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Isolation ends

Isolation ends
The <g data-gr-id="93">dilapidating</g> Gadaffi stadium in Lahore city of Pakistan has managed to break the six-year-long silence when it echoed with 27,000 die-hard cricketing fans on May 22, 2015. The crowd started entering the stadium two hours before the first ball and the place was a full house when Shahid Afridi and Elton Chigumbura strode out for the toss. Afridi gave one last pep talk before the hosts raced to the turf. The country’s largest stadium, brimmed with fans, resuscitated to life when the first ball of the match got unleashed from the firm right hand of bowler Anwar Ali and crashed into <g data-gr-id="111">Zimababwean</g> opener Hamilton Masakadza’s pad. It seemed as if the whole country had a sense of relief with the return of international cricket to the nation after an unannounced pause of six years, two months and 19 days (2,271 days) since Sri Lankan cricket team came under attack near Lahore’s Gaddafi 
Stadium on March 3, 2009.

Wait ends at last
As the cricketing action was on in the country, ordinary Pakistanis, officials, former players, singers – everyone was excited and #CricketComesHome became a worldwide trend on Twitter. All the tickets for the T20 matches and three ODIs were sold within hours. People from various cities thronged Lahore to get a glimpse of their favourite players in action on home ground after so many years. For many, this series was an important one for paving way for more cricketing action and it might show the world that Pakistan, despite its ongoing struggles with violent militant groups, is safe enough to host cricket. While some are still not convinced with the security arrangements in the country and other teams are not likely to visit Pakistan soon.

Gaddafi stadium has a seating capacity of more than 60,000 and the place was overflowing with <g data-gr-id="92">crowd</g>. The first T20 was held on 22 May and the very same day the captain of the Pakistani team, Shahid Afridi, hit the winning shot and the crowd went crazy. Many observers are skeptical if International Cricket will return to Pakistan for good after this series. It is notable that the International Cricket Council (ICC) did not send its officials to Pakistan due to the security concerns, even while saying that this series will hold an international status.

But it has been a happy day for the <g data-gr-id="109">cricket-starved</g> nation and the icing on the cake was a Tweet from the famous Bollywood movie star Rishi Kapoor. The 2-0 series win in the first two matches of the series, followed by <g data-gr-id="110">three match</g> ODI series, doubled the joy for thousands of Pakistani cricket fans. A large number of people also flocked the stadium with posters and placards in support of Pakistani cricket, thanking the Zimbabwean team for their support as well. Fans painted their faces and bodies in national colours with some holding posters of “six years of torture. Thanks for <g data-gr-id="120">revival</g> of cricket in Pakistan”. Another fan held up a poster saying, “Welcome Zimbabwe. <g data-gr-id="119">Peace</g> we love.” Pakistan’s most famous fan – Chacha Cricket – was also present in the stadium. Thousands battled the <g data-gr-id="118">42 degree</g> celsius heat and stifling security checks in long queues for hours to catch a glimpse of the matches.

More to follow?
With the cricket’s return to the nation, albeit with minnows Zimbabwe, many suspect the longevity of the peaceful conduct of the game. The terror-hit country is already facing serious security threat from several militant groups. A couple of days ahead of the tour following the attack in Karachi, Zimbabwe first cancelled their plan to visit Pakistan but then retracted their decision within 16 minutes in a bizarre turnaround. 

The tour, with its watertight security, has been a success and on questions like whether this has given the PCB hopes of hosting other major teams as well in the near future. PCB Chief Operating Officer (COO) Subhan Ahmed responded, “It’s going to be a major achievement as this tour is concluding successfully. What we were waiting for the last four-five years was to demonstrate to the world that we are capable of organising international cricket in a befitting manner and this is our chance to prove that we have that capability.” The official said that they would emphasise on the positive outcome of the current series while trying to convince other nations to start sending their teams to Pakistan on a regular basis to maintain the momentum gained from Zimbabwe’s visit.

“We’ve looked at the Future Tours Programme (FTP) commitments and are trying to find a slot where we could invite another international team in the next 12 months. Pakistan fans have demonstrated to the world how keen they are for international cricket to be revived on home soil on a regular basis,” the COO was quoted as saying. The PCB has reportedly given $5,00,000 to Zimbabwe for the tour, but the board’s top brass feels that despite the expenses, they were going to profit from reviving international cricket in the country. “Investing as much as possible in this tour for the future of the game in our country was vital. Hopefully we’ll reap its benefits in the coming years,” stated the official.

Indo-Pak action on cards?
Pakistan is scheduled to play India this year in December, but there have been doubts regarding the series’ materialisation after the war of words between top government officials of both countries. However, the PCB is still hopeful.

“We’re quite confident about the Pakistan-India series in December. Our confidence comes from the MoU signed with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last year in which they have clearly indicated that even if they don’t come to Pakistan, they will make sure the series takes place in the UAE or some other neutral venue.” Subhan was also reported saying that during previous tours between the two countries, the strained situation was quite similar and a confirmation was received closer to the scheduled date of the series. “We’re anticipating the same situation this time around as well and although there are certain issues projected in the media, we are almost confident that a confirmation will be given in coming October or November.”

“India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all need to give us more support to help us bring back regular international cricket to Pakistan,” Shaharyar Khan, chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board had said during his India tour in early May.

Lessons learnt?
Following the tragedy, all cricket playing nations refused to send their teams to play in Pakistan and as a result the country had to play all of its home series in Dubai for six long years where many of the scheduled tours were cancelled.

Henceforth, PCB convinced Sri Lankan Cricket Board and Bangladesh Cricket to send their teams but the tours mostly remained on paper. As a result many of the players, currently playing in Pakistan cricket team, have not played a single match on the home ground. Misbah-ul-Haq happened to be the most unfortunate Pakistani skipper, who never led his team at home. And all this continued until Zimbabwe landed in Pakistan on 19 May. All five matches were played at the Gaddafi stadium, the home base of Pakistan’s national cricket team. Taking a tough lesson, “extraordinary” security arrangements were made by the government. Over 3,000 security <g data-gr-id="197">personnels</g> were deployed around the stadium. The sports complex, where the stadium is located usually open to the public and traffic, was sealed by <g data-gr-id="192">police</g>, with several checkpoints set up on the roads surrounding it. Policemen were seen <g data-gr-id="198">shooing</g> away curious pedestrians from one of the entrances to the complex, where a row of metal detectors and a ring of barbed wire was set up.

Parveen  K Dogra

Parveen K Dogra

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