’s top test team, and will decide the three Test series next week in Lahore, after a draw in Rawalpindi and Karachi.
“It was perceived as too dangerous to go abroad,” Gillian said of her visit to Australia on her last tour in 1998.
“When I went outside, there were a lot of people walking down the streets and they threw stones at me.
“And I said, ‘No, I’m going home, I don’t have to put up with this.'”
Nearly a quarter of a century later, attitudes have changed.
“I think, in Rawalpindin, they would take 500 photos of me every day, easily,” the 51-year-old from Victoria told AFP.
Piece of cake
“I don’t know how many teas, how many pieces of cake, a Pepsi bottle, water and small incidents that people have given us as ‘thank you’: cutting hair, washing clothes for free.”
Like most Australians, Gillian took up the cricket as a child.
“You grow in blood clots,” he said.
“You often hold a cricket or a ball before you know how to walk, and as soon as you walk, you mark a ball race.”
Over the years he has visited all major cricket-playing countries, as well as socializing with the great Australian ones such as Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke and Justin Langer.
But those days are a thing of the past, with modern players in the thick of social media, along with strict game-fixing protocols to keep players away from “desirable” elements, such as illegal bookmakers.
“Now there’s a big disconnect between me and the team,” Gillian said.
“Let’s go back 15 years … I would still receive text messages (from players) saying, ‘We’re going to this place for a beer after the game, if you want to join us.’ He’s gone and I’m lost,” he said.
Gillian said she decided to make this trip to Pakistan to help restore itself as a safe destination for cricket, as much as to shout for Australia.
“I’m here for the game, to really see the outside world cricket and show that we can travel to Pakistan and be safe, happy and enjoyable,” he said.
Socially this is much quieter than it was 24 years ago. It’s much easier to be here. It is much easier to enjoy Pakistan.
“I think that love, and the hug and the game itself, if that reaches the general public, then it can sell a great game and sell the bond between the two nations and the two cultures.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.”
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically created from a union feed.)
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