The year 2017 has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for Pakistani cricket enthusiasts. From the Pakistan Super League spot-fixing saga to the Pakistan Super League final being staged in Lahore. From Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan’s retirement to lifting the Champions Trophy title. From the ICC World XI spreading its magic in Pakistan to finally being able to host Sri Lanka at the place where the seeds of isolation were implanted; it has been nothing short of a miracle.
On Sunday, not just Lahore but the entire world witnessed a historic moment. Pakistan played the last T20 of the three-match series against Sri Lanka in Lahore at the Gaddafi Stadium. All of us are well aware of the events that took place in 2009. The Sri Lankan team bus was brutally targeted by terrorists and it meant no international cricket would be played in Pakistan for an indefinite period of time.
The first two T20s of the series were played in Abu Dhabi; it was pre-decided that the last T20 would be held in Pakistan. This obligation didn’t occur overnight but was a result of continuous efforts by the Pakistan Cricket Board. This effort started earlier this year when the Pakistan Super League final was brought back home. The PSL final lead to a successful staging of the Independence Cup which was played between Pakistan and the ICC World XI comprising of reputable players from seven test playing countries.
There was a point right before the start of the T20 series when a letter was signed by the regular Sri Lankan squad and contracted players. That letter was addressed to the Sri Lankan Board; the players requested for a change in venue of the last T20 else they’d boycott the tour. The players were scared to return to Pakistan, except for one. Thisara Perera did not sign the request letter; he was part of the World XI team and had a fresh experience of being in Pakistan. The Sri Lankan Board stood by its promise and selected a second string squad under the leadership of Thisara Perera. This gesture by Sri Lanka means the world to Pakistan; the process of bringing international cricket back home will only strengthen from here. Thank you, Sri Lanka!
Despite the fact that a second string Sri Lankan team was visiting Pakistan, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the stakeholders. Pakistan had already won the series in Abu Dhabi by beating Sri Lanka in the first two T20s. The last match of the series was valuable in terms of the emotional significance it carried rather the quality of cricket at display. The ticket pricing for the final T20 match was far more reasonable than the series before, it ensured a stadium packed to capacity with fans from all walks of life. Lahoris embraced the Sri Lankan team with utmost love and compassion. Shoaib Malik scored a quick-fire fifty much to the delight of the home crowd followed by a four-wicket haul by Mohammad Amir. Also, this was Amir’s first ever-international home game. Pakistan comprehensively won the match and the series along with the hearts of the cricket deprived fans- young and old alike.
At first blush, the Sri Lankan team appeared to be nervous, the young players weren’t completely comfortable but eased into the situation once the game commenced. The spectators played a major role in comforting the guests: most of them carried the Sri Lankan flag, held player posters and didn’t miss out on encouraging the opposition at any stage. There was music and dancing and chanting; it was a mini carnival for all ages at the Gaddafi stadium.
The hindrances don’t matter on occasions such as this. All that matters is the participation, be it the security forces looking after the city or the spectators willing to go through all kinds of security measures, traffic congestions and not to mention the smog. All for the greater good; one step at a time to achieve the impossible.
The Pakistan Cricket Board is in talks with West Indies; if all goes according to plan, Lahore will stage three more T20Is this year. This will give a major boost to Pakistan’s chances of conducting matches in cities other than Lahore. Now will be a good time to spread the cricket fever to Karachi. Baby steps like these will lead to more international cricket returning to Pakistan. A PSL final at the National Stadium, Karachi next year could easily set the right tone for the future along with PSL group stage matches being held in more than two cities.
There is no guarantee of what the future holds or when exactly will normalcy return forever but there is hope. For now, we have to nurture our cricket, one wrong move and we are back to square one. Let’s just pray international cricket becomes a part of our daily lives like it used to be pre-2009 era, we don’t have to yearn for its return anymore. Cricket needs to stay here after all it is not a guest but a permanent and most cherished member of our family.
Cricket comes home and hoping against hope that this time it’s here to stay.
Nadeem is a sports writer based in Sialkot