When the dust settled on the attack on the Srilankan team bus in Lahore in 2009, I had a distinct sinking realization that this may be the last of international cricket in Pakistan for a long long time. The fact that PCB had promised presidential-level security to the Sri Lankan team to convince them to tour Pakistan when all other countries had refused, was not lost on me. The government imposing Governor rule in Punjab post-Sri Lanka’s arrival, which resulted in unstable political conditions followed by a complete security overhaul had a noticeable impact on me. PCB’s ‘pathetic’ response to rightful global criticism further complicated matters. I was convinced this was the end.
Just a week before the incident on February 24, I was one of the earlier entrants to the National Stadium Karachi for the fourth day of the first Test between Pakistan and Srilanka, having bunked my ACCA classes for the day. This was the first Test in Pakistan after 18 months and Younis Khan had ended Day 3 on 149*, so I was properly vexed.
At 21, having lived all my life in Karachi, this was already the fourth Test I was going to watch live in a stadium. My father had taken me to my first Test match back when I was 9, a game I clearly remember seeing Courtney Walsh, Aamer Sohail, Ijaz Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq in action. I feel a sense of achievement having seen five Younis Khan Test hundreds live across Pakistan and UAE; it’s something I’m proud of being a Younis Khan tragic. On this day (the 24th of February 2009), I was seeing number 2.
Younis Khan celebrates his triple ton © AFP
I had gone to the stadium chasing a Younis’ double hundred. Instead, I got to see a special piece of cricketing history as Younis became only the third Pakistani to hit a triple century. As the Test ended in a draw, I remember being filled with this wholesome feeling that comes when one experiences something truly memorable. At 21, this was it for me.
Fast forward to a week later, and it felt like the world was sinking. There was a lot of grief for Pakistanis who lost their lives, the injured Srilankan players, and the general capitulation of state structures. The situation was so miserable, it genuinely felt like I may never see Pakistan play at home again. As the situation seemed to get worse over the years, I would often think of the future; if I would end up telling my kids that I was there in the stadium for the last completed Test in Pakistan. As depressing as it sounded in my head, there was also this forlorn sense of accomplishment that accompanied my thoughts, being part of that terrible but significant history. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, a desperate clutch at something positive as all hope seemed to escape.
As Test cricket resumed on Pakistan shores with the momentous series opener in Rawalpindi, it is surreal to believe I have a chance to also witness the return of Test cricket to Karachi live from the NSK, more than 10 years since I saw the epic triple century from Younis. The thought that there may be children accompanied by their families as they get introduced to Test cricket like I was at the stadium alongside my father, makes me happy. As I’ll be heading down to the stadium to embrace Test cricket’s homecoming in NSK, I can almost imagine the smile on my face as I enter the stands and the ground comes into view. As famous cricket writer Ahmer Naqvi says: “you don’t know how much you’ve missed it until you see those nostalgic faded sweaters cricketers wear in Pakistan’s winter tests”. I too missed those weird sounding toneless ‘baajay’ (horns) that were in full force in Rawalpindi and although they sound so annoying on their own, they have become an integral part of the cacophony of noises that you associate with Tests in Pakistan.
While it would be nice to experience a special performance, I would also be content with watching international cricket take place - as long as it doesn’t take 10 years to wait for the next Test. Stay here Test cricket; don’t leave us again!