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Did Independence Cup achieve its goal?
Exit Survey

Did Independence Cup achieve its goal?

The World XI tour of Pakistan concluded Friday with the hosts taking the series 2-1 with a 33-run win in the last T20I at Gaddafi Stadium. Despite all the concerns, the tour went smoothly, with the participating players all praises of the hospitality and their time in Lahore.

Now that the tour is over, here is the Cricingif staff’s exit survey on how the series went.

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How do you rate the World XI tour? Was it able to achieve its goal?

The timing of the series couldn’t have been better. The joy of watching your team play in front of you after so long has to be the best high ever. The ultimate goal of this tour was to bring more cricket back home; Sri Lanka will play one T20 against us in Lahore next month followed by the Windies tour. Hell yeah, things are on the right track. At least now there is hope.

I was slightly sceptical about this tour. It appeared to be part of a string of start-and-stops for #CricketComesHome and I wasn’t entirely on board. While I do not have problems with the aspirational goals of the series, children in the crowd watching their heroes in the flesh (I am pro-children watching cricket, yes), I am yet to be convinced this is the best way to go about it, i.e. shutting down an entire city.

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If the goal was to make international cricket accessible to a vast majority of Pakistanis, I am yet to be convinced that it was achieved. However, in actuality the PCB had a narrower goal in mind, to convince the ICC and other cricket boards around the world that their teams will be safe in Pakistan. They achieved that goal.

Yes, the combined machinery of our state apparatus can keep 15 players, their staff and a stadium safe. Yes, cricket fans in Pakistan have the patience and will to jump through hoops just to witness cricket. The World XI players were incredibly gracious towards the crowds and I do believe they go back home convinced that they can return to Pakistan without fearing for their safety. Mission accomplished, I guess?

If the goal was to bring cricket back to Pakistan and achieve some sort of normalcy for the fans, then the goal was achieved. The World XI tour had some of the best players from across the world and that meant there was some high quality cricket on display for Pakistan fans. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate it 9, deducting one point for the fact that the PCB set such high prices for what was a Red Letter Day for Cricket in Pakistan.

The tour has certainly been a major success for Pakistan. It has achieved its aims, and its smooth execution has opened the doors for bilateral fixtures in the country.

I thought it went much better than my expectations. The players who showed up were of a very high quality, and so the matches weren’t merely academic. The crowd was quite poor in the first game but was excellent by the third, so we can blame some of that on rustiness amongst the authorities. If the goal was to ensure that the next round of matches is secured, then it achieved that.

How big a confidence builder will it be for Pakistan – especially the youngsters who haven’t played at home?

The surprising success in the Champions Trophy opened up space for new heroes in Pakistan. Each of these stars deserved a chance to play in front of their own people. The Independence Cup proved to be the knight in shining armour. Not only did this series provide the players with a chance to flaunt their skills in front of the home crowd but also gave this nation a sense of relief.

Watching Fakhar Zaman hit those boundaries, Shadab Khan pulling off moments of fielding genius, Babar Azam playing the best T20 knocks of his career, Selfie getting booed and cheered at the same time, Shoaib Malik becoming the highest T20 run scorer for Pakistan, Rumman celebrating in his trademark style and Hasan Ali pleasing the crowd like no other; were all moments which will stay with us and our players forever. Luckily we won’t have to wait that long before they play another match in their own country.

I don’t know if I can answer that question, but watching Hassan Ali do his generator (!!!) for the crowd in the third and final T20 match was just everything. I’ve never seen a Pakistani player interact with a crowd like that. He knew they loved him and that the entire stadium was hanging onto his every move. We’ve seen the team do push-ups and victory laps for other crowds, but there must have been nothing like basking in glory and adoration of an overcrowded stadium that gets a shot of adrenaline after every ball. Everyone in the crowd wanted our boys to know that we are proud of them. I hope they felt it!

Every youngster when they enter the international setup usually make their debut in front of their home crowd, because it is just easier. There is a reason why it is called home, because the comfort of playing at home is different. Teams have made legacies in formats just due to how they are able to dominate teams at home, and it’s not that different to when a player plays for his country at home.

I have always maintained that stars are born by playing at home. I am pretty sure Babar Azam would have enjoyed his 86 during the first T20 more than his three back to back hundreds against the West Indies in the UAE. Our current lot is already full of confidence. But this tour has certainly given them the taste of playing in front of a home crowd, which was sorely needed.

I strongly believe that Pakistan’s decline over the past decade in the white-ball format is closely linked to the loss of cricket at home, and the impact it has right now is unquantifiable.

Did you feel that Pakistan were a different unit playing in front of their home crowd?

Absolutely! The energy was on a different level altogether. The competitiveness, the desire to perform and win the hearts of the home crowd was a treat to witness. Every player rose to the occasion and how.

Judging by their body language, the team did have an air of confidence about them. They appeared to be a unit content with their achievements, returning home for a commemorative victory lap. Maybe it was the post-Champions Trophy glow or the occasion itself, but everything worked. Winning two of the matches convincingly and the third one going down to the wire—it’s safe to say their confidence showed.

