KARACHI: The stroll towards the Fazal Mahmood Enclosure on Friday evening unnecessarily became a long tedious walk of around 1.5 kilometres. Though the toil was not unbearable, thanks to the pleasant weather, it was pretty frustrating.
“This way,” said a paramilitary soldier while pointing in the direction of the road leading to Gate No.6, when asked about the way towards the Fazal Mahmood Enclosure after I reached the National Stadium.
To confirm his word and avoid hassle, a member of the police contingent was also asked. “Go straight; entry for all the enclosures will be made through Gate No.6,” he responded. “Keep walking, go to Gate No.6,” said a couple of other security staff members with no signs of boisterous stadium-goers on the way.
To one’s utter disappointment, even the needless walk towards Gate No.6 was not direct and passed through a nearby inner lane stretching further the distance to be covered.
All that despite the designated entry gate being Gate No. 1 on the ticket for the HBL Pakistan Super League encounter between Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators.
And although barely one-third of the venue was filled, the spectators were lively making the atmosphere festive.
“I support the [entire] PSL; all teams are our teams. And we are enjoying a lively match today,” the 37-year-old Zuhad Ali Wasil, a chartered accountant who was engrossed in the game, told Dawn when asked which of the six franchise teams he was supporting.
His nephew Taha Ali, a 15-year-old O-Level student, sitting next to him had a different view.
“My favourite team [in the PSL] is Karachi Kings. However, for [skipper] Shadab Khan I am backing Islamabad United today,” Taha said amid a big roar from the crowd as Islamabad spinner Abrar Ahmed appealed successfully for LBW against Quetta opener Jason Roy.
“Would you still have supported Islamabad to win even if they were chasing 221 [in place of Quetta]?” The swift answer was a big “yes”.
The respective fan backing from the energetic NSK spectators, as their cheers signalled, was almost equal for both sides.
“Quetta will win this match,” the 24-year-old Aleem Jan who had arrived in Karachi from his hometown Quetta earlier on Friday, said with a big smile even though Islamabad’s Azam Khan was smashing sixes during his swashbuckling 97-run knock. “I am a fan of [pacer] Naseem Shah, he is fast and fiery.”
If PSL games were held at the Bugti Stadium in Quetta, what would be the response?
“Not even one seat of the stadium will be vacant,” Aleem, whose brother was an Islamabad follower, predicted while pointing towards some of the semi-filled NSK stands.
“There was a capacity crowd at the Bugti Stadium in an exhibition match featuring several PSL star players held there [on Feb 5]; plus there were many waiting outside the venue looking for tickets,” he added.
By the time the second innings of the match started, one could find a lot of empty seats in Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Fazal Mahmood enclosures, though several other stands still had spaces.
There were aged ones too enjoying the slam-bang T20 game.
“PSL has become a leading brand in world cricket; this [eighth] edition is going great guns and we are watching some excellent top-quality matches,” the 63-year-old Junaid Ghafoor, a former umpire in domestic cricket, told Dawn.
And how could young children not come to the PSL party?
“I really relished the action, as I came to this stadium today for the very first time,” said nine-year-old Mariam while leaving the stadium with her parents after the match.
Stringent security measures for PSL, which has remained an issue — not just for spectators but also for the commuters of a mega city like Karachi — ever since it came to Pakistan, were witnessed in and around the National Stadium. On one occasion, some vigilant members of the police force took away a male youngster whose allegedly inappropriate conduct in a stand was causing inconvenience for families.
According to the official schedule, Karachi will stage its last match of this season on Sunday. But reports from Lahore suggest that the rest of the season too will be played in Karachi and the hope is that the remaining games of the league are held in a better and more organised way.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2023