Karachi bursting at the seams.
The first game staged under the new floodlights at Karachi's National Stadium will be watched by an official capacity crowd of 34,000.
Official, that is, because capacities on the sub-continent have a habit of being heavily over-subscribed, despite a posse of gatemen and armed guards who make the SS-type turnstile operators at Lord's seem like a welcoming committee.
Nothing changes in this city, populated by 15 million. Tickets only went on sale last Friday and a thriving black market was in place within minutes.
The grading of prices is fascinating, with every section of the ground named after a past Pakistani Test cricket great.
Top of the range are tickets for the Imran Khan and Wasim Akram stands, costing pounds 10, while those in the Asif Iqbal enclosure are pounds 7. Then it's all the way down to pounds 2.50 for the Zaheer Abbas memorial section, with just 45p to sit in sections named after Majid Khan, Iqbal Qasim, the Mohammad brothers and Wasim Bari.
Presumably, those are not exactly of corporate hospitality luxury. Or heavily cushioned, and under cover from a searing sun which, just after the monsoon season, is beating down in the mid-30s, exacerbated by a humidity capable of reducing a bowler to a grease spot after a couple of overs.
The expected sell-out revenue totals pounds 850,000, compared with at least half as much again from English grounds with half the capacity.
The England players are in fine fettle and delighted to be back in match practice after seven weeks off since their controversial withdrawal from county cricket after the Oval Test match.
This means that their leading seven players have only had three days in the middle in almost two months before yesterday's second warm-up game against the Pakistan A team.
With Michael Atherton and the others who make up the five-day Test party now in Lahore, the tour is ready for take-off, whatever the political ping-pong that has gone on in the last three weeks.
Lord MacLaurin's hasty withdrawal of his unseemly statement that Wasim Akram and the other five Pakistanis pinned in the Qayuum report should not play in the series unless they proved their innocence of match-fixing just about saved English face.
Not that it would have made a scrap of difference if he had puffed as well as huffed, because Wasim & Co insist they will appeal and nothing will happen until after the Test series.
This was confirmed on Saturday by the Pakistan Cricket Board's director for operations, Yawar Saeed, who said: 'We may give them four to five weeks so they can play their cricket with a free mind.' So there.
England's first tour of Pakistan for 13 years will be the biggest test imaginable for the Duncan Fletcher-Nasser Hussain management axis.
Off-field distractions are many, but are not the real problem. England will swallow everything without complaint, even the appointment of Shakeel Khan to umpire in the first warm-up match and do duty as the third umpire later in the tour.
The real problems will be on-field, with pitch surfaces and heat so far removed from those in England against the West Indies last summer as to make that series result irrelevant.
Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Dominic Cork and Craig White formed a pace unit that took full advantage of swing and seam conditions that bordered on the unacceptable at Lord's and Headingley.
Here, they can say goodbye to grass.
They might travel to the stadia via roads bordering attractive parks, but the pitches are baked hard mud strips, with the new ball ripe for the clatter if line and length are not impeccable.
Swing will disappear after five overs and will only appear in the 'reverse' category when the ball is ripe for it, after around 50 overs.
It is ironic that, after English objections to the bowling phenomena from Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis - culminating in the infamous ball-tampering charges in the Lord's one-day international in 1992 - that Gough and White now regard it as a legitimate weapon.
Between new and reverse swing, Hussain will be in the hands of his spinners for control, which is why the next week is vital to Ashley Giles.
The Warwickshire left-arm spinner is quietly confident that he is now fit enough to get through it and play a full part in a tour for which he seems to have waited forever.
'Maybe I should not have played in that first warm-up game in Kenya, because the calf felt stiff before the match,' he admitted.
'But it has healed quickly and I have done a lot of sprint training since and I am sure I will not miss out.'
Driving in this fair city is no different from 13 years ago. If the Jockey Club stewards were here, the streets would be clear within weeks - or as long as it took them to punish instances of crossing, bumping and boring and downright careless riding.
Driving is not the right word to describe the actions of those who sit behind the wheel. Lane discipline is unknown and cars are miraculously operated, by necessity, with one hand, as the other never stops pressing the hooter. All this while the driver gives you his family history and declares a lifelong love affair with cricket that can only be assuaged by a ticket for the next game.
On Saturday evening, my 30-year-old taxi-driver proudly told me of his three sons, aged two months, 18 months and two-and-a-half years. Their existence is apparently despite the fact that he works a non-stop 12-hour shift which 'leaves me too bloody knackered for anything.'
Well, almost anything!
This is a wonderful country to tour as, with more hope than expectation, England are about to experience.
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Oct 23, 2000|
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