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Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore – A Historic Perspective

Bangladesh cricketers on their first tour of Pakistan for 11 years, are to play three T20Is, starting on Friday 24 January, at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore (GSL). The venue is the ‘Home of Cricket’ and the headquarter of the game in the country for it also houses the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) administration set-up.

The stadium was designed by Nasreddin Murat-Khan, a renowned Russian-born Pakistani architect and civil engineer and the man behind Minar-e-Pakistan in Minto Park (now Iqbal Parks). The construction of it was completed by Mian Abdul Khaliq and Company. November 21, 2019 marked 60 years of Test cricket at the GSL, which now ranks amongst the top international venues in the world.

Initially named Lahore Olympics Stadium, it became Lahore Stadium and was renamed as Gaddafi Stadium in 1974 after Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who enjoyed cordial relationship with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, himself a keen cricket enthusiast. Apart from the four-year period of 1980-84 when Air Marshal ® Nur Khan took the offices to Karachi, the cricket Board, since 1972 has been based at GSL. It was a decision taken by A.H.Kardar, former captain and at the time President of the Board as he laid the foundation of Lahore becoming a permanent headquarters of Pakistan cricket.

On the playing front, unlike all leading world cricket grounds, GSL is not home to any club, regional or departmental teams. Instead, the regional Lahore teams lay claim to Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA) ground, located across the road to GSL.

The ever-expanding city of Lahore, capital of Punjab province of Pakistan, continues to play a leading role in the fields of politics, education, arts, culture and sports. Among the sports played in the country, cricket has attracted the highest audience and greater media coverage, even more than field hockey, the national sport of the country but sadly, at present, in serious decline

Prior to the stadium’s emergence in 1959, the city of Lahore had four venues: Bagh-e-Jinnah (previously Lawrence Gardens), Punjab University Ground (Old Campus), Aitchison College and Minto Park (now Iqbal Parks) that held most of the key cricket matches, including Ranji Trophy fixtures in the pre-partition days of the British Raj. Bagh-e-Jinnah, with its picturesque setting, had staged Pakistan’s three previous Test matches in Lahore against, India (1955), New Zealand (1955) and West Indies (1959).

All four venues were in walking distance to the Old Walled City as Lahorees flocked the grounds and cheered their cricket heroes. The location of the new stadium, however was on Ferozepur Road, now next to Liberty Market in Gulberg. The College End was named after Forman Christian College, not too far from the stadium.

On a personal note, watching the Pakistan vs Sri Lanka ODI on Friday October 25, 1985 at GSL, alongside fellow future Formanites, was quite an experience. The star attraction on the day was obviously to see Imran Khan, taking a full run-up and working good pace on his way to a full recovery from his stress fracture of the left shin. Good looks, athleticism, aggression with both bat and ball and fighting qualities had made Imran a magnificent all-round cricketer of his time with an aura to match any cricketer in the world. A full house at the stadium also admired Pakistan skipper Javed Miandad, a risk-taking batting genius. He was both cheeky and innovative, in hitting boundaries and stealing ones and twos with deft placement, on his way to compiling, a match-winning unbeaten 91 off 75 balls.

Looking back, the first ever Test to be played at the Lahore stadium between Pakistan and Australia was the second match of the 1959-60 series. The visitors, led by Richie Benaud, had taken a lead by winning the opening Test on a matting at Dacca by 8 wickets. The Lahore Test offered a turf wicket but its captain and star bowler Fazal Mahmood was ruled out due to a shoulder injury, leaving wicket-keeper Imtiaz Ahmed, with additional challenge to lead a somewhat inexperienced line-up. A courageous batsman, he responded by promoting himself from No.7 to open the batting with his old partner great Hanif Mohammed.

Dismissed for just 146 runs on the opening day, Pakistan despite a fighting 166 by Saeed Ahmed, who besides Duncan Sharpe, Waqar Hasan, Nasim-ul-Ghani and Mohammad Munaf, remain one of the five surviving members from the playing eleven, could not stop Australia to win the match and the series, with only 12 minutes to spare. It was Pakistan’s first ever Test series loss on a home soil and was followed by another defeat at Lahore when, once again led by Imtiaz, it lost to Ted Dexter-led MCC in 1961.

