It is 326 BC. The internet was not invented. The first test match has yet to be played. We are talking about a time well before even the first announcement of Shahid Afridi’s retirement. A time when raids of any kind are dictated by the weather as well as by other tactical considerations; launching one in the winter—with virtually no defense against the cold—is perhaps the most unforgivable blunder you can commit. Even 2,000 years later, two of the most famously disastrous military debacles—Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and Nazi Germany into the Soviet Union—will be largely done by the extreme cold.
And yet, when Alexander hatched a plan against the Mallians in what is now widely regarded as Multan, he ruled out waiting until the summer months. Instead, he chose the miserably wet winter months to launch his campaign and surprised the residents. The citadel was besieged and had fallen by February, before winter was forced to begin its annual eight-month retreat from South Punjab’s most prominent city.
2,348 years later, it may become clearer why the ancient Greek emperor preferred to give Multan a spacious berth once the summer sun had set. Carrying over from last year, the ODI series has changed a lot in one of the cities most reminiscent of the subcontinent’s unique history. It is now a bustling modern metropolis, a center of commercial and economic activity with state-of-the-art infrastructure. In one aspect, however, little has changed; there is virtually no defense against the oppressive heat.
Temperatures on each of the days the three ODIs will be played will regularly rise above 45°C, forcing games to start well into the evening and likely end after midnight. Multan was certainly not Pakistan’s first choice to host this time of year, with the slightly cooler Rawalpindi originally slated to host the games. But political uncertainty forced a change of venue, and with the refurbishment of the surfaces of Lahore and Karachi, the Pakistan Cricket Board had no choice but to move a series held at the hottest time of the year to the hottest city with an international cricket ground.
This isn’t the first time a series has been held in uncomfortably warm weather, though, and with calendar blanks shrinking, it certainly won’t be the last. Indeed, the PSL famously took place in Abu Dhabi in June and July last year, and the BBL and IPL are held regularly at times when dry heat is high in a number of host cities. Add to that the fact that this series was the victim of Covid-induced havoc last winter, and was originally slated for December.
Pakistan has been preparing to combat the heat by holding training camps in advance to ensure they are as acclimatized as possible. Super League points are at stake after all, and Pakistan, with just six wins out of 12 this cycle, will have to push themselves further if they want to avoid the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe. Fresh from an impressive come-from-behind series win over Australia at home, Babar Azam’s men will field a largely full squad. They should be firm favorites against an opposition who, until their 3-0 series win in the Netherlands last week, hadn’t won an ODI series in over a decade.
With the preparations for the World Cup gradually starting next year, it is that series against Australia that provides perhaps the clearest blueprint for the brand of ODI cricket that Pakistan aspire to play, and the quality they bring to the table on batting-friendly tracks. The West Indies don’t have the quality of Australia in either department, and the bone-dry fields Multan will provide look good to produce big scores again. That could mean that Pakistan’s soft underbelly – their middle order – remains shielded once again, but Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar have great opportunities to pick up where they left off.
The West Indies faces challenges on several fronts. You don’t need Google to know that Amstelveen’s circumstances probably won’t equip them to deal with what they’re going to experience in Multan. You also don’t have to look at the ICC rankings to know that the win over the Netherlands is probably not indicative of how things could go against Pakistan.
But still, the West Indies will be supported by the variety of artists they had in the Netherlands. The three hundred were scored by three different top-level batters, while rising star Brandon King crushed two unbeaten half-centuries to end that series. Akeal Hosein and Alzarri Joseph were consistently solid with the ball, and victory, no matter the opponent, will always provide the one thing all athletes need: confidence.
Even for this city, replete with 1000-year-old Sufi mystical shrines, temples and mosques, as well as the holy tombs that give Multan its nickname, this series is historic. It is the first international cricket to be kept outside the three major centers of power in Pakistan since the 2009 attack, allowing Multan to enjoy something it has been deprived of for far too long: the limelight. It’s a glorious place to visit, but – as even Alexander knew two millennia ago – maybe when the weather is a bit cooler.