The National Stadium was built in 1955, the floodlights added 22 years ago and they are low, positioned on the roof in the older style. England have spent a long time practicing high catches, the players saying the ball is hard to pick up in the night sky above the lights.
The pitch is notoriously dead in Karachi but it is unlikely you will hear the commentators saying so. The television production is handled by the Pakistan Cricket Board and during the Australia series in February, when the lifeless pitches produced dull draws in the first two Tests, a decree was sent down that commentators must not call them flat surfaces.
Michael Kasprowicz quickly corrected an on-air slip when he described the pitch in Lahore as “flat”, he apologised and changed it to “these good batting strips”. Sky are taking the PCB production feed, so criticism of pitches will be left for studio discussions.
Television viewing figures in Pakistan will be off the scale by English standards – the recent PSL T20 was attracting around 16 million per match.
The political climate is tense with Imran Khan, deposed as prime minister earlier this year, holding rallies that attract vast audiences while the devastation of severe flooding continues to claim lives after outbreaks of infectious diseases in Sindh, the province where Karachi is situated.
The first T20 is a fundraiser for flood relief programs. “These things for me are more important. If we can do as much as we can to raise funds or help in any way, that’s really important,” said Moeen.
“Sometimes you do feel bad because you’re here on tour, playing cricket and getting paid and there are people not far away who are struggling. But sometimes you as players are probably bringing a smile on their face by playing and just taking their mind off it. But it’s really sad.”
The tour was due to happen last year, but called off at the 11th hour after security threats were made to New Zealand touring Pakistan at the time. It damaged relations with Pakistan who had toured England in the Covid summer, putting up with the strictest pandemic bubble in sport. England have tried to make amends by agreeing to this series expanding to seven matches, and made concessions over the venues for the Test series in December.
Moeen more or less ruled himself out of the Test series in December after earlier this summer dropping hints he could reverse his decision to retire. “I’ve obviously got to speak to Baz McCullum and stuff. I want to see how this goes. I don’t like being stuck in a hotel for so long so I’m going to see how I cope with this as well,” he said.
Their objections about playing in Multan for the second Test, where the ground is 30 minutes from the hotel, were met with a simple “well, we played in England in a pandemic”. For once England were in the weakest negotiating position – this is definitely a tour with a difference.