The political instability in the country and the 1965 war with India resulted in only four Test matches played in Lahore in the 1960s, with each one of them attracting full house. The two Tests held in 1969 against MCC and New Zealand were both of four-day duration, a reflection perhaps of the cricket Board’s lack of confidence in ensuring safety and security of the cricketers. A Test match in the pre-Television days was a mega event in the city and attracted great attention through radio commentary and attendance at the stadium.

Mohammad Bashir, with a life-long association with GSL as a groundsman, is as enthusiastic as ever and presently working for both Imran Khan Foundation and Lahore Qalandar, a PSL franchise, recalled the early days, ‘Australia was the first team to play at Lahore Stadium and I was working as an assistant groundsman to Mohammad Amin, from Mozang Chungi and would carry on that role till 1962. Due to my father’s death, I abandoned school in Year 4 and worked as a labourer on a building site before I was informed about an opportunity at the newly-built sports stadium.’

‘In the early days PWD employees supervised the stadium and it was their chief engineer who played a key role in building the new cricket venue. Raja Saleem Akhtar, father of Wasim and Ramiz Raja, was involved too. By the grace of Allah, I was able to predict the behaviour, the night before the start, for all five days of the 1978 Test against India in a TV interview. I am no longer a PCB employee but my advice is still valued by its chief curator. Agha Zahid.’

Middle order batsman Duncan Sharpe, who migrated to Australia in 1961, is a resident in the suburbs of Melbourne and was happy to share his memories  ‘I still have a very clear vision of the Lahore Test that provided a pretty quick wicket compared to the matting at Dacca in the opening Test. We had four changes in our team and captain Imtiaz jumped up from No.7 to open the innings. I twice got out to the back-of-the-hand spin of Lindsay Kline. His slow left-arm chinaman was not a common variety. On my return to the pavilion, on the final day, having got out stumped, ‘Good thinking Sharpe’ was the comment which came from Australian skipper, Richie Benaud. Saeed was a terrific stroke player and his innings of 166, almost saved the game for Pakistan. Norman O’Neill, a very attractive batsman, brought up his maiden Test hundred at Lahore. We lost the game, with only few overs to be bowled.’

Bowling all-rounder Nasim-ul-Ghani, recalled the 1959 Test from Karachi, ‘I was one of those lucky Test players who played the last Test at Bagh-e-Jinnah ground against West Indies and then played the first Test match against Australia at a newly-built Lahore stadium. Under the then Patron-in Chief, BCCP, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Lahore Stadium was constructed. Preparation of ground and pitch was executed under the supervision of senior All-India players and Mir Mohammed Hussain, BCCP secretary, a seasoned all-round sportsman. The pitch was very firm, hard, bouncy and with lush green outfield. But one was not sure how turf will behave for longer version of play as it had never been tried before for any first-class cricket.’

Pakistan lost the toss and was asked to bat first. It was a cold morning and atmosphere was helping fast bowlers. Though Pakistan had good start of 39 runs, but our batting was struggling to face the fearful bowling of two left-arm fast bowlers, Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff. They both were attacking off/just outside of stump. Our batsmen could not adjust the line, edging the ball and were getting out behind the stump. Wicket-keeper Wally Grout took five catches and our team was all out for 146. Australian batted courageously against penetrating fast bowling of Mohammad Munaf and steady swing of Israr Ali. A superb innings of 134 runs by Norman O’Neill was a treat to watch and the Australian team was all out for391.’

