It was a chilly and windy morning in 122B Eskaton Road when my friend was sipping in his Sadha-Kalo branded mug of strong Arabica coffee and taking a pinch of herbal incense from his Bulgarian snuff-box and putting in a open cigar paper on which he did a surgery with a box-cutter. At precisely 1:58pm his session was interrupted by doorbell and soon Jamal, our baburchi
, informed us that a head of a local club was here for chadaa
Sir Ash, who had zero-tolerance for such matter, instructed Jamal to usher him in as he briefly patted his inner pocket of his mackintosh feeling for his 9mm Slovakian Grandpower revolver. Our attendant brought an albino gentleman charred from the summer's sun who was in his early 40s with burly hair, and had a chador
wrapped around his body.
"Sir, ami kintu chadar jonnyo ashi ni..."
"I know," said Sir Ash in a steely, accent that hinted on near-about Mugdapara region. It was a while back, my friend authored a monograph on regional accents Shekhertek strip after living in the Japanese quarters in that region for 3 weeks. So it is not outside the whimsical nature of Sir Ash to experiment the different dialects he mastered which greatly abets his disguise.
But surprised I was, "By jove!" I cried out seeing Sir Ash make a dive toward the hapless man and with a flair of a showman make a hand-wave to pull-apart what happened to be a wig of our visitor announcing: "Amir, I present you-"
"Coach Siddons!!!" all three of us broke out, the visitor acknowledge his poorly constructed disguise.
"You see gentleman," my friend began to divulge "After studying local dialects, it was apparent from the start that no sane neighbor would be so bashful in his shuddhyo bhasha
. You notice Amir although the words rolled out of his tongue effortlessly- no doubt a sheer 3 day rehearsal could be the due reason- but a local would more likely to spurt out a pronounced: "Ami kintoo chandaar lagi ai nai sir," instead of the polished: Sir ami kintoo chadar jonnyo ashi ni" as we pay extra attention to 'ni' in passing.
"Well Mr Siddons," he turned to the visitor who was by now sipping in green tea and chanachur
brought by Jamal. "What can we do for you?"
"Sir Ash," who looked very apologetic for the abuse of his identity although it was he
who was startled, "It was by no means by original idea to take refuge under such disguise had it not been because of constant pestering by many in the street who tries to exploit by semi-celebrity status. Also due to my foreign appearance I get accosted prematurely for occasional autographs. When I chanced upon the fact that you are do take kind to those who are ask chaada
I thought of using reverse psychology..."
"Tut tut" my friend awkwardly cut him off. "But pray do tell us why
you are here?"
"Excuse me," Matin- sobriquet of the famous cricketer looked at me quizzically when I had equally blank expression he turned to the coach. "Please elaborate."
"The national cricket team would be playing a game in the neutral venue Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore against the Emirates in a week and we would need to beat them by a large margin. Also we believe the reputation of the country would be greatly enhanced if you contributed a stunning century."
"You do understand, adjectives as of that nature, "stunning" "large" are purely subjective Coach?" said the cricketer sotto voce
"Yes, but Sir, we are desperate and we would need you to launch a showy performance. If you do plan on taking the case, we would be greatly obliged. Here are two tickets to Lahore for the Asia Cup opener. I hope you understand the value of it since it would be an opening match and we need to make a strong statement," as he paused for air he looked into the cricketer for desperation: "Sir?"
"I will take the case."
We arrived the next day by Biman
to Lahore and the cricketer wasted no time to start his investigation as he told the cab to take us directly to Gaddafi stadium. The stadium which is named after (now fallen) Libyan leader was designed by the architect Nayyar Ali Dada, who renovated the site in 1996.
The Mughal motif of red-bricks and arches is distinctive of the stadium. The lower portion was filled with shops and boutiques. It hosted the final of the World Cup 1996 and was first stadium in Pakistan to have floodlights. It is capable of seating 60,000 crowds and as I walked by the boundary rope taking in the whole scene of the empty lot and smelling the freshly mowed grass, Sir Ash printed out satellite images of the stadium and copiously took notes after coding a simulation of the topography of the stadium after inspecting the anache-kanache
of the stadium with a powerful magnifying lens yet all the time toking on herbal incense from the joint.
As he talked to the groundsmen Sir Ash regaled us with history lessons that three hat-tricks have been committed on this ground by a Kiwi Peter Petherick against Pakistan on October 9, 1976, Washim (whom he referred solely as Bhai
against Sri Lanka on March 6, 1999 Mohammad Sami of of Pakistan against Sri Lanka.
Next three days he would leave after breakfast and come back to our hotel late at night visibly exhausted. His industry fueled by whiskey (which he regularly managed from a local connect in the Islamic state) and incense started taking toll both on his cerebral and physical body and I could not help but sternly point it out and to seek both psychiatric and medical advise. But he took no caution instead pored over arcane abstracts in Artificial Intelligence journals in JSTOR.
Little did I know all his hard work would surreptiously morph into a strange case that would not only earn him the reputation of a man of words but of highest dignity as well.
What followed on June 24, 2008 is nothing sort of a miracle. What follows is a brief summary that Wisden
had to write about the match:
Bangladesh v United Arab Emirates Asia Cup 2008
At Lahore, June 24, 2008 (day/night). Bangladesh won by 96 runs. Toss: Bangladesh. Bangladesh300-8 (50 overs) (Tamim Iqbal 40, Mohammad Ashraful 109, Raqibul Hasan 83; Zahid Shah 3-49); United Arab Emirates 204 (45.4 overs) (Arshad Ali 41, Khurram Khan 78; Abdur Razzak 3-20). Bangladesh 2 pts. Man of the Match: Mohammad Ashraful. One-day international debuts: Amjad Ali, Amjad Javed, I. P. P. Batuwitarachchi, Fahad Alhashmi, Saqib Ali, V. Shetty, E. H. S. N. Silva, Zahid Shah (UAE).
