It is 2 p.m. and the sun, with its all brutality, is beating down on a group of cricket fanatics waiting for the arrival of a special shuttle to take them to the venue of the PSL final from Liberty Market. They stand steadfast in their polyester replica jerseys. The shirts’ material makes standing under the scorching sun a miserable experience, but they are unswerving in their enthusiasm. The people who have turned out to watch this cricketing contest are striving for a much-bigger cause. They are here to send out a message (loud and clear) to all enemies of the nation. They are here to defeat the menace of terrorism that has strangled their country for more than a decade.
Just some meters away from the security checkpoint is the infamous roundabout, where the Sri Lankan team came under attack in 2009. One fan, donning the Lahore Qalandars’ kit, stretches his arms and embraces everyone around him repeating: “Welcome to Lahore, Welcome to Lahore.” Pointing towards the roundabout he remarks, “Nothing can faze this nation,” adding that he had come out to welcome the whole nation to Lahore. He hides his frustration over yet another deplorable run by the Qalandars this season when asked about watching a Lahore-less final in Lahore by repeating a cliché: “It is Pakistan that is winning today, not any particular city.”
Soon two shuttles arrive, a couple of policemen rush towards the busses to discipline the flock but stop in their tracks when they see the crowd form queues. They let each other take precedence when boarding the busses, something elusive in this part of the world.
In the bus stands a lanky young man named Yasir, wearing a Peshawar Zalmi shirt. He had been supporting Quetta Gladiators throughout the tournament but on a day when the Gladiators needed their fans to back them more than ever, Yasir switches loyalties. He has both cheeks embellished with the Zalmi’s logo. “Zalmi has fantastic players like Darren Sammy and Lala [Shahid Afridi],” he offers as the reason behind the dramatic change of support.
But soon the facade breaks. A dejected Yasir gazes out of the window and laments, “KP [Kevin Pietersen] has betrayed us. He should have come to Lahore to play the final. There is no security issue here. Everything is calm and peaceful. We needed him to come here and tell the world that Pakistan is safe, but he left us.”
A fan at a security checkpoint near Qaddafi Stadium – AFP
Some minutes later, the bus drops the fans on the entrance of Nishter Park Sports Complex, next to what was at that moment the most exclusive location in the country. An announcement is made, pleading the fans to take the sidewalk to ensure the smooth flow of the shuttle service. Surprisingly, people oblige! Each person stepping out of the way for the buses waves at the drivers, expressing their gratitude.
At the Qaddafi Stadium, thousands of spectators are dished up with an awe-inspiring sky diving show as the day enters twilight. Six army personnel dive from a helicopter wearing flags of the five franchises and the country. The crowd chants “Pakistan Zindabad”, and with every landing, the enthusiasm increases.
Several hours later, the marvellous PSL 2017 comes to an end. Peshawar Zalmi pocket the prestigious Swarovski trophy after thrashing Quetta Gladiators in a one-sided contest. The post-match ceremony is hurried, unfitting for a final of this grandeur. A well-composed panel, comprising of both teams’ captains, Dawid Malan, Sir Vivian Richards, and Zalmi’s owner Javed Afridi, is rushed in and out of the press conference hall in space of seven minutes with only a handful journalists being able to ask questions. The Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) media manager directs the media to keep the conference short to ensure that the foreigners can be sped to the airport in time to catch their flights.
"What if Lahore is not in the final? The final is in Lahore" - Picture by the author
The PCB, backed by the government, pulls off the main event smoothly in the midst of all the uncertainties. Various representatives from Full Member Nations attend the final to monitor the security measures. Most critical amongst these are the ones from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who are understood to have assured the PCB that they would be ready to travel for international cricket depending on the success of the final. Almost 24 hours after the PSL final concludes, Giles Clarke, head of the ICC’s Task Force on Pakistan, announces a schedule for a four-match Twenty20 series to be played in Lahore between Pakistan and a World XI in the aftermath of the successful PSL final.
Despite Clarke’s announcement, the PCB has a long journey ahead to convince the international teams to visit Pakistan. The PSL final was the first step. The fans played a massive part by turning out in large numbers to welcome the overseas players. PCB cheif executive Najam Sethi had made several promises over the years to bring back international cricket to the country which had gone unfulfilled. But this could be it. This could be the breakthrough.@ahsannagi