‘On the third day, the pitch slowed down and stared taking spin.  In the second inning, an attacking inning of 166 run was played by Saeed Ahmed and he shared a partnership with Shuja-ud-din, who played a defensive inning of 45 run in 318 minutes. This enabled Pakistan to achieve respectable score of 366. Since the pitch was taking spin, shrewd captain Richie Benaud perceived the benefit for the spinners. He along with Lindsay Kline, a left arm slow chinaman bowler, shared 9 wickets between them. I recall batting well for 15 at number 9, notice that all of a sudden, Benaud changed the bowling end and he clean bowled me round the leg by a sharp leg spin. Obviously, it did surprise me. Kline’s 7 for75, was the best bowling analysis and Australia achieved the target of 122-3 and won the first series in Pakistan.’ 

‘In the late 50’s and the early 60’s, Pakistan cricket was on the runway and ready to take off with the second generation of players. It did perform well occasionally but due to a lack of experience and not enough exposure in international cricket, players were confronting stability and consistency in their performances. However, in those days, one could be assured of dedication, high spirit, team cohesion and comradery. Great times.’

The line-up for the opening Test of the 1976-77 series against the Kiwis featuring Majid Khan, Sadiq Mohammed, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammed, Javed Miandad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Intikhab Alam, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Bari, was certainly one of the strongest ever to take the field for Pakistan. It was the eighth Test match to be staged at the ground and brought the first win for the home side when debutante, Miandad, having scored a splendid 163 on the opening day, sealed a win with a lofted six on the fourth. The great Pakistan batsman returned to the same ground in 1989 to hit 145 against India, to mark his 100th Test appearance.

The 1978 Pakistan-India Test match at Lahore is remembered for the dramatic twist on the final day which saw the home side snatch an 8-wicket win after a thrilling run-chase against the clock. The sight of Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal, running back to the pavilion, in triumph, remains etched in one’s memory, as if it were yesterday. The match was captured and saved for posterity by Patrick Eagar, the world’s foremost cricket photographer, having arrived in Lahore, mindful of the historic significance of the Test.

The entire Pakistan nation got behind the cricket team, particularly Zaheer Abbas, the enigmatic character with hardly any noteworthy batting performance on home soil, prior to the series, playing one of his most commanding Test innings. He was particularly severe on India bowling in that era with scores of 235 not out, 215 and 168 not out on three separate occasions at GSL and ended up with a proud record of 1093 runs @ 99.36 in 10 Tests. Zaheer’s trademark high back lift and sweetly timed drives on both sides of the wicket allowed him to completely dominate both medium pace and spin alike and at his best was simply a ‘run machine’

Asif Iqbal, former Pakistan captain, who appeared in 7 Test matches at the ground and in 1979 hit hundred in each innings - 104 & 110 not out - in his farewell first-class game in Pakistan, for PIA against Habib Bank in the final of the BCCP Invitation Tournament, shared his memories, ‘In my career, all around the world, pitches were prepared to home team’s bowling strength which in our case were the slow bowlers. I had considerable success with the bat as often wicket at Lahore offered true bounce to play strokes. Fast bowlers I recall always fancied their chances, more than anywhere else in Pakistan.’

‘I had two Test hundreds to my name at Lahore and on both occasions, I had to prove a point. Against England in 1973, I scored 102 after the disappointment of being overlooked to succeed Intikhab Alam, as captain, as I had been his deputy  for more than three years. Instead Majid Khan, who was not even in the running, was promoted ahead of me. I was determined to play for the side and prove my wholehearted support to the new captain.’

‘In 1976 against New Zealand, I was called from England by the Board, after a successful season with Kent but soon found out that my place in the Pakistan team was threatened. A stand taken by the new captain, Mushtaq Mohammed, meant I made it into the playing eleven. I went on to play one of my best knocks of 166, having taken guard on the first morning with the score showing 55-4. I was well pleased with my determination in the wake of unexpected challenges.’

The elegant stroke player, Majid Khan, who made 10 Test appearances at the ground, enjoyed success with the bat, starting with a most valuable 80 against New Zealand in 1965. He walked in with his side wobbling on 121-5 and added 217 for the 6th wicket with skipper Hanif Mohammed (203 not out), who became the first double centurion on the ground. Majid ‘enjoyed’ batting with Hanif in their defiant partnership. His unbeaten 110 in 1980 was the last of his eight Test hundreds, when the Australian team were playing in Lahore, after a gap of more than twenty years, and now again has not been seen in a Test match at the venue, since 1994.

