Watching the floodlights of the National Stadium Karachi (NSK) on, a middle-aged man rushes his car at the stadium’s main-gate to enquire about the availability of the tickets. With the contract of ticket sales handed out to a courier service, one of the security guards directs him to their nearest outlet. He confirms the route to the outlet by people passing by to make sure he gets to right place.
People on social media are posting about tickets. Those who have got hold of them are bragging about their possessions. The others are trying to find the right people who can get tickets for them. Despite the final of the third edition of the PSL being held in the same city just a few days ago and big names missing from the West Indian side, Karachiites are ready to throng the stadium.
After all, this is a precious moment. International cricket is finally returning to the ‘city of lights’. A moment they had waited for almost nine years. This is their moment to tell the world loud and clear that their city is a safe venue for international cricket.
Karachi remains to be the venue which hosted the last completed Test match on the Pakistani soil. It was in May 2009, between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in which Younis Khan scored a triple century. A few days later, the visiting side came under attack in Lahore that closed the doors of international cricket in the country.
“I had tears in my eyes when I was entering the stadium,” recalls Yasir Siddiqui, who went to watch the first of the three T20Is. “As a Karachiite, it [the return of international cricket] meant a lot to me. I got overwhelmed when I entered the ground. I, as a Pakistani, have grown up as a cricket fan and my whole family is mad for cricket. We have watched thousands of matches together, but, unfortunately, only on television. While entering the ground, I was wishing that someday on this very ground, I will be able to watch my favourite cricketing heros like AB de Villiers, David Miller, Kane Williamson.”
He continues to converse for a while, but suddenly realises that he forgot to mention the most significant member of his list. “And, I also want to add one more name. I would love to see MS Dhoni play in front of me. I am a huge fan of Dhoni. It is my ultimate to dream to witness that great match which will have MS Dhoni,” says Yasir who works in business legal department of an IT firm.
The series got off with a riveting moment when the Pakistani national anthem stopped mid-way on the stadium’s sound system due to a technical glitch. Untroubled by the flaw, the Karachiites continued to sing the anthem to its conclusion. “We were already singing the national anthem when the system went down. Everyone started to sing it louder from there on to establish the fact we are here to save the day,” says Yasir.
Mohammad Maaz is a web-developer at a local software house. He had been to the NSK for the PSL final a week ago. But, to see the Pakistan team play together as a unit, he came to the stadium for the second time in seven days. “The atmosphere was better in that match (PSL final) as compared to this one,” he says. “The crowd was a lot more for that match. It took me as long as two hours to get into the stadium despite me leaving my home early. For the West Indies match, it took me only 10 minutes. The security checkups were quite stringent for the PSL final as compared to the West Indies’ contest.”
The government had tightened the security around the stadium to avoid any mishap for the PSL final and the West Indies series. Of course, Pakistan had to put in a great deal of efforts to convince international sides to travel to Lahore first and now to Karachi. A minor incident had the potential to disrupt the process that had begun with the success of the final of the second edition of the PSL in Lahore last year. It brought an ICC World XI side for a three-match T20I series and Sri Lanka for one-off T20I to the city.
“What message is the government sending worldwide by shutting down the city for a cricket match?” questioned Maaz. The fans had to bear heat while walking at least a kilometer to the stadium. They had to bear with numerous security checkups before they reached their seats in the stands. “International cricket has come back to Pakistan, but in such a tight security matches can be played in Waziristan (one of the worst affected areas due to terrorism) as well.”
Osama Ashaqeen, however, thinks otherwise. “I live near the NSK and I along with my family had to face problems, but this is something we have to go through to get cricket back in our city,” he says.
“A lot of people were saying that a weak West Indian team had come to Pakistan but this is how it is going to be in the initial phases. A window has been created for the IPL in the international calendar and we should accept the fact that players are more inclined towards playing the IPL rather than for their national sides. The West Indian players preferred their IPL franchises’ pre-season activities over their nation’s matches in Pakistan. This is how it is now.”
Ashaqeen attended the last T20I which Pakistan won with comfort, just like the first two. He had been to the stadium for the PSL final as well. “There was a lot of buzz in the crowd for the PSL final. The crowd was charged up and the stadium was packed to its full capacity. The crowd was not up to its full capacity for the West Indies match but it was cheering every ball. As a Karachiite, it was a proud feeling to have international cricket back in the city after such a long time.”
Karachi had its moment! It has always welcomed cricket with its arms open. And, the past couple of weeks were no different. “Karachi’s crowd is always the noisiest,” Ashaqeen claims. “You cannot find such a crowd anywhere in Pakistan. There is something different about its crowd. Just like you see in India. Though Eden Gardens in Kolkata has way more capacity than the Wankhede Stadium’s in Mumbai, the crowd of the latter is more boisterous.”
With the success of the West Indies series in Karachi, another city witnessed the return of international cricket in Pakistan. It needs to host international cricket in more and more cities to gain the trust of the major Test nations. This went down as another step in the right direction at the larger level. For Karachiites, it was an opportunity to tell the world that they were ready to host international cricket. Which, they did.