THE buzz is palpable on a breezy September evening as England and Pakistan line up for their national anthems in front of a sold out National Stadium.
It is a celebration; after all, England — the 50-over world champions and currently one of the best international white-ball sides in the world — are playing their first match on Pakistani soil in 17 years.
The crowd is in high spirits. Even though England have shunned travelling to Pakistan due to security concerns since 2005, this seven-match T20 tour — ahead of next month’s World Cup in the same format — precedes a Test tour in the winter.
A lot of cricket is on offer between the two sides, but it was the breakthrough game on Tuesday that mattered most for fans; their passion for the game dragging them to the venue through several security checks.
This time, though, they felt they hadn’t been put through too much in the process of reaching the stadium — something they have been facing as international cricket has gradually returned to the country in the last three years.
“The experience has been good and we did not face many problems,” Anas, 27, told Dawn. “We did have to walk from Expo Centre [some 1.7km away] but we are so excited that we didn’t really care about it.”
Anas was looking forward to seeing his favourite English players David Willey and Sam Curran play, but only wanted Pakistan to win. He had been waiting for the series since the dates were announced last month.“The moment the series was announced we decided to book the tickets for the first match,” he said.
“We specially came for this series from Namibia, we have been living there for the last 25 years,” said Mansoor, 60. “This was a golden opportunity and I’m coming to the stadium after 30 years.”
Sixteen-year-old Armaan, meanwhile, had to ask his father to book the tickets as soon as he knew England were finally coming.
Last year, England had withdrawn from a two-match series in Rawalpindi due to the situation in Afghanistan and therefore added two more matches to this year’s scheduled tour of five games.
“When the series was announced, I was very happy and told my father that I wanted to go to the match for sure this time,” Armaan said.
Those emotions were shared by 21-year-old Rumaisa, who came to watch the match with her mother and younger brother.
“We are always waiting for such opportunities to come to the stadium,” she said of her anticipation about the series.
The fans’ response meant the Pakistan Cricket Board collected a hefty amount of money to be donated to the victims of the recent floods in the country.
The board had decided to donate the gate money from the first Twenty20 International before the series. The England players have also raised funds to contribute while the Pakistan players will donate their match fees from their Asia Cup match against India.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2022