Majid Khan, now in Islamabad, was growing up in Lahore at the time of the new cricket stadium, ‘I have very faint memories of watching Australia (1959), MCC (1961) and Commonwealth (1963) at the Lahore Stadium, with my father, Jahangir Khan, who along with my maternal uncle, Agha Ahmed Raza, were part of the Lahore Division Cricket Association (LDCA). As it was a multi-purpose stadium, I recall a tunnel built for athletes to run into the arena which was scrapped later on. The spectators always seemed too far away and thus it did not have the atmosphere of some other cricket grounds in Pakistan. I had watched hockey and wrestling at the stadium, before the new BCCP President, A.H.Kardar, made it into an exclusively cricket venue.’

‘At present we have 16 pitches and in my view, there is scope for additional 5-10

pitches for we have acres of area at GSL. I have been critical of the pitch preparation in our country for after laying the pitch, the groundsman used to roll the pitch 12-15 hours, compare to Australians who did it for only 4 hours. The result being the pitches was far too dry in our country, resulting in slow bounce, making timing difficult for the batsmen. It is a shame as we have not encouraged for educational programmes and better pay for the ground staff in Pakistan, who are providing the surface for the game to take place. We have underestimated their role.’

No new ball Pakistan bowler toiled harder than Sarfraz Nawaz on pitches in the period when grass was often completely shaven off and the surface at Lahore too lacked both pace and bounce. In other words, a ‘nightmare’ for the bowler, unless your innovative instinct was sharp like ‘Big Saf’ who learned to ‘work’ on the ball to achieve reverse swing, when the ball lost its shine. His 33 wickets @ 30.27 at GSL was a testament to both his skill and stamina and it was no mean effort and compares well with his own colleagues and the visiting bowlers. After claiming 6-89 in a drawn game against West Indies in 1975, he made a major contribution in Pakistan to a number of Test victories at the GSL.

Abdul Qadir, the spin wizard and arguably the finest leggie produced by Pakistan, was born in Lahore and after securing a permanent slot in the team went on to enjoy great success at GSL. ‘Baoo’ Qadir bamboozled all and sundry and made Pakistan, one of the top teams in world cricket, more so at home. On the opening day of the 1987 series against England, Qadir at his most unplayable, ran though the batting line-up with 9-56, to this day the best figures achieved by a Pakistani in Test matches in his final tally of 51 wickets @ 26.43 in 12 appearances at GSL.

Another Karachi batsman to flourish at GSL was Mohsin Khan, an attractive right-hand batsman, who after crossing the initial hurdle of hitting a maiden hundred against Sri Lanka in 1982, scored another two in the same calendar year against Australia and India and ended up with 686 runs @ 57.16 with four hundreds in 8 Test matches at GSL. His opening partner, Mudassar Nazar, following a snail-paced maiden hundred against England in 1977 – also significant for the first ever Wills Man of the Match award - would carry his bat with an unbeaten 152 against India in 1983 at GSL, thus emulating his father Nazar Mohammed’s feat, achieved in India in 1952.

Qasim Umar, former Test batsman, shared his thoughts, ‘To me Gaddafi Stadium is the ‘Home of Cricket’ of Pakistan. I first arrived at the stadium for a camp that was staged in view of our Pakistan u-19 tour of England in 1974. The cricket Board, then BCCP, arranged for our accommodation and each room being shared by four players. It was great fun times but on the other hand quite tense as well. The autocratic style of A.H.Kardar was heading the administration as the President of the Board and no one, even big names from the past, could just pop in for a chat. He was very strict and kept his distance from the players. He asked Agha Saadat Ali, one of our coaches, as to why Qasim was not showing any improvement. It showed he cared for players and kept a close eye on us.’

