I walked out to bat on the most beautiful cricket ground in the world to a standing ovation from the villagers of Pakistan's Hunza Valley.
The rocky outfield and concrete pitch sat beneath the black facades and snow-tipped peaks of the world's second-highest mountains, the Karakoram range.
The Karakoram, which borders Pakistan, India and China, has the highest concentration of peaks over 8000 metres anywhere on earth, including K2.
Below the cricket field, the Indus River carved out a fecund green valley that connects the isolated Hunza valley with the rest of Pakistan.
Pakistan is labelled "dangerous" by government websites, the 6 o'clock news and mothers. It is bordered on one side by its hostile big brother India and on the other by the political and refugee disaster of Afghanistan. Religious violence ravages Pakistan from the inside out.
But cricket unites the deeply divided nation. With bat and ball in hand everything else is irrelevant.
I was wearing the grey shirt of the 1992 New Zealand Cricket World Cup team as I faced the young fast bowler, 45 runs needed from just 18 balls.
The grey World Cup uniform is close to my heart and recognised by all Pakistanis.
When Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup it was one of the greatest moment in the country's brief and turbulent history. Reaching the semifinal was also one of the greatest achievements in New Zealand's equally inglorious cricketing record.
The Kiwi "Young Guns' " fairy tale tournament had them semifinal favourites against Imran Khan's "Cornered Tigers", who had scraped into the last playoff spot.
But as a 6-year-old boy I sat in the crowd at Eden Park with my grandma, tears streaming down my face and watched Pakistan chase down the 262 set by the brave New Zealand team.
Twenty years later Pakistanis of all ages still remember the match. Everywhere I went in Pakistan I wore my 1992 World Cup shirt and it opened doors.
I would be invited to join street cricket games in alleyways and on the front steps of mosques.
Young men told me how their fathers had covered their eyes from the television coverage of Pakistan's tour to New Zealand when the cameras would cut to women in bikinis lying on the grassy banks of the Basin Reserve.
Old men stopped me on the street and invited me into their homes, introduced their families and proudly retold the story of semifinal victory. I was taken up bamboo ladders on to their rooftops made of mud for views over the river to the local cricket field, and across to the 8000m peaks of the Karakorams.
Holding on to the back of the Suzuki ute that acts as inter-village transport, people would recognise the grey garb, wave and shout: "1992 semifinal! Martin Crowe cannot stop Imran!" accompanied by the subcontinental head wobble as they chased the truck laughing.
Cricket runs deep into politics in Pakistan. In 1988 Imran Khan, Pakistan's greatest captain, was asked by the president to come out of retirement to lead the cricket team. He captained the side in one last World Cup - the 1992 victory.
Now turned politician, Khan hopes to lead his Movement for Justice party into government in the general elections in May.
The Hunza Valley in the far north of Pakistan is tied to the rest of the country only by cricket.
The steep-sided Karakoram Highway links China to Pakistan along the highest piece of paved road in the world and is the only way in and out of the Hunza valley.
The highway was carved out of the Karakoram range over 20 years by Chinese labourers and Pakistani soldiers. It is stunning testament to engineering and the natural beauty of Pakistan.
But it suffers from continual landslides and flooding that often cut the northern villages off from supplies and electricity. The villagers of Hunza feel ignored and neglected by the government.
The six-wheeled minibus that transported me from China into Pakistan was filled with oily businessmen back from dodgy deals across the border and smelly backpackers, its roof laden high with generators, hiking gear and vegetables.
We wormed along ridges imprisoned between the rock and white peaks of the Karakoram Range, some faces so sheer that snow cannot take hold on the peaks despite their altitude.
Twice we had to exit the bus and to build provisional bridges from loose rock, passengers lining the river side of the bus pushing against its 30-degree lean towards the rushing water.
Two days down the rocky road, and the green plateau of the Hunza Valley opened up at the base of the mountains and well-hit tennis balls began to fly off the bats of teenage boys and across the highway.
The villages of Hunza were once sour and violent rivals, separated by forest, mountain and river. Now the small interdependent communities form a gorgeous ecosystem of trade, tourism, marriage and cricket tournaments.
I was invited to the local school in the village of Ganish to give a lesson to the final-year class about life in New Zealand. The girls were dressed in a uniform of blue-and-white hijabs. A complete lack of boys in the class had me assuming the Third World had required the young men leave school to find work.
I was wrong. When I asked the young women where the boys were, they responded in unison, "Playing cricket!" with the same distaste as my girlfriend has when summer signals the return of the red ball to our television.
All the boys were at the local inter-village tournament, and dressed in my 1992 top I was invited to join the team as an honoured guest.
Before swing bridges connected the villages of the Hunza, the different tribes would war over women and resources. Now the battle is confined to the cricket field. A bunch of bigger, older men did not go lightly on the schoolboys. We were sent to all corners of the rough field as the boys were smashed over the boundary.
I came into bat last. The team needed 45 runs from the last three overs. I didn't get close to rescuing victory for the school team. I finished not out for 20-odd runs.
The tournament was the talk of the town and defined inter-village relations for days. I briefly felt as if I had been welcomed into the community. People would recognise me and my shirt, and wave with grins.
My illusions of assimilation were soon shattered. After a day playing cricket my sunburn soon became the focus of fascination and friendly ridicule.
- © Fairfax NZ News