Test cricket returns to Lahore for the first time in 13 years this week, but the match will be particularly significant for one of the umpires.
Test cricket returns to Lahore for the first time in 13 years this week, with Pakistan hosting Australia for the third match of the Benaud-Qadir Trophy.
Gaddafi Stadium has hosted 40 Test matches since 1959, but none since 2009 — the most recent Test in Lahore ended in tragedy, with eight people killed in an attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team.
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Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene and several teammates sustained minor injuries as 12 gunmen fired on the team bus near Liberty Square in the centre of Lahore.
Reserve umpire Ahsan Raza, riding in a mini-van alongside other match officials, was critically injured in the cowardly attack, with match referee Chris Broad potentially saving the Pakistani’s life by keeping his hand on the umpire’s chest to slow the bleeding.
One bullet had entered his lung, the other his liver.
“I was saved by two things. One, I put an ICC handbook, with all the rules and regulations, in front of my stomach,” Raza told The Guardian several years later.
“I give credit to Chris Broad as well. He was crying at first, everybody in the bus was crying. But then there was a pin-drop silence everywhere, and he suddenly realised that someone – me – was lying dying and my blood was pumping full speed. He lay down on me to try to stop the flow. I just asked my Allah, please save my life for my kids, three small daughters – that was all.
“I have always said it is my dream to umpire in international cricket, so now that dream is for international cricket to go back to Pakistan, where the people love cricket so much. I hope it can happen soon.”
Thirteen years later, that dream has become a reality.
Raza returned to Lahore this week to officiate his fifth Test match, joining veteran umpire Aleem Dar for series finale between Pakistan and Australia.
The 47-year-old lost the use of a lung and spent three days in a coma after the 2009 Lahore attack, but recovered in time to serve as television umpire for a Test between Australia and Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010 — coincidentally Steve Smith’s Test debut.
Raza was appointed to the ICC’s Elite Umpires panel in 2020, officiating last year’s two-Test series between Pakistan and South Africa.
And this week he’s back in Lahore, where he almost lost his life 13 years ago.
It didn’t take long for Raza to have an impact on the match, giving Australian opener David Warner out LBW in the third over of day one.
The left-hander opted not to call for a review, with Hawkeye replays showing the Kookaburra would have crashed into leg stump.
Speaking to CodeSports, Australian umpire Simon Taufell recalled the horrific Lahore attack: “I’ve still got some rather horrific images in my mind of his injuries on that day and what (Raza) looked like and how we left him after being shot twice in that bus. Ordinarily I would have been sitting where he sat that day in that bus and it could well have been me.
“It’s really pleasing to see his perseverance and love for the game be rewarded with appointment to Test level and be rewarded with appointment to a series like this.
“Ahsan has a real desire to continue to make his family proud and make his country proud, just like Aleem does.
“His passion and desire for officiating and umpiring is significant, he is a tremendous trier and he’s just a sponge when it comes to looking for ways to get better. Not only do we have a relationship from that terrorism incident but we continue to keep in touch and support each other.”
Pakistan No. 3 batter Azhar Ali, who was born in Lahore, has played 92 Test matches since his international debut in 2010, but this will be his first Test in front of a home crowd.
In fact, all 22 cricketers featuring in this week’s fixture at Gaddafi Stadium are making their Test debut at the venue.
“When you play in front of your crowd and they support you, that feeling is so good, I can’t explain it,” said Pakistan captain Babar Azam, who is also from Lahore.
“We’re so happy that cricket is back and we’re playing against such a big team here.”
Azhar told reporters this week: “It is a surreal feeling to represent Pakistan in a Test match at my home ground. This is a very emotional moment for me, most of my Test career was spent without playing in my own country. First there was a 75-match wait to play in Pakistan and then it took another two years for Lahore to stage a Test, so I am incredibly excited and motivated to do really well in front of my family, friends and people of my city who are passionate supporters of cricket.
“When we played Sri Lanka in 2019, we for the first time realised the incredible feeling of receiving the support, love and encouragement of Pakistan fans. We were well received and applauded for our efforts in Rawalpindi and Karachi. Similarly, this series has been a wonderful one for us in terms of the support we have received in the first two Tests.
“I remember well that when I scored a triple century in Dubai, barely 100 people were in the stands and I had no one to raise the bat to. Contrary to that when I scored the century against Australia in the first Test of this series in Rawalpindi, I raised my bat to the entire stadium, which was packed by Pakistan supporters and I got the opportunity to soak in the warm applause and appreciation of the crowd.”