LAHORE: From Pakistan’s most popular fan Chacha Cricket to the Head of State, a nation of 200 million celebrated the return of international cricket in Pakistan for six years on Friday.
Hundreds of fans battled the 42 degree heat and stifling security checks in long queues hours before the start of the Twenty20 international against Zimbabwe at 7pm local time (1500GMT).
Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain was among the sold-out 27,000 crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
International cricket was suspended in Pakistan since terrorists attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus on March 3, 2009, which killed eight policemen and injured seven visiting players.
Pakistan’s number one fan Sufi Jalil, famous as Chacha Cricket summed up what the day meant to him. “I am born again today,” Jalil told AFP before the start of the match, waiving the green and white Pakistani flag. “It’s the happiest day in my life as I waited for 2269 days to be exact from March 3, 2009 to this day.
“We want to give the message that Pakistan is a country of peace-loving people and a few people who have negative thoughts will not get success in their efforts and that Pakistani flag will wave like this always,” said Jalil.
Ever since the Zimbabwe team’s arrival there were stringent security arrangements with 3,000 policemen guarding their hotel and the route to the stadium. Fans were advised to reach the ground four hours before the scheduled start of the match, but that still failed to dissuade them from watching the match.
“I had to go through seven check points but I am still happy,” said Uzair Ehtesham, watching the historic proceedings from Imran Khan stands, named after Pakistan’s legendary paceman and captain.
The match has created a frenzy in the cricket-mad country, deprived of watching their stars on their home grounds as Pakistan played all its home matches on the neutral venues of United Arab Emirates.Pakistan’s Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq was also ecstatic. “I am thrilled,” said Misbah. “These are good times for Pakistan cricket and although I am not part of the Twenty20 team I am feeling like I am playing.
Misbah, appointed captain in 2010, had never led his country out in a home match. “This is something I miss but I hope and pray that soon we have a full Test series in Pakistan.”
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan said that the revival of international activity in the country was “a matter of great delight".
He added: “The whole nation is celebrating the return and we hope that this series against Zimbabwe will pave way for more countries to come to Pakistan."
Former captain Wasim Akram said: “It’s exciting.“ “Cricket has suffered badly in Pakistan with no international activity, fans were deprived and grounds were left deserted but I am sure with this small step more cricket will come to our country."
Pakistan has also lost more than 120 million dollars in revenue in these six and a half years of no international cricket at home. Beyond the finance, Pakistan’s younger crop of players - including established batsmen Umar Akmal, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, all of whom have played 50 or more internationals have never experienced the inspiring effect of a hometown audience or pitch.
The security for the tour, no doubt, is foolproof and unprecedented measures have taken to ensure no untoward incident takes place during the tour. Police searched 128 places of six divisions in the city during last 48 hours and checked 107 hotels, 17 inns/guest houses, 724 shops, 3,016 houses, 870 tenants besides searching 9,009 people.Likewise, three SPs, 1,300 traffic wardens will remain on duty under the supervision of CTO Tayyab Hafeez Cheema to remain traffic flow in which 497 lady wardens were deputed in different places of the city.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2015