Cricket Comes Home
The Rebirth Of Cricket In Pakistan
I think the cricket match I remember most vividly was the India – Pakistan one-day match that happened in 2006. National Stadium Karachi was sizzling. There were blue shirts and green shirts, the Indians sat with the Pakistanis trading jokes, ribbing each other and just enjoying the easy-going camaraderie that, I feel, only sports can bring.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked and cricket in Pakistan became non-existent. My kids didn’t know what it felt like to watch a match with the ‘awaam’ I took my older son to Dubai to watch a Pakistan-England match. It just didn’t have the same feel. I would describe it as sterile or insipid.
So finally, after nine years international cricket players came to Karachi and no amount of heat, long security checks or shuttle buses were going to stop me from going. The build-up and hype before the match was fantastic. PSL banners were placed all over the city, huge wall hoardings welcomed the players. The roads were decorated with white and green lights and Shahrah-e-Faisal wore a festive grab with life size cut outs of cricket players lined up along the road side. As we drove down the road on Saturday night, people stopped their motorbikes on the road, as their children stood next to the cut outs to take the memorable selfie or group photo. The entire city was celebrating.
On the morning of the match, fate intervened and an old colleague who was in the organizing team offered a parking pass, which meant that we didn’t need to take the shuttle. With a huge sigh of relief, a big thank you to my friend and a little pep talk to my 11-year-old to be flexible and adaptable today – we were on our way around three in the afternoon. We zipped through Karsaz Road and were dropped at our gate where the line was long and it was hot. We moved slowly, met some friends, spotted fans with painted faces wearing and/or carrying flags. The air was heavy with anticipation, exuberance and festivity. A cricket match in the city was not just a match, it was an occasion, an event, a celebration of sorts, that my children had not ever witnessed before. I was so glad they were now going to live the experience! Around 4:30 pm, we were finally seated in our enclosure.
The stands were filling up fast as the gates were supposed to close by 5pm. At six o’clock, the PSL closing ceremony began with a number of artists performing live. The highlights of course, were Strings with their classic “Hai Koi Hum Jaisa” with Darren Sammy and Hasan Ali dancing to the melody and Ali Zafar rocking the crowd with “Ab Khel Jamay Ga”. Everyone was singing along, hooting and dancing. It was a scene that had to be felt, heard and experienced with all of the five senses on high-alert and what a scene it was! Karachi felt alive and a cricket match, that mimicked the heartbeat of the nation, was all that the “awaam“ required to come out in to the streets and celebrate. And celebrate they did!
For me, the most emotional moment was the singing of the National Anthem. Over 30,000 spectators held their phones up with lighted torches, and sang our anthem – a powerful moment that touches you to your core. So many other heart touching moments reflected the culture of cricket in our country: ‘Chachas‘ dressed up and carrying the flag, walking from one enclosure to the other, the energetic MC for the night who kept the passion alive with chants of Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan or uttered hilarious comments directed at players when they would mis-field or bungle up, Islamabad United and PSL T-shirts being thrown to the crowds from the spectator box above, my older son who found a seat next to the player’s enclosure and started a conversation with Rumman Raees. And of course, the inevitable sense of bonding and camaraderie that transpired between Pakistanis from all walks of life who got together and become one for the love of the game and country.
My kids and I returned home well after mid-night, exhausted yet feeling fulfilled, and carrying a hope that we will have many such experiences in the future.
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