Babar Azam, the local boy, played one of his best T20 knocks in the opening game and that has to do with knowing how a pitch plays and various other conditions. The fact that he wanted to do his best when he plays in his home town might have played an impact as well. Home advantage is real people, and it does matter, especially for youngsters.

They were much more athletic, much fitter, and outstanding in the field. With thousands of people screaming your name, you are charged up and push your threshold. But I feel the rise in the fitness levels have a bigger role to play in the aforementioned improvements.

Undoubtedly. One only has to look at Ahmed Shehzad’s scores to know we were in an alternate reality.

Your moment of the series?

The entire series is a historic moment in itself; brother Hash (Amla) scoring those majestic runs in the second T20, (Thisara) Perera sealing victory with a six, (Darren) Sammy orchestrating the crowd to make the loudest cheers, Boom Boom (Shahid) Afridi and Misbae (ul-Haq) finally getting their well-deserved farewells, the crowd making the stadium vibrate with noise and so much more.

However, one moment that stole the show for me was when Hasan Ali decided to pump up the crowd with his trademark generator/time bomb celebration. It was just electrifying!

My moment was a little personal: watching Hashim Amla play those stunning drives across the Gadaffi Stadium grass, I felt like a weight had been lifted. While he played a match-winning innings (72 runs off 55 balls) in the second T20, it was his 26 runs in the first match that stood out to me as I was sitting there in the stands. It had been years since I’d seen such sublime batting live—and then there it was, right in front of me. There was a lot of talk about our players deserving the devotion of a home crowd, but finally the home crowd also got what they deserved: plain ol’ great cricket.

The previous series with Zimbabwe and the PSL final were rife with nostalgia but a little short on cricket. However, when Amla was batting, the moment did not need to be supplemented with context or declarations of melodrama. In that moment, we could forget why this was important, because the why carries with it the painful weight of violence and loss, and just enjoy some uncomplicated cricket.

There were many moments in this series, but for me it has to be the moment when Sarfaraz hugged Babar for that run out. The run out was beautiful on its own, but that celebration just had so many “awww’s” attached to it. That aside, the moment when Misbah ul Haq got the sendoff he truly deserved for being one of the most important people in Pakistan cricket history if not the most, was truly special.

There were many. But if I have to pick one, it would be Hashim Amla's run out in the last match. For that one moment, the whole crowd seemed to have treated the World XI as an opposition. I hadn’t heard such loud cheers in the whole series as there were when the South African legend was run out.

I was most excited by watching Hashim Amla bat in general, though Shadab Khan’s run out of Faf du Plessis was the best piece of fielding I’ve seen live in a stadium, and it did make me feel regretful at having missed out watching the evolution of fielding in cricket over the past decade.

Can Pakistan afford to continue hosting the series with such tight arrangements? (affecting the surrounding businesses)

It isn’t the most viable of options but then what are the others? I mean, realistically speaking, we don’t have a choice. The traffic chaos, businesses being shut down, the gazillion security checks to make it to the stadium and all other problems Lahoris had to encounter within the span of five days cannot be sidelined. But if we want to see cricket or for that matter any other sport at international level being played in our country on a consistent basis, we’ll have to bear with all of this. After all this is for the greater good. The entire theme behind hosting such events is to show the world that we are done being isolated; it’s high time we get back our share of happiness.

This is my main contention with the PCB: this level of security does not seem sustainable. I’ve been trying to follow Najam Sethi’s statements and he seems to be convinced that our love for cricket outweighs our annoyance with traffic jams, financial losses and being under virtual house arrest with family members we don’t like. There are plans to extend the blessing of cricket matches to Karachi, however currently it seems that Lahore will continue to bear the brunt for some time to come. It has been estimated that this series cost USD 2.5 million to organize (this estimate does not account for the loss of business in and around the stadium) and each World XI player had to be paid USD 100,000. There is a larger debate to be had, whether it would have been more worthwhile investing that money in promoting the domestic game or inculcating a grassroots sporting culture that will pay long-term dividends.

A short T20I series, yes. But it would take some time for a full tour to happen. The PCB has announced that they will be losing money due to this Independence Cup and it’s no surprise really given the high costs for the security (this after ICC paid a portion of the fees) and the fees for the players. I don’t see the costs coming down anytime soon for any series to be financially viable. That aside, the externalities for shutting Lahore down are many. These things need to be considered for a cost benefit analysis. For now, the tangible costs outweigh the tangible benefits.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures. Pakistan will have to host international cricket and the PSL with such stringent measures for at least next three years, I think. Hosting a full-fledged series for now will be difficult but the cricket board is doing a better job by using these brief stints to gain international community’s confidence. The PCB should more be focused on how to make the most of the potential revenue. The holes were quite visible in the crowd during the first two matches.

I think that the reports suggest the finances of this tour were really mismanaged, and I am not sure of what the capacity is of the parties involved to make this sort of arrangement work financially, but I feel that it is very much possible to pull these off from an economic standpoint. Whether we should or not is another matter.

The writer tweets @khaledumair