Guarded optimism: Karachi on alert for biggest cricket match in 9 years

Published March 23, 2018
Rangers stands guard outside the National Stadium in Karachi, during the full dress rehearsal of security arrangements for the PSL final. —AFP
Rangers stands guard outside the National Stadium in Karachi, during the full dress rehearsal of security arrangements for the PSL final. —AFP

Thousands of security personnel will be deployed when Karachi hosts the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) on Sunday ─ its biggest cricket match in nine years, after a spate of attacks drove away foreign teams.

Although some overseas players opted out, authorities have promised head-of-state level security at the National Cricket Stadium when Peshawar Zalmi take on Islamabad United.

The Twenty20 match has great significance for Pakistan as it gradually welcomes back international cricket, which ground to a halt after a deadly attack on Sri Lanka's Test team in Lahore in 2009 which killed eight people and injured seven visiting players.

As well as the final in Karachi, both eliminators were held in Lahore this week ─ a step forward from last year, when only the final was held on Pakistani soil at Gaddafi Stadium.

Karachi will also host three T20 internationals between Pakistan and the West Indies in early April, the first home series involving a Test-level team since 2009.

Next year, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has said it hopes to hold half of the PSL on home turf. Currently, most of the games are played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Despite the encouraging signs, some of the PSL's top stars preferred not to play in Pakistan, including Quetta Gladiators batsman Kevin Pietersen who appeared to announce his retirement instead.

Australia all-rounder Shane Watson also opted out for Quetta, who were knocked out by Peshawar.

Quetta head coach Moin Khan said players who promise to play in Pakistan but later back out should be barred from the PSL draft.

"It's disappointing that some foreign players refused to come after giving their consent initially," he said. "PCB will have to take notice and not include those players in draft as it will be big loss for the franchise."

Helicopters drying pitch

England's limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan was another to skip Pakistan, while England's Alex Hales and Sam Billings will both be missing for Islamabad United when they take on Zalmi on Sunday.

Pakistan has pulled out all the stops for the PSL, to the extent of using helicopters to dry the rain-sodden Lahore pitch for Wednesday's semi-final.

The last time a helicopter was seen hovering so close to Gaddafi Stadium was in 2009, when one was used to airlift the survivors of the Sri Lankan team attack to safety.

But foreign experts who examined the security arrangements said they were "as good as any" they have seen.

Former West Indian captain and crowd favourite Darren Sammy, who will skipper Peshawar for a second time after leading them to victory last year, lauded the country's efforts.

"Pakistan is a place where I have a great connection and I feel proud that I am part of the efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan," he said.

Improvised 'tapeball'

Pakistan has since played nearly all its home matches in the UAE, where earlier rounds of the PSL were also staged.

But authorities have been working hard to ease international cricket back to Pakistan, with the final of last year's PSL in Lahore seen as a major turning point.

That was followed by three T20s against a World XI last September and the emotional return of Sri Lanka for one T20 in October, all in Lahore, with unprecedented security arrangements in place.

The success of the Lahore events have long spurred calls for similar efforts in Karachi.

Many greats grew up playing cricket on the sweltering port city's chaotic streets, often using an improvised form known as tapeball, using a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape.

The city's most popular player, former captain Shahid Afridi, said the PSL final was "great news", adding: "Karachiites will enjoy the occasion and I am glad over it."

The third edition of the PSL was launched last month with the addition of a sixth team, the Multan Sultans, more international stars, and hopeful fans eager to forget a spot-fixing scandal which tainted last year's event.

After the first 31 matches were played in Dubai and Sharjah, the PSL moved to Lahore on Tuesday, when Peshawar beat Quetta in the first eliminator and then ousted the Karachi Kings in the second.

The Lahore matches were played under heavy security, with police and paramilitary personnel guarding the teams from their hotel to the stadium and back.

Opinion

Editorial

Mianwali raid
Updated 02 Feb, 2023

Mianwali raid

The military needs to share intelligence with civilian agencies to neutralise the militant menace nationwide.
Corruption unlimited
02 Feb, 2023

Corruption unlimited

PAKISTAN’S consistent slide on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the last several...
Women police officers
02 Feb, 2023

Women police officers

IN a heartening development, a second female police officer has been appointed as DPO in Attock, weeks after the...
Road to perdition
Updated 01 Feb, 2023

Road to perdition

This is also the time of reckoning for those who sowed the seeds of a disastrous policy against militants.
Transport tragedies
01 Feb, 2023

Transport tragedies

TWO tragedies over the weekend illustrate the weak protocols governing the safety of transport in Pakistan. In fact,...
Disqualifying Jam Awais
01 Feb, 2023

Disqualifying Jam Awais

IT appears that there may be some kind of small punishment after all for PPP lawmaker Jam Awais, who was pardoned ...