‘The tension kicked in, the minute one stepped through the stadium gates. Even when I played Test cricket, playing at GSL was tense for me as one was aware of being watched by the selectors, former greats and all the high-ranking Board officials. The pressure to perform was there even after I had established my place in the Pakistan team. To this day, I rue throwing away my wicket for 74 against England in 1984, as I missed out on a hundred on this special ground. In my last series against West Indies in 1986, on a nasty under-prepared wicket, I took a blow off Courtney Walsh, on the left side of my chin which required nine stitches. People talk about Lord’s, Sydney or Kolkata but to me Lahore was up there with the best in the world.’

Shafiq Ahmed ‘Papa’ did not live up to the expectations at the international level for someone with outstanding career at domestic cricket. His 4688 first-class runs @ 45.07 with 11 hundreds at GSL, places him at the top of the aggregate list. He added, ‘I enjoyed batting at GSL but often felt my concentration wavered due to lack of ‘atmosphere’. As it was originally built as a multi-purpose stadium, the distance between the playing wicket and the spectators was more than usual. That in my view was the drawback but on the other hand Lahore was the most well -equipped cricket ground with the best outfield in Pakistan.’

‘I shall pick my dour innings of 115 for United Bank against Railways in the final of the 1984-85 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. The first two innings had finished just before tea on the second day, with 53-run lead for us. There was so much time left in the five-day match and my good friend and our leading bowler, Ehtesham-ud-din, in my absence, assured to the rest of the United Bank players and the support staff that we can never lose this match as Shafiq our captain is a ‘big match’ player and will came into his own and show his true class as a proven second-innings champion performer. When I got to know the level of confidence in my abilities, I was so energized and did manage to produce a quality innings that saved the game for us and we became the champions on the basis of a first innings lead. It was United Bank’s first ever Quaid-e-Azam Trophy title.’

Agha Zahid, the present chief curator of PCB, is someone whose bond with Gaddafi Stadium, is well passed the half century. In his playing days, he scored 3411 first-class runs @ 40.60 with 9 hundreds, including two – 102 & 119 – against Railways in the 1982-83 PACO Cup. ‘After joining the PCB in 2001 as one the committee members on the grounds affair by 2005-06 I was appointed chief curator. It has been very challenging time particularly as we have hosted very little international cricket in the last decade.’

‘In my early days at Government College and Cantt Gymkhana, I played lot of cricket on matting, as there were only few turf wickets in Lahore. We all looked forward to the opportunity to perform on turf as runs on that surface confirmed one’s pedigree as a batsman. It were the runs scored on turf that would get you noticed by the national selectors.’

‘My first outing at the Lahore Stadium was in 1964 as a Year 7 student in the highly prestigious Wazir Ali Summer League. Our opponents were Friends CC, whose line-up included Khawaja Abdu Rab, Farooq Hameed, Khalid Aziz, Arif Butt etc. In the domestic cricket, we only got to play at the GSL for the finals of Quaid-i-Azam or Patron’s Trophy or the knock-out stages and important limited-overs games. In my playing days, it was exclusive but nowadays it holds blind, women and school matches. Call me old-fashioned, but I would still like to hold on to its sanctity.’

‘I recall the day the name was changed from Lahore stadium to Gaddafi stadium. Prime Minister Z.A.Bhutto and Libyan leader, Col. Gaddafi arrived at the ground. BCCP President A.H.Kardar too was present. An exhibition match was played between Pakistan team led by Intikhab Alam and the Rest of Pakistan whom I also represented. When I was captain of the Combined Universities in the 1973-74 season. At times it was a difficult wicket of desi (local) grass, especially for the openers. There was no overnight cover on those days including in the 1975 Lahore Test against the West Indies  pace attack led by Andy Roberts. If you survived the pre-lunch session, you could go on to play a major knock.’

‘At present, I am responsible for the entire square which has 16 pitches. It is a huge ground with a 103 meters (306 feet) between the two furthest points on the edge of the playing arena. The seven practice pitches are located opposite Saeed Ahmed-Imtiaz Ahmed enclosure. The ground can hold up to 25,000 people and our pitches are at their best between February and April. The wickets in September and October, following the monsoon season, are still damp and in the winter months of December and January, we are often hit with fog and now smog. In other words as a curator you are at the mercy of mother nature,’ 

The 1970s heralded a new era of Pakistan cricket and it managed to avoid defeat in 13 Tests until the 1986 West Indies pace attack led by Malcom Marshall caught the home batsman on a treacherous wicket. Pakistan bowled out for 134 and 77 were handed an innings defeat, within three days – easily its worst in the 40 Test matches at GSL.