Mohammad Ashraful, who hit eight fours from 126 balls, put on 141 with Raqibul Hasan (nine fours), a third-wicket one-day international record for Bangladesh, who reached 300 for only the second time (their only higher score was 301-7 against Kenya at Bogra in 2005-06). With slow left-armer Abdur Razzak conceding only 20 from his ten overs, the UAE were never in contention, although Khurram Khan hit 78 from 81 balls before becoming Razzak's 100th wicket in one-day internationals.
© John Wisden & Co.
As I woke up next day still stunned by the marvel which my friend produced after promising Coach Siddons of a century and living up to the innings which has invariably been dubbed as Eid-innings, I was a bit surprised to see the same pattern continue of a half-eaten scrambled egg and buttery toast on plate with Sir Ash missing. But I found a brief note under the table lamp which consisted of the eight words:
Meet me at Ambassador, 7 Davis Road
I hurriedly got off my pajamas and wore a jacket and half-ironed jeans and hailed a cab to take me to the destination. I was greeted by the valet whom I tipped some rupiahs
and as I prompted the receptionist for Mr.Mohammad Ashraful a bell-boy appeared out of nowhere and told me in Urdu that apparently Sir Ash has been waiting for me for a long time and would gladly take me up to his room. Keeping up with the sub-continental culture and theme of the hotel the bell-boy was a 5'11" sturdy and fair pathaan
in a garb of sherwani
with silver studded wrist-cufflinks.
As he ushered me upto the fourth floor from the lobby I could not help but notice an awkward and almost unreal and subtly hostile vibes that the bell-boy was producing but nevertheless he knocked the door 2 times and upon no answer inserted his card and went inside.
I grew impatient at this strange twist of events and I was relieved to see my friend, himself, open the door and invite me in.
What I found was a messy interior where tomes and volumes ranging from diverse field such as mechanics, control theory, robotics, artificial intelligence littered everywhere as well as wallpapers scrawled with flow-charts, diagrams, and obscure mathematical formulas adorning everywhere which was eligible for writing.
"By Jove!" I yelled out. Immediately the whole reason behind his routine missing from dawn to dusk became apparent to me. It seemed he made an arrangement to check out books from University of Lahore primarily on control theory and as evident from the ashes of joints on the ashtrays, these have verily been keeping him quite busy for the last few days.
"But wait Ash-" in my excitement I forgot to address him properly "What of the mysterious bell boy?"
"Huh? What bell boy?"
"I swore he went inside the room." And frantically I began to search in vain as well as peer over the window which led to nothingness.
"Oh my dear Amir. You mean the late Jafar?" he jestfully proclaimed taking some chromium tubes in from a briefcase full of metal alloys, nuts, screw drivers, and LED.
"My friend it is with utmost sadness I announce that the Jafar is no longer with us."
"Sir Ash! But I don't understand!! What happened to him?? And what on God's name have you been doing here for all these days...and the books? What is of this strange obsession with mechanical objects the remnants of which.."
"More precisely of whom
," corrected my friend.
And then everything became clear to me. "Is THAT
A twinkle glimmered briefly in Sir Ash's eyes. He chuckled and acquiesced.
"Yes my dear Amir. Yes...what you see in that briefcase.."
"Is the remains of the bell-boy!" I cried out.
," claimed the cricketer in flawless French accent. "My dear Amir, I present you Jafar," with an air of a conjuror he waved his hand over the suitcase and started to zip it shut. "But speak no more. Speak no more of this to anyone." And he launched on to explain in the monologue:
"You see ever since Coach approached me, I realized in order to cook up a century I need to create a perfect bowling machine. You may no doubt have heard of the chess playing Turkish automaton which was revealed to be a big hoax.
"So right after we arrived at Lahore the Mughal architecture of the stadium fueled my muse to create the perfect solution to the bowling attack of the UAE players. Thus I went on to labor prodigiously over each and everything I could find on automaton, robotics and artificial intelligence of whose brief glimpse you already got. After studying the bowling video tirelessly for hours I programmed Jafar to replicate the bowling attack of Arshad, Khurram, Zahid, Fahad and the rest of the gang of the Emirates. Finally I reached a stage where I could pass the automaton as near-human after I programmed it to get a job as a bell-boy in Ambassador hotel. Now, if you follow me to the window you would see that behind the thicket of the bougainvillea shades by the gazebo there is an archway over a path. The path leads straight to a deserted field where I tirelessly practiced playing deliveries for 12 hours a day as the Jafar would mimic all the pacers down to their details and the spinner to the finest nuance."
"My God!" as I looked around he also reminded me that his innings consisted of not a single six which greatly increased his chances of cutting down aerial shots as well as his game elevated an otherwise Raqibul of different character to take full advantage of powerplay. Undoubtedly their partnership with was aided by the century from Jafar's bowling as well as reaching the 300 mark helped accomplish his task.
"But not a second to waste," said Sir Ash.
"Wait...you needed to have considerable amount of money to pay. Where did you manage that?"
"That..that was possible through Coach Siddons' advance of 500,000 US dollars. But Amir...we need to erase all evidence and prepare for Sri Lanka!"