KARACHI: The official capacity of the National Stadium is around 32,400. Since the Pakistan-leg matches of the HBL Pakistan Super League have moved to Karachi — the glamorous city of lights — five matches have been played.
With just three matches to go at the time of filing this report, including Sunday’s blockbuster final, the iconic arena is already sold out.
This great story is another addition in the golden chapter of Pakistan, a fiercely proud nation whose franchised-based league has rapidly become one of the most followed T20 competitions in a very short span of time.
And despite the rescheduled Pakistan-leg matches starting last Saturday, the cricket-starved people have been thronging the stadium and creating a buzz which has matched last year’s final in the city of Father of the Nation.
The Sindh government had long declared the PSL days as ‘Festival of Cricket’ and as soon as the teams started to descend on the city from March 6, the carnival kick-started in full fanfare. All six teams were greeted with profound love and well looked after — something which has been profusely acknowledged and appreciated by all the players.‘I love cricket’ is the theme of these matches with walls and hoardings spreading the message through every nook and corner of this sprawling city. Life size cut-outs of many current cricketers featuring in the PSL adorned the city, leading up to the National Stadium.
The fans were on the edge of their seats, chanting ‘Karachi, Karachi’ all the way in cacophony while high-pitch music created an atmosphere which people had not witnessed for years.
The refurbished National Stadium enclosures provides colourful look with some parts filled with the supporters of one team and the other with the rival teams, supporters have chanted slogans to back their players and teams all in an incredibly friendly manner.
The spectators, dressed in all sorts of attractive attires, have been dancing to the rocking music tunes and enjoying to the core, and time and again reflecting their love for cricket, peace, solidarity and one sport-one nation philosophy.
“I am hugely impressed with the changes at the National Stadium,” PCB managing director Wasim Khan said. “The fans are symbolic of the vibrancy and passion of the real Pakistan — they are the lifeblood of the game. They have turned up in their thousands from all over the country, to support their teams. There is no clearer message to the world with regards to what the PSL and cricket in general means to the nation.”
“This is highly enjoyable,” said Sameena Ahmed, a student of nearby Economics College who had come with her parents. “I went to see Shahid Afridi’s match and had a lifetime experience when he came close to our stand and I got a selfie with him. These are wonderful moments of our lives as cricket has come back to our city in a big way.”
When action began on Saturday evening, the National Stadium crowd was at its feet and got their money’s worth when South Africa’s Cameroon Delport hit the second century of this year’s PSL. Pakistan’s own Asif Ali further enthralled the crowd with a quickfire 17-ball half-century during his knock of 55 not out laced with half a dozen sixes.
The buzz on Sunday was even more enchanting as city’s representatives Karachi Kings outlasted Quetta Gladiators by one run in a last-ball thriller.
It reached a crescendo when fast bowler Usman Shinwari defended three runs off the last ball of a pulsating encounter. The Kings’ sensational victory was celebrated throughout the city as if they had won the title.
All the 43 foreign players who are in Karachi were amazed, if not spellbound.
“It was amazing,” said the Kings’ vice-captain Colin Ingram. “I have not seen such scenes before and enjoyed the moment to the hilt.”
Australia’s all-rounder Shane Watson must have realised what he had missed by not coming to Pakistan for the last two seasons in 2017 and 2018. This time around, he changed his mind and admitted he was caught up in the love of the game.
“It’s very special to be here to be honest,” said Watson. “I am really caught up in the love of the game of cricket. That is as simple as it is. When you walk up to the wicket, there are so many people who love the game as I do and that’s very special.”
Despite Monday being a working day, it was almost full-house because Pakistan’s most popular cricketer Shahid Afridi was in action. It was the only match Afridi featured in as his team Multan Sultans sadly bowed out of the tournament. The stadium was filled to capacity in the second game of the double-header as Kamran Akmal’s 86 inspired Peshawar Zalmi to a 61-run win over the Kings. And then Wednesday saw the qualifier and no wonder the stadium was filled to capacity again, an hour before the start of the match.
Watson, the star Gladiators’ opener, provided unforgettable moments for the fans to savour with his sumptuous stroke-play during his match-winning knock of 71. The crowd responded to the call of the announcer as he called, “Shane” and the crowd followed it with the chants of “Watson” throughout the Australian’s stay at the crease.
The Kings were hoping for vociferous support on Thursday as they took on holders Islamabad in Eliminator 1, the winners of which will meet Peshawar Zalmi in Friday’s Eliminator 2. The hometown support is the inspiration the Kings need to have another party, but whoever lifts the trophy, the real winners remain Pakistan cricket, the fans and the nation.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019