In the 1980s, GSL hosted 13 Tests and due to batting friendly surfaces, there were no less than 8 drawn matches. All four Tests against India, in this period, failed to produce a result. One of the most exciting batsmen to emerge in the pre-partition days from Lahore, ‘Lala; Amarnath, who captained India, watched his son, Mohinder, standing up against Pakistan to score 109 not out, 120 and 101 not out in three successive Tests in Lahore, each time his contribution helping India to avoid a defeat.

Imran Khan, who learned his cricket in Lahore, very rarely disappointed the ‘home’ crowd. In his 11 Test appearances at the GSL, he scored 525 runs @ 52.50 with his maiden hundred coming against the much-feared 1980 West Indies pace attack. His 56 wickets @ 17.62 apiece showed how much he enjoyed bowling at Lahore and took full advantage of the inexperienced 1982 Sri Lankan team to claim best innings (8-58) and match (14-116) figures of his career.

In compiling his career best 329 against New Zealand in 2002, Inzamam-ul-Haq became the first Pakistan batsman to score a triple hundred on a home soil. Saleem Malik, one of the finest batsmen to emerge from Lahore, only scored one hundred – a match-saving 143 against Australia in 1994 – whilst captain. His replacement in the middle order, Yousuf Youhana (now Mohammad Yousuf) was a class act too and seemed to save his best for Lahore crowd and in 11 Test his aggregate amounted to 1125 runs @ 93.75 including a high-class match-winning Test-best 223 against England in 2005. In his record-breaking year of 2006, he took 173 off India and hit 192 against West Indies at GSL.

Shakeel Ahmed Jr., former Test cricketer, now based in Johannesburg, shared his views of GSL, ‘I grew up in Daska which meant Jinnah Park, Sialkot was the closest venue which offered us international cricket. Whilst studying in Lahore, I visited GSL with my friends to watch Pakistan team’s camp in the early 1980s and straight away dreamt of playing one day on this magnificent arena. Few years later I was fortunate enough to be batting for Habib Bank with the great Javed Miandad, our hero, at GSL. It was a wonderful feeling and an honour.’

‘I felt I was the luckiest teenager in the world, when my batting talent was appreciated by the likes of Fazal Mahmood, Imtiaz Ahmed, Agha Saadat Ali, Gul Mohammad and Aslam Khokhar in the 1989 u-19 camp at GSL, leading to my selection for tours of India, Bangladesh and England. At the domestic level, I had a number of match-winning knocks at GSL and it naturally became my favourite ground. As a true wicket, one fancied to bat for a long innings as it had pace on the opening day and spinners rarely came into play before the fourth day. I was named Man of the Match for my 148, in my last first-class match in Pakistan, for Habib Bank against Allied Bank in the final of the 1997-98 Patron’s Trophy. Moreover, to me the symmetrical beauty of GSL and the commercial buzz in the surroundings makes it one of the top five cricket grounds in the world.’

A number of Test matches at GSL have been a nightmare for all types of bowlers, leading to tedious pace from day 1 and eventually leading to meaningless contest. The docile nature of the wicket at Lahore, led to unattractive cricket with no chance of a result. In 1977 against England, the two rival opening batsmen - Mudassar Nazar (114) and Geoff Boycott (63) - playing some of the slowest innings in Tests. In 1980 Alan Border by hitting 150not out & 153, became the first batsman to reach 150plus in both innings of a Test match, also dominated by the bat. Slow over rates and no sense of urgency seemed the norm in that period.

In December 1989, GSL offered one of the sleepiest pitches in its entire history when a Test match between Pakistan and India ended with not even two innings were finished. In reply to India’s 509 that went into the third day, Pakistan had reached 699-5 when the stumps were pulled out on the final day.

