LAHORE: A big crowd in an upbeat mood turned out at the Gaddafi stadium as the first of the three T-20 games between Pakistan and the World XI on Tuesday marked the start of a crucial phase in the country’s struggle to recover from the effect of terrorism perpetuated here over the last 15 years.
Much was at stake and the government made elaborate security arrangements for the game, which is to be followed by another one tomorrow and the third and final match on Friday. Thousands of police were deployed and the visiting players were provided president-level security. All routes to the venue were protected and special directions were issued for those wanting to go to the stadium to watch the game.
Businesses in the nearby markets, including Hafeez Centre and Liberty, were closed, at a cost to their owners. There were complaints by commuters stuck in the traffic jams caused by the staging of the game. Some of the educational institutes in the area around Gaddafi stadium were closed.
The three-match series is expected to boost the chances of Pakistan getting back top-tier international cricket. International cricket was snatched from the country after the devastating attack on the Sri Lankan side in Lahore in March 2009.
The board’s effort for the restoration has continued and the current event, titled Independence Cup to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth, is being officially termed as the second long stride towards restoration of international cricket in its full glory. Pakistan played host to Zimbabwe for a short series in Lahore in 2015. More recently, a few international cricketers travelled to the city to take part in the final of the Pakistan Super League after all the preliminary games of the tournament were played in the Gulf.
The PSL player draw was criticised by some — not least by former national captain and today’s main opposition leader Imran Khan. It was said that the PCB was unable to attract top-level players to come to Pakistan for the PSL final. In comparison the board managed to have a much stronger international side this time around.
The arrival of international cricketers, led by renowned South African Faf du Plessis, was a bright moment for the much under pressure PCB, who is now in the sole charge of Najam Sethi, who has recently been appointed its chairman after working as a powerful executive alongside former board head, Shaharyar M. Khan.
Initially, not too many people on the global stage expected any of the stars of world cricket to take part, but the final line-up of the visiting team was impressive. It included some of the most famous names from the international circuit such as Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis himself, not to forget accomplished limited-over specialists in David Miller, Darren Sammy and Morne Morkel.
The board had asked for support from the people and the turnout at the stadium for the first game was impressive. However, there were people around who questioned locking down a good part of the city for the grand show. The lockdown in itself, in the eyes of many, exposed the people to fear.
The business community had to make a particularly heavy contribution for the return of cricket by facing almost a week-long closure — individual shops and centres along the Gulberg Main Boulevard were made to pull their shutters down on Tuesday.
All marriage halls, hotels and guest houses in the vicinity have been told not to entertain guests or hold any function for the next four days.
“The local police visited all guest houses and made the owners sign an undertaking that no guest is allowed in their places till September 16,” said the manager of a guest house.
To augment the element of shock, in the true local police style, the orders were implemented on a notice of just 24 hours. Offices in the neighbourhood, were told to shut down for next four days, regardless of the nature of their business, said an affected businessman. He had to relocate his offices with 150 employees to avoid suspension of his work.
“It could have been handled in a better way,” a businessman said. A plan could have been chalked out much in advance and businesses warned in time so that they could take steps to minimise their losses and inconvenience.”
Apart from businesses, traffic mess — for second day running — hit the entire city, chocking all roads as police kept the Gulberg area sealed off for the better part of the day and evening. Stung by the last time incident during a match of Zimbabwe, when a terrorist was able to sneak into the inner police cordon when it relaxed during the match, this time police is not taking any chance; keeping the area totally off limit during practice sessions and matches.
“Overzealous police, lacking coordination only added to the woes of the Lahorites,” alleges Malik Asif. It took intervention by the Chief Traffic Officer to let commuters onto a section of the main Boulevard, where, otherwise, police had blocked the entry. The CTO denied ordering the closure, at least two hours before the start of the match, and let people travel. It only showed how lower rung of police officers were deciding on their own and adding to the inconvenience of the common man.
The police had its complaints as well. “What is happening on the roads is not part of the traffic plan devised by the traffic police,” says a police official. The police never recommended dual blockage of the roads but wanted to keep open at least one side of the road and this is what was agreed upon. The district administration, however, changed the plan at the last moment and added to the mess on the roads.
The police posted in the streets responded to the public grumbling by saying that they were taking absolutely no chances.
“You cannot hold big sporting events anywhere in the world without tight security which is going to cause some discomfort to the people,” remarked a journalist. “It is not just about Pakistan or a country recovering from terrorism. Security exacts its own price and the Lahorites must be prepared to pay it.”
Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017