It was the last over of the series decider match. The impassioned crowd at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore was at its feet as Rumman Raees bowled the final ball of the innings. I watched over from the media gallery located at the far-end pavilion.

The opponent required 34 off 1. Darren Sammy adjusted his stance as Rumman took his run-up. It was only a matter of seconds till the crowd erupted in ovation. The Pakistani men on the field jumped ecstatically as jubilant scenes unfolded down on the field.

In front of me stood Hasan Ali, fielding at the boundary, who instead of sprinting to his teammates, faced the crowd behind him and motioned something in triumph.

Running backwards with arms in the air, he gestured ardently as if bestowing a present. For him, the true essence of that moment lay in sharing it with his people.

The people, who for the better part of the match kept shouting his name, and who have longed for a glimpse of their favourite stars.

Pakistani spectators hold placards at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore before the start of the final match. -AFP
Pakistani spectators hold placards at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore before the start of the final match. -AFP

Standing amidst those people and being one of them, I realised something significant: although the match, the series and the madness was over, this was only just the beginning.

When I speak of beginnings, I also speak of the young fans of the game who for so long have been yearning to see their heroes live in action. I met a little boy, hardly six years old, whose emotions on seeing Shadab Khan field right in front of his eyes were matchless.

His small, round face glowed with awe as he called out "Shadab, Shadab!" from behind the railing. He would time and again yell out instructions to the players, also doing some (cool) impressions.

Fans of Rumman Raees were present in great numbers too, dying for a glimpse of his wicket celebration. (And these are only the players who were playing their first home game!)

Pakistani former captain Misbah ul Haq (L) rides on an auto-rickshaw as he waves to the crowd. -AFP
Pakistani former captain Misbah ul Haq (L) rides on an auto-rickshaw as he waves to the crowd. -AFP

An unforgettable part of the entire spectacle were the impromptu laps of honour by Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. The two retired Pakistani legends added to the fanfare with their farewell laps, basking in deafening applause.

Misbah-ul-Haq carried the black waist-coat as impeccably as one could. Sitting gracefully on an adorned rickshaw, the kaptaan waved at the fans with a big grin on his face.

As a captain he may not have enjoyed the love of a home crowd, but it seemed like in spite of everything, he got his moment of earned recognition.

Then came the man whose mere name is enough to throw an audience into frenzy. Shahid Afridi stood atop the rickshaw, hand-brushing his hair in the same way he did amidst stressful overs.

The entire stadium turned its mobile flashlights on, and for the course of the lap it seemed as though glimmering stars had descended onto a dense sea of people.

Pakistani spectators display a huge national flag at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore before the start of the third and final match between the World XI and Pakistan. -AFP
Pakistani spectators display a huge national flag at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore before the start of the third and final match between the World XI and Pakistan. -AFP

As a child I never got to experience what watching cricket from the stands felt like. It brings me immense joy to see that these kids - many of whom were watching their first ever game - can now draw inspiration from watching their role models play.

Much like the way those role models watched their heroes once, and those heroes revered the stars of their era.

Another interesting realisation I had during the matches was the collective activation effect of national songs. The ambiance I breathed in is difficult to put into words.

A wave of energy enwrapped everyone each time Jazba Junoon was blasted through the speakers and hymns of Dil Dil Pakistan were serenaded. I could feel Junaid Jamshed was there in spirit.

Pakistani police officers check cricket spectators arriving to watch the final match between Pakistan and World XI at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. -AP
Pakistani police officers check cricket spectators arriving to watch the final match between Pakistan and World XI at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. -AP

The people seemed patient and cooperative during the entire stringent protocol. After waiting for hours in long queues, fans were herded into authorised shuttles to be taken to the venue. Shuttle after shuttle was brimming with crazy fans of every age and type.

It was cricket's homecoming party after all.

Lahore's crowd came through in every facet, and many of my friends came down from other cities to be a part of the spectacle. They performed the 'wave' frequently; by the end of the matches it was quite a synchronised effort.

Every ball that was hit well was celebrated over, regardless of the team. Flags the size of giant tents were a splendid sight.

It is hard to sew together words that could illustrate what I was lucky enough to experience. It was notable that memories from the PSL final were still fresh in the air, along with a renewed consolation that this time cricket was here to stay.


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