KARACHI: “How does it feel when people make noise here? Are players clearly visible from the stands? Can we spot the ball during play?”
There was a glut of hasty innocent queries — coming not from an eight-year-old but a 35-year-old standing in a long queue inside the National Stadium premises — and the simple probe kept going. “Does the ball land here when big sixes are hit?” Now this one was mighty hilarious but no need to be surprised as the said enthusiast, about to enter a buzzing Zaheer Abbas Enclosure with his friends to witness the opening T20 International between Pakistan and West Indies, was a first-timer at an international cricket fixture.
This ‘adorable’ set of questions is a clear sign that Karachiites had been deprived of international cricket action for more than nine years. Thanks to Cricket West Indies (CWI) and their players for their very kind gesture in ending this drought. The untiring efforts by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officialdom to make all this happen can by no means be ignored.
Inside the stadium, there were booms all around as the metropolis welcomed the return of international cricket with a bang. The level of excitement and passion demonstrated by the roaring-yet-disciplined crowd was indeed a treat to watch.
Thousands of zealous spectators continuing with the national anthem — as the audio recording stopped midway due to some technical fault — was indeed a refreshing sight. The cricket-crazy fans then raised a loud thunder across the stadium as Samuel Badree bowled the first ball of the match to Fakhar Zaman.
“Yes, the full-strength West Indies outfit have not come here but the fact is that our Pakistani team is full-strength and that is fine for us,” Rasib Abid, an 18-year-old A Levels student, told Dawn as he watched the match. “We are enjoying every bit of it.”
A smiling Atabik Mohsin, sitting next to his high school mate Rasib, said, “My favourite is Marlon Samuels.” Any plan to come for the remaining two T20 games? His response was swift. “Yes, we would surely come again to watch the third match.”
Hamza Ghulam, their friend and another student, when asked to compare the difference between the March 25 Pakistan Super League final and the first T20 between Pakistan and West Indies, said, “The entire stadium was filled for the PSL decider; there was much more noise, more excitement in that game.”
On why some of the stands remained vacant for the first T20, he said, “Perhaps, some prominent West Indies players [like Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy, Carlos Brathwaite and Dwayne Bravo] are not part of the visiting squad.”
For kids, getting the opportunity to watch the historic match on Sunday was a pure blessing. “I am enjoying this match. My favourite player is Sarfraz Ahmed,” said a serious-looking Hussain, 10, as he kept his eyes on the game, perhaps not willing to miss a second of the action.
“I completed my [school] homework on Friday so I could come here to watch this match,” said a beaming eight-year-old Zaviyar as young Hussain Talat smashed a six to huge applause from the responsive crowd.
T20 format is mainly admired by youngsters but the presence of a cheering 60-year-old at the National Stadium defied this notion.
“I saw a Test featuring the West Indies here at the NSK back in 2006. The energy at the ground in that match was not that much [as it was a Test match] while this T20 game here has brought much more liveliness,” he said.
While the arrangements for the much-awaited series were very much up to the mark, there were some shortcomings.
“There was no proper place for prayers at the stadium. We had to offer Maghrib prayer in a corner close to the enclosure entrance which was not comfortable,” said 33-year-old Noman Ayub. “We should have specific prayer area in every enclosure, as is the case in Dubai.”
“At times, [excessively strict] security arrangements negatively affect the small businesses of the area around the stadium. This matter should also be taken into consideration,” said another fan at the stadium.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2018