If soaring ticket sales and TV clips of passionate young cricket fans in queues are anything to go by, excitement for the final of what has been a nail-biting Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament is at an all-time high.
But as the air grows thick with anticipation and many feel a sense of pride about ‘bringing cricket back to Pakistan’, there are mixed feelings in Lahore about the final.
Brushing aside fears stemming from recent terror attacks in Lahore and other parts of the country, PSL organisers and the authoritative provincial government representatives appear determined to shore up security to entice nervous foreign players to the Gaddafi Stadium on March 5 at all costs.
Social media users have defended the government's decision to green-light the PSL amid tight security by comparing the move to the UK government's 'lockdown' in London for the Olympics in 2012.
An astounding 11,000 security personnel are being deployed in the vicinity of the stadium to form a layered security cordon, which will include the army, Punjab Constabulary, Dolphin Force, Police Response Unit and Elite Force.
Businesses situated at the Gaddafi stadium, including restaurants, shops and banquet halls have been asked to remain closed until the match is over.
“A closure of our restaurant costs us a huge deal for a single day but for a week we will lose millions. We have also been asked to remove all the gas cylinders and other items from the restaurant. Where would we keep these things?” asks a hotel manager, reluctant to reveal his name.
Banquet halls situated on Ferozepur Road near the entrance gate towards the stadium have been ordered to remain closed on match day.
Hafiz Imran, the owner of Prince Banquet hall situated quite close to Gaddafi Stadium says: “We have lost business as bookings of the marriage hall have been re-scheduled for another day. Some customers have left and booked other marriage halls.”
But he quickly adds: “We appreciate that PSL is being organised in Lahore and I think we can all give one day to the country.”
The manager of Heights and Delights Banquet Hall, also situated on Ferozepur Road, Naveed Aslam feels it is unfair for people to have to alter their marriage plans but is also happy about cricket's return. “We are sad that business will remain closed, but we are happy that the match is being organised in Lahore."
Educational institutions too are complying with government orders. Yasir Malik, a resident of Lahore and the father of two children who study at private schools situated near Gaddafi Stadium says, “The principal of both these schools said that the schools will remain closed on Friday, March 3 because security is beefed up around the stadium.”
Closure or not, Malik says he would not have sent his children to school even if the school administration had not announced a holiday. “My children have their final examinations after two weeks and taking them off school is going to have a negative impact on their preparations. But it’s not worth a risk.”
He weighs in on a subject that has divided opinion in the cricket-loving nation. “To be honest, this event isn’t worth it: why organise it in Lahore? Why not let it be in UAE? All for 40 overs, the city is being paralysed.”
“Dear staff, in view of the heightened security alert in light of the PSL final, we have decided to keep our Lahore schools closed on March 3 and 4. Please take care of yourselves and your families,” reads a message sent by a private school management to faculty members.
Similarly, a notification was issued by Sui Northern Gas Lahore with the title ‘Security Action Plan regarding SNGPL installations/connections in the vicinity of Gaddafi stadium for PSL final.'
According to the notification, gas supplies in the surrounding areas of Gaddafi stadium – including Gulberg, Garden Town and Shadman – will remain suspended from noon of March 5 till 7am on March 6.
Mock exercises of the Counter Terrorism Department, police and Punjab Rangers in parts of the city means traffic is a mess in a city where the roads are already badly congested. Ferozepur Road, the city’s primary artery, remained partially closed near Gaddafi stadium on Thursday night following a security mock exercise.
“We understand the problems this is creating for the general public, but we want to ensure the public that we are fully prepared for the event. We will monitor the situation from a control room and around 500 cameras will be used,” says Abdullah Sumbul Khan, commissioner Lahore.
“We will make sure there is no electricity load shedding on the day of the match. There will be six parking spots for the general public,” he adds.
The commissioner says the government will provide a bus shuttle service to the ticket holders from the parking spot to the stadium.
Even while some grumble about the logic behind the decision, one resident of Gulberg sums up what many feel is a matter of pride for Pakistanis.
"We had finalised March 5 [the day of the match] as the wedding ceremony of my sister Wajiha two months ago and just a few days before the event we were told that the date needs to be rescheduled," complained Afridi, the bride’s younger brother who was named after the beloved Shahid Afridi.
Wajiha's event was scheduled to be held at Prince Banquet Hall on the road facing the stadium.
"The elders in our family are a bit religious and they didn't want to change the dates, therefore we changed venues instead," Afridi stated, adding that the family was reimbursed.
Around 300 people were called and informed about the change in venue. “My mother was a bit upset with the government as she feels they should have informed everyone earlier. But we wish PSL our very best. It’s a Pakistani product and I will watch the final on repeat for sure."
Header image — AFP