A security guard saluted before the rusty metal gate creaked open, and the traffic barrier moved aside to let the SUV pass. We were ushered through several acres of private farmland and then it came into view: a field with the grass cut very short. Clearly, this patch of land wasn't meant to grow any kind of crop.
It was a full-sized cricket ground, and the host was an influential local businessman in Multan clearly eager to show off his pride and joy. A 40-over game was underway, a number of the cricketers were seasoned veterans of the Pakistan domestic scene in search of a game while the 2020 edition of the Pakistan Super League was underway. This was weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic brought world sport - and much else - to a standstill, and while we idly lazed about the ground watching the game, the businessman said something that stood out. "Sohaib Maqsood plays here from time to time," he beamed proudly.
You couldn't help wonder what Maqsood might have made of his career as he enjoyed a casual hit at this ground. Unlike the players we were watching, Maqsood was a Pakistan international who had played 46 white-ball internationals for Pakistan, someone whose exploits had been witnessed by crowds at the Wanderers and the Gabba, Eden Park and Sharjah. It was difficult not to feel that while Maqsood's presence here might be a feather in the businessman's cap, the reverse was very much not true. Maqsood playing here - it just didn't fit.
It's everything he's done in the time since that explains why it sounded out of place. On a whirlwind day that saw him called up to the national side in fortuitous circumstances for the first time in five years, Maqsood smashed 65 off 35 balls in the PSL final, leading his native Multan Sultans to their first title.
He came out to bat around the halfway mark, but it was his presence in the dugout that allowed Shan Masood and Mohammad Rizwan to spend the first eight overs anchoring their way through an innings that really should have taken off by then. Rizwan was struggling for rhythm while Masood managed just four runs off his first eleven deliveries, and by the numbers, Peshawar Zalmi were well on top at that stage, having stifled the openers during the Powerplay.
But there's a reason Sultans' openers bat the way they do, why they have more 50-plus partnerships than any other franchise all season. They can afford to be cautious in the Powerplay because when they look across to the dug-out Maqsood is padded up, raring to go in the form of his life. Only two batters have more runs in the tournament, with no one in the top seven matching his strike rate.
Few of his team-mates need to take risks because Maqsood will take more than his fair share, all without looking like he is. And when he came in to replace Masood in the ninth over, he delivered what he had promised he would: a big fat strike rate.
Maqsood and Rilee Rossouw combined for a 98-run partnership that came in 44 balls, pushing what appeared to be a 170-run target to one in excess of 200. Maqsood set things going by clobbering 17 off Wahab Riaz in a glorious innings that showcased the full range of his shotmaking ability. There was the mid-off punch off the Zalmi captain that got things going, and the hoick over midwicket which tends to travel the furthest distance. There were wristy drives, and paddles past fine leg. And the magnum opus, the inside out drive over extra cover for six he appears to execute with perfection against pace and spin with equal effortlessness.
This was the player that drew breathless comparisons to Inzamam-ul-Haq when he first put on Pakistan colours in 2013. He excited Pakistan supporters because he seemed to be everything they lacked in T20 cricket, a power hitter who doubled as a quality batter. Now he finds himself on a plane to England and the West Indies for two T20I series ahead of the T20 World Cup as Pakistan continue to search for a big hitter up top. The changes in Pakistan cricket can be hard to keep track of, but some things really do always stay the same.
Not for Maqsood they don't, though. This was a player who was unofficially written off by Pakistan, consigned to the burgeoning scrapheap of talent cast aside for a great diversity of reasons. There were rumours about discontent with his attitude, while several coaches and selectors were understood to be less than impressed by the care he was taking of his body. "Fitness issues" became the catch-all explanation for his exclusion, with Pakistan appearing resigned to having lost him for good.
But in the past year, from being hidden away in private grounds behind barricaded metal gates, Maqsood was surfacing once more. Picked for the Southern Punjab side in the National T20 Cup, he had a blast, finishing third in the runs charts, his strike-rate of 167.94 superior to anyone in the top five. It included a barmy chase that saw Maqsood at his magnificent best as he smashed a 29-ball 81 as his side ran down a chase of 166 in 10.4 overs to qualify for the final. The PSL draft was weeks away, and, as it was on the pitch, Maqsood's timing couldn't be better.
"I took a break from red-ball cricket and worked on my skills," Maqsood said after being named the Player of the Match in the final. "Form plays a big role, though, because when you're in form, your mind works better and you make more assured decisions. I don't want to do anything different in England and West Indies, and just keep repeating what has made me successful here. I want to take responsibility and hopefully the results will follow."
Maqsood has never been to England with the Pakistan side, but that's not just why the tour that follows feels somewhat like the start of a new career for the 34-year old. 2016, the last time he played international cricket, feels a world away, especially so in Pakistan cricket. For a player who, on his day looks like everything comes easy to him, Maqsood knows of the grind that follows when runs dry up, the phone stops ringing and relationships sour.
Much more significantly, he understands what it takes to scrap his way back, spending time in gyms and obscure cricket grounds no one gets to see. All for nights like these, when you can hardly look anywhere else. How's that for attitude?