In 2006 the crowd at GSL witnessed another match with bat dominating, hampered by poor weather – Pakistan 679-7 declared was followed with India 410-1 – no less than five hundreds and a double hundred.

Surprisingly, GSL has not seen great individual feats of fast bowlers as most of Pakistan’s victories have come through collective effort of its pace attack. The greatest surprise perhaps is of Wasim Akram, perhaps the greatest left-arm pace bowler of all-time, picking only one five-wicket haul in his nine Test appearances at GSL when he picked up 5-28 against West Indies in 1990 on a wicket with uneven bounce. His fast-bowling partner Waqar Younis, had a better record on the ground and claimed 10 wickets against New Zealand in 1990. Amongst Pakistan’s leading bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar recorded his Test best figures of 6-11 against New Zealand at GSL in 2002.

Pakistan has suffered six Test defeats at this ground, with three in the first five played at the stadium. After losing to Australia in 1959, Pakistan were also beaten by Ted Dexter’s MCC side in 1961. Both top two sides but the defeat against New Zealand in 1969 was hard to take. The national selectors besides dropping the great Hanif Mohammed, unwisely made a number of changes for the four-day Test, only for the Kiwis to outplay the home side to win by 5 wickets. On each of the three occasions a defeat at Lahore contributed to Test series defeats for Pakistan, on a home soil.

As one of the leading Test teams, Pakistan would remain unbeaten for a decade at GSL before the 1996 New Zealand side, just as the 1969 side, led by wicket-keeper Lee Germon, sprung a surprise and despite a debutante Mohammad Wasim’s unbeaten 109, won by 44 runs. The last of the sixth defeat at Lahore too was unexpected when they lost to Sri Lanka in the final of the Asian Test Championship in March 2002. An innings of 230 by Kumar Sangakkara, his maiden double hundred propelled his team’s first innings total to 528, leading to an 8-wicket win.

The 1959 Test match between Pakistan and Australia was also the first first-class match played at the stadium. Shortly afterwards the domestic cricket matches were introduced to the ground during the 1959-60 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. The 1965-66 Ayub Trophy final between Lahore Greens and Karachi Blues was the first final to be played at the venue, followed by 1968-69 final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy between Lahore and Karachi. GSL alongside National Stadium, Karachi, remain the two prime venues for important domestic matches. More lately, GSL hosted two matches of the 2019-20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, thus bringing the first-class matches count at the ground to 430.

The first ODI at GSL was played between Pakistan and England in January 1978 and attended by President General Zia-ul-Haq and British Prime Minister James Callaghan. The 18-run semi-final defeat in the 1987 Reliance World Cup by Pakistan, having entered the game as hot favourites, at the hands of Australia, left the entire country stunned with disbelief. In March 1996, GSL was awarded the final of the Wills World Cup and witnessed another upset when Sri Lanka beat Australia to become the new one-day kings. The renovation, headed by leading architect Nayyar Ali Dada, which featured floodlights for regular day-night cricket, lifted the profile of GSL with the hosting of the final of the World Cup. To this day the venue has hosted 61 ODIs though only four since the 2008 Asia Cup.

Kicking off in 1981, Wills Cup, a brainchild of Taher Memon, an advertising and corporate communications manager of Pakistan Tobacco Company, in no time established itself as the national one-day tournament. It was only rarely the final was staged outside Lahore with the 17th and last edition of the Wills Cup held in April 1998 and played under lights at GSL.

Taher Memon, had a 21-years association with the cricket Board and refers GSL as Lord’s of Pakistan Cricket and shares his thoughts, ‘My first visit to Gaddafi Stadium Lahore was in October 1977 with a view to seek few banner positions during the forthcoming winter cricket series between England & Pakistan. The beginning was so encouraging that over the time my association with the game had cricket running in my veins.’

