DURBAN – Fawad Rana’s interest in the city of Durban as a franchise was sparked by observing a player from the coastal city at close quarters.
Cameron Delport may not have known it then, but as he turned out for the Lahore Qalanders, he was inadvertently playing ambassador, and nudging his boss towards the place he will now call home from home.
“He is a good man. You know, when I asked him to come for our trials, he said he would be there the next day. I watched him, how he was with players, and then I saw him bring his whole family over, and just how they were together. That stayed with me,” Rana enthused.
The delights of Durban as a city have also captured the Lahore business magnate’s heart, who maintains that, in his mind, Durban is more beguiling than Cape Town.
“There is so much natural beauty here, but you people do not tell the world about it. I have a great passion for this place, and its people.You will be seeing a lot more of me here,” said the moustachioed grin.
The Qalanders are already a household name in Pakistan, and the Rana brothers - all three were present - played a short video that encapsulated the passion that the Qalanders have tapped into back home.
Incredibly, over 100 000 hopefuls came out to trials for the Pakistan Super League squad, even though there were only 18 places in the final squad.
“That is astonishing!” Durban marquee player Hashim Amla gasped.
“I remember, back when we were learning the game, and there would be thousands of us coming to Kingsmead, and playing mini-cricket on the outfield. Growing up, Kingsmead was like Lord’s to us, and it will be great to try and tap into the talent that we undoubtedly have out there,” Amla said hopefully.
The 100000 that turned out in Lahore came from every corner of the district. There were labourers, farm-hands, schoolboys, egg-sellers and, intriguingly, an ambidextrous fast bowler who sold fruit.
Amla insists that there are similar stories in South Africa, and rubbing shoulders with a system that has already unearthed these rough diamonds can only help the process.
“When you look at a guy like Dale Steyn, where did he come from? Phalaborwa! How much cricket did he play in his early years? He has told me of how he used to run around the mines, skating and doing all sorts of things. But, in a way, that helped build his fitness, because he is definitely one of the fittest guys I have ever seen.”
The Rana brothers have high hopes for the Durban Qalanders, and they are keen to go beyond just adopting the obligatory development hub, as per contract stipulation.
Fawad Rana spoke of a synergy with Durban and Lahore, and added that he was looking beyond the initial ten-year plan.
“All my life, I wanted to give back to my community. My business side is only one side of me, but cricket gives me so much passion and joy. I am a fan, 100 percent.
“I was there, at The Oval, when Pakistan won the Champions Trophy. It was such a proud moment for us, considering everything. I cried, a bit,” he admitted, smiling in recollection.
“Sport is my passion, and also providing opportunity to the youth. That is the Qalander way, and I trust that it will be the same in Durban. We trust that the players and the coaches (headed by Paddy Upton) will do well on the field, and our job is to connect people and engage with this beautiful city,” he said.
Rana himself admits that his cricket never quite reached the levels that he dreamt of.
“I played many Test matches for my country, against the best players of my time. But, it was in my back garden, and I broke many windows when we played those pretend matches. And, when we lost, I may have broken a television remote or two in disappointment.”
Nowadays, that passion has zeroed in on the next generation, and it is a task that Rana is keen to tackle with gusto.
In a fascinating, engaging discussion after the media gathering, he revealed a penchant for poetry – the world-renowned poet Rumi inspired the Qalander moniker – nature and good food. But, above all, he made it clear that cricket and the joy it brings is what gets him really going.
“You know that we do not have international cricket to watch back home. But, Insha-Allah, one day we will get it back. In the meantime, we cannot sit and wait. We are still trying to make a difference, and the Pakistan Super League and now the T20 Global League gives us opportunities to change lives.
“You know, when you change the life of a young man, you are also changing the life of his whole family, because they are bread-winners,” he emphasised.
And now, to his sheer delight, Rana and his brothers intend on breaking considerable cricketing bread in their new home of Durban.