After an agonising nine-year wait, big time cricket returned to Karachi last Sunday with the Pakistan Super League final. It was a fantastic sight as Islamabad United beat Peshawar Zalmi by three wickets in front of 40,000 cricket-mad fans at the recently renovated National Cricket Stadium.
It was, indeed, a day to remember for the Karachiites and they whole-heartedly celebrated the landmark occasion in a grand yet disciplined manner while the metropolis was brilliantly lit up for nearly a week in the exciting build up to the much-awaited clash.
Being a huge fan of the game, I was among the lucky ones who had managed to grab a ticket for the PSL final despite the super-swift sell out that left many disappointed.
But while the match turned out to be a great spectacle and the atmosphere was festive and electric, some sketchy planning on part of the authorities concerned and the inadequate arrangements for the fans inside the stadium left a lot to be desired.
Since early morning, people had very keenly followed the instructions issued by the authorities such as where to go, where to park the cars, where to board the shuttle, how to get into the stadium through certain gates and check points, etc. However, they proved to be mere instructions as reaching the stadium became quite an ordeal for most people including myself and my friends.
In the scorching heat, the shuttles which were approved and provided by the PSL management and security personnel and were supposed to carry the fans to the stadium - were not allowed to go past the 2km radius around the arena. To their dismay and astonishment, the spectators were dropped off quite far and were asked to walk up to the stadium from there onward.
The excitement and thrill of the occasion still kept many going as they braved the heat and the long walk to make it to NSK in high spirits. But there were quite a few who experienced dehydration much before reaching the stadium’s entry gates.
Once there, they were confronted with the four security check points. It was another test of patience for the fans as the pace of scrutiny at check posts was extremely tedious and irked the fans no end.
To top that, the law enforcement personnel asked the people to get rid of the water bottles that they were carrying all along. They assured them of abundant water availability inside the stadium which proved quite misleading though.
In the Mohammad Brothers enclosure, for instance, where I and my friends were perched, there were just four water coolers out of which only two were operational.
The long queues in front of the water coolers did not help things either and the fans who had arrived with families and children spent most of the time waiting and fighting for their turn to get at least one cup of water for their loved ones. It was not a pretty sight and many began to debate whether coming out in this heat and chaos to watch the PSL Final was a wise decision.
The people also were unsure about the quality of water inside the coolers as only a few of them had filters on them.
The food stalls outside the enclosures were also very poorly managed. They were impossible to access for any decent person as most of the time they remained surrounded by hundreds of hungry spectators who struggled, pushed and screamed in order to get their food orders across. One such food stall collapsed due to the over-crowdedness and had to temporarily suspend their services.
There was no water even at the food stalls and it was only after repeated requests that some fans were allowed to go out of the stadium and buy water from a nearby hospital.
Later on, however, the security was relaxed a bit to allow the spectators to bring water and cold drinks inside the enclosures, a step which if taken earlier, had avoided a lot of bad blood.
Having said that, the lusty hitting in the closing overs by Islamabad United’s Asif Ali and the beautiful post-final fireworks made the occasion truly memorable for the huge crowd.
In the final analysis, one would say that the security measures at the event was probably the only thing that the PSL organisers and the Pakistan Cricket Board really focused on, grossly neglecting the other basic necessities of the people attending the match.
One sincerely hopes that all these shortcomings will be removed by the authorities in the upcoming Pakistan T20 series against the West Indies in Karachi, starting April 1, and the spectators will be able to fully enjoy the action on the field rather than worrying about off-field hazards.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2018