The long road to revival
Hockey has reserved the national game status in Pakistan but there is no denying the fact that people are also emotionally attached to cricket.
Nothing can dampen our enthusiasm when it comes to cricket but the 2009 attack on Sri Lankan team bus put out hopes in the hearts of cricket fanatics.
Let’s jog our memory to the infamy that tarnished the reputation of Pakistan in the cricketing world.
Sri Lankan team was touring Pakistan to play a three ODI and two Test match series in 2009. Everything was going pretty smooth, from security plans to cricket match. Lankans romped to 234-run victory to clinch ODI series by 2-1, first test match began on February 21 as it was scheduled and was drawn after five days.
But what happened next had devastated the country upside-down and marked the world-cricket hiatus in Pakistan. It was March 3 when everyone woke up earlier than usual, some went to stadium and some stuck in front of their televisions to observe third day of second test-match, which was never played.
The Lankan team’s bus, as planned, was heading to Gaddafi stadium, when they were attacked by militants. It was around 8:50AM when terrorists opened firing on the bus at the Liberty Chowk, and injured cricketers.
The bus driver, Muhammad Khalil, was also shot but paying no heed to injury he kept on driving until he managed to reach the stadium and ended up as their life saviour.
“If it hadn’t been Muhammad Khalil, we would’ve been easily targeted by them”, Mahela Jayawardene had said.
The Lankans were safely evacuated from Gaddafi stadium and taken to nearby airbase. This horrendous incident unleashed the fresh wave of demise upon public as it seemed, at that time, international cricket would never come back to our country again.
After the incident, nobody wanted to tour Pakistan, PCB was told to host its home matches in neutral venues like Dubai and Pakistan was stripped off hosting rights for World Cup 2011.
Sad news kept coming one by one but Pakistan Cricket Board continued its efforts to bring back cricket to Pakistan.
They signed agreement with Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe to tour Pakistan for matches in 2013, 2015 and 2016 consecutively.
Fast forward to 2017, Najam Sethi pulled it off like never before in reinstating the world cricket by hosting the final of Pakistan Super League (PSL), between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi, in Lahore,which led everyone in the seventh heaven.
Many of the foreign players, associated with Quetta Gladiators, turned thumbs down on the inkling of playing cricket in Pakistan but Javed Afridi ended up persuading his four foreign players nonetheless.
On the other, PCB didn’t give two hoots whether all foreign players are coming or not and decided to stand on his ground and go with the plan to remove the unsafe-country-to-play-cricket-in stain from Pakistan and to show the world its readiness to host international game.
The final showdown, held on March 6, reportedly had more viewership than any Indo-Pakistan match as it skyrocketed to 21 points by Subhan Ahmed, Chief Operating Officer of PCB with a promise of hosting more matches in Lahore and Karachi in edition three.
The successful hosting of PSL Final in Lahore succeeded in opening the doors of international cricket and ICC agreed on sending world eleven team, led by South African PlayerFaf du Plessis, to Pakistan to play 3 T20 matches in 2017.
Pakistan defeated World XI by 33 runs to win Independence Cup and the series staged successfully which set Najam Sethi over the moon. When asked to share his thoughts over this win, he couldn’t contain his glee and only managed to say “Pakistanis, congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!” The trouble-free tournament proved to be another milestone in the resumption of world cricket, and was pivotal for the chalked out visit of Sri-Lankan and West Indies ahead of 2017.
After eight years of the terror-attack incident, Sri Lankan team agreed to play a T20 match in Lahore, though some of the major players pulled out of the match.
On the day of match,when the National Anthem was played Ahsan Raza, Pakistani Umpire, couldn’t contain his tears as it brought back the memories of 2009 incident to which Thisara Perera, Sri Lankan Captain, consoled him by patting his shoulders.
Every sportsman knows what it feels like to deprived of home cricket for years. In case of Pakistan, whole world was pointing fingers at us for Cricket rundown when we’re not at fault even, it was terrorist that should be blamed.
However, Pakistan managed to win the T20 match by 36 runs but Lankans won our hearts.
Here comes 2018, with a third edition to embark, started with glad tidings that PSL final will be played in Karachi perked up the Karachiites like the cat got the cream.
After 2009 incident, all the matches that were played between World XI, Sri-Lanka, West Indies and PSL second edition finale held in Lahore, whereas Karachi experienced a long nine-year gap of international cricket.
So, when PCB Chairman spread the word about hosting the final of PSL 3 in Karachi, everyone went over the moon.
The city administration decorated the entire city with lights and posters to welcome and honor the game and its players.
All the tickets sold out within three hours despite the fact Karachi Kings wasn’t even playing the final.
Posters of all the six franchises were set up around the city with the life-sized cut-outs of cricketers.
Other than that, billboards and huge posters welcoming local as well as foreign players were set-up around the area surrounding the stadium.
Karachiites were also gripped with PSL fever, who were often seen clicking pictures with their favorite players’ posters and wandering around the city to see the lights and decorations.
Amid all the preparations for the final, the news about West Indies coming to play T20 series in Karachi perched us on the top of the world.
All things considered, no matter which political party one supports, they can’t invalidate the efforts of PCB chairman Najam Sethi for bringing back the international cricket to Pakistan which seemed impossible at one time and also the efforts of Pakistan Army regarding restoration of law and order across the country.
The road was bumpy and doubts were numerous but cricket is back in Pakistan and it is here to stay!