When my grandfather Shafayat came to England from Pakistan after the Second World War, even he could not have imagined that his grandson would return to the country of his origin and represent his adopted country as a professional athlete.
I have had the privilege of taking many trips abroad as an English cricketer, from Australia to South Africa to the Caribbean, but this tour to Pakistan is perhaps the most special of all.
It will be unforgettable playing in front of the Pakistani crowd and it will also be a great honor to represent Jos Buttler while he recovers from injury and to captain England.
For those who don’t know, my family background is both English and Pakistani. Actually, my late grandmother’s name was Betty Cox, but I think the cricket side of me definitely comes from my Pakistani side.
I grew up playing the taped ball game like they do in Pakistan and my dad always says I have this Asian style of playing the game without fear.
In fact, it is the first time since 2005 that an English men’s team has come to Pakistan. I was 18 years old then. I’m 35 now and I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time. The fact that England are here is huge and it definitely feels like there’s something to it.
Quite a few of the squad including myself have played in the PSL (Pakistan’s T20 competition) and believe me the love and passion for the game in this part of the world is second to none. I’ve been here a few times now, but sharing this trip with Adil Rashid, who is also of Pakistani descent, was a particularly proud moment.
It was a real pinch moment as we stepped off the plane at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport in our England gear.
This country has a special place in my heart because my mother was born here and my father and his twin brother’s lives were saved by a doctor in Karachi when they were seven months old.
They fell ill in the village of Dadyal in Kashmir. At that time, Dadyal was a simple village and both my father and uncle were taken to Karachi for medical help.
We hope to raise the morale of the country by playing cricket in troubled times with the devastating floods that have sadly hit Pakistan. It’s a great initiative from the ECB to match our donation as players with the appeal of the Disasters Emergency Committee.
We arrived in the hustle and bustle of Karachi on Thursday morning. Over here they gave us VVIP protection – the level given to heads of state – so we were escorted straight off the plane onto bulletproof buses and escorted by an armed convoy to the crew hotel.
Of course this tour is important for cricket and also vital for us as a team. Seven T20s will be a tough test in these conditions and a good indication of where we are ahead of next month’s World Cup in Australia.
Our side have undergone some changes since last year’s agonizing loss to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals and the retirement of Eoin Morgan and the unusual injury of Jonny Bairstow means there is an extra responsibility on my shoulders personally as one of seniors, but I’m looking forward to it.
As long as I’m playing my best cricket, that’s all that matters. It’s not a full-strength team out here, but it’s an exciting side with experience and lots of young talent. With seven games, there are many opportunities for someone to develop.
I’m happy for Tom Helm who was outstanding for us in the Hundred and it’s nice to see Olly Stone fit and firing again. It’s great to see some new faces back in the squad and some of the older faces like Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.
I look forward to seeing Alex Hales play. He’s a weapons player with experience playing in Pakistan and Australia and as Jos said in the first press conference, we’ve talked about it internally and no one has had any issues with his recall. What’s done is done and we look forward to seeing him perform in an England shirt again.
Tour life can be tough, especially when we are confined to the hotels and grounds like here and being away from family is challenging. The hardest part is saying goodbye to my family and my two children, Abu Bakr and Haadhiya.
You’re old enough now and you understand why your dad has to leave home, but no matter how many times we do it in this job, it’s never easy.
This is the start of a packed winter program that will see England play in Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh. I will also be playing in the new UAE T20 franchise league starting in January.
The media talked about the test tour to Pakistan in December. It was amazing to see the test site this summer and see how Baz (Brendon McCullum) and Stokesy (Ben Stokes) changed the dynamic. It was a breath of fresh air.
To an outsider it’s exciting and it’s a brand of cricket that fits exactly how I like to play my cricket, with freedom and aggression.
I know I said I wasn’t retired this summer after Baz called me. I’ve had a few conversations with Baz and he’s a guy who’s very hard to say no to! But I have to be honest with myself, I have retired from Test cricket for a number of reasons.
I haven’t decided yet, we’ll see. It’s still a couple of months away but for now my focus is on the opportunity that’s right in front of us to prepare and give us the best chance of winning another World Cup for England.