LAHORE: The final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is going to be held in Lahore on March 5 after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Monday received the Punjab government’s go-ahead for the event.
PCB chairman Shaharyar M. Khan and PSL chief Najam Sethi welcomed the decision, which came after long and deep deliberations spread over many days.
The PCB said it was ready to hold the final in a ‘befitting’ manner.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan fiercely criticised the decision. Recording his reaction in an interview to a television channel, he asked what message a game held amid closed roads and strictest security arrangements would convey to the world.
Shahbaz insists decision in national interest; Imran expresses disapproval
The government on its part looked unperturbed by the opposition, with a battery of ministers and spokespersons condemning the PTI chief and implicitly anyone who agreed with him on the issue.
“A cabinet committee for peace held an important meeting here on Monday... The committee with the consultation of all federal and provincial security institutions decided to hold the Super League final in Lahore,” said a press release issued by the Punjab government.
The meeting was presided over by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who ordered 100 per cent security for the final.
He said the decision had been taken in the best national interest and appealed to people to lend support for making the final successful.
PSL chairman Sethi welcomed the decision and said the PCB was ready to organise the event in Lahore. The PCB wanted to have the final at the Gaddafi Stadium right from the time the programme for the second edition of the PSL was announced.
The PCB campaign got a real boost when the army chief vowed to back a Lahore final in the wake of the Feb 13 suicide blast outside the Punjab Assembly. Ten days later, on Feb 23, there was another explosion in the Punjab capital. Though the people suspected it to be a bomb blast, the government claimed that it was caused by leakage from gas cylinders.
Mr Sethi was in the forefront of the drive to bring the game to Pakistan — as an expression of the country’s resolve to not bow to the narrow code imposed on it by militants. Not everyone has been convinced, however.
Many joined PTI chief Imran Khan in questioning the logic behind the idea given the security situation.
There have been pleas asking for the game to be held in the United Arab Emirates, the venue for all PSL games leading to the final this year as well as for the first edition of the PSL last year.
On Monday, Mr Sethi said eight security experts drawn from the cricket boards of Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka and the International Cricket Council would come to Lahore to monitor security arrangements here.
He said the decision [to hold the final in Lahore] was not the result of efforts of one individual or only of the PCB, but the entire nation supported the move.
“Now it is our responsibility to make the event successful.”
Brushing aside the rumours that it could be a badly curtailed game, Mr Sethi said the sale of tickets online and at specified outlets would start on Tuesday.
The entry to ‘general’ enclosures would cost Rs500 per person. There will be tickets for a price as high as Rs12,000 and Rs8,000. There will be Rs4,000 per person stand, still too exorbitant a price and may be a tactic to keep many spectators away.
Mr Sethi was not yet prepared to say if the final would feature any foreign cricketers. He said he would go back to Dubai and would be in a position to comment on that aspect in a few days. However, he said, there were many other foreign players who were ready to replace the foreign players refusing to play in Lahore.
There is an advisory by the Federation of International Cricket Association (FICA) telling international cricketers to not go to Pakistan on security grounds. Many foreign cricketers have said that they will go to Lahore only if allowed by the FICA.
In his response to Monday’s development, PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said security for the game was the responsibility of the government and it was fully capable of doing that job.
He appealed to people to extend the PCB a helping hand “as they had done” when the board briefly hosted the Zimbabwe cricket team in 2015.
No international team has visited Pakistan after the series against Zimbabwe — which was then dubbed as a defining tour setting the much-needed precedent of top-class cricket teams visiting Pakistan. During a game of that series a low-intensity explosion was reported which was officially described as an electricity transformer blast. That didn’t stop the Zimbabweans from completing the tour.
The Gaddafi Stadium, which has also hosted the World Cup-1996 final between Sri Lana and Australia, made headlines in 2009 when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team on way to begin the third day of a Test match against Pakistan. Eight policemen were killed in the incident. Two Sri Lankan cricketers and a Pakistani umpire were seriously injured.
Police will again be faced with a challenge to ensure adequate security on the day of the final. Lahore Capital City Police Officer Amin Vains told Dawn that his team would be there to provide security to the event and to see that everything went smoothly. “There will be no long queues of spectators and arrangements will be made to expedite the fans’ entry into the stadium.
He said police were well equipped to perform their duty — even more well-equipped than they were when the Zimbabweans came here.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2017