‘During my long association with the game over two decades I had found the regularly changing management team and few permanent staff very friendly and flexible to improvement suggestions. Few years down the lane, I started comparing cricket’s International body ICC at Lord’s ground in the United Kingdom and our cricket body BCCP and the headquarter at Gaddafi Stadium, in my view the Lord’s of Pakistan Cricket.

Strengths, ‘We have been managing our Board with bear minimum team members. Our ground maintenance is again with a devoted skeleton staff. Here one must give all the credits to Haji Bashir, a highly committed curator and an expert in laying the playing square, with different pitches for different encounters. One-day strip good for high score, five day first class / Test match strip providing equal opportunities to batsman, fast bowler and spinners- good for the first three days, then deteriorating, creating that extra challenge in an encounter, where toss has a role to play.’

‘I am saying this since I had the opportunity of working with him during management days, towards the preparation for the Reliance World Cup 1987. In fact, he did manage all the grounds that year by providing the much-needed guidance to the ground staff at all world cup centres, including Karachi. I remember having provided him all the ground equipment as the sponsor of the game and responsible for the development. He knew what was essential and bear minimum required for the maintenance. We successfully managed our part of the Reliance World Cup 1987, with a five-member additional team on secondment, with no additional cost to the BCCP.

Weaknesses, ‘Initial design of the stadium did not provide even the basic facilities of cricket ground, such as scoreboard that could cater to the so-called capacity of 50 thousand. Not to talk about toilets, catering and commentary positions for radio, television and press. Surprisingly with no provision for future improvements. It was pathetic to see scoreboard operation on planks on scaffoldings during the 1977 first Test match, risking the lives of some 16 young men.;

‘Redesigning by famous Lahore-based Architect in 1995-96 aimed improvements towards the holding of 1996 Wills World Cup also lacked vision and cricketing knowledge. Building’s main façade in the name of architectural beauty is devoid of any benefit of space for the Lord’s of Pakistan Cricket. This huge space could have been used to create a “Long Room” to display cricket memorabilia, as well as could have been available to play host to visiting dignitaries and or members on the concept of membership of MCC !’

‘The worst thing that happened to such a prestigious building was turning its basement for commercial purpose without any policy for tenancy. As such the famous Gaddafi Stadium has become “Food Street” of the sort, creating unhygienic environment as well as security risk!

 RECORDS

Test Matches (40)

Australia                  (5)      1959, 1980, 1982, 1988, 1994

MCC                         (8)      1961, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1984, 1987, 2000, 2005

New Zealand           (7)       1965, 1969, 1976, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002

West Indies             (5)      1975, 1980, 1986, 1990, 2006

India                          (7)       1978, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1989, 2004, 2006

Sri Lanka                  (4)      1982, 1999, 2002, 2009

Zimbabwe               (2)      1993, 1998

South Africa            (2)      2003, 2007

 

40 Tests – 12 victories – 6 defeats – 22 draws

 

There have been three triple hundreds and two totals of seven hundred plus in first-class cricket at the ground with 350 from Rashid Israr out of 722 all out in the BCCP Patrons Trophy Final between Habib Bank and National Bank, in March 1977, standing out.

 There have been six instances of bowlers claiming nine wickets in an innings at  GSL with Khalid Qureshi’s 9-28 for Lahore against Lahore Education Board in the 1960-61  Ayub Trophy, still the best analysis. There have been five instances of 14 wickets in a match with Nadeem Malik’s 15-102 on his first-class debut and remarkably in a losing cause, for Lahore Reds against Sargodha in the 1973-74 Punjab Tournament, topping the list.

 Humayun Farhat whilst representing Habib Bank against Pakistan Television in the 2013-14 President’s Trophy, became the first wicket-keeper to claim seven catches in an innings at GSL. Karachi’s Anil Dalpat against United Bank in the 1985-86 Paco Cup and PIA’s Sarfraz Ahmed against WAPDA in the 2009-10 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy are the two wicket-keepers to claim ten dismissals in a match at GSL.

 Since April 2005, GSL has hosted 120 T20 matches, including 9 T20Is and now is also scheduled to stage the final of the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in March 2020.