Lahore: Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy led Peshawar Zalmi to the Pakistan Super League Twenty20 title with a 58-run victory against Quetta Gladiators in a trouble-free final on Sunday. Extraordinary security measures did not stop thousands of cricket-starved Pakistani fans from going to the Gaddafi Stadium and watching Quetta being bowled out for only 90 in 16.3 overs.
Sammy's knock of 28 off 11 balls had earlier lifted Peshawar's total to 148-6 after he lost the toss and his team was put in to bat.
"I felt tonight I brought a lot of smiles in Lahore and Peshawar," Sammy said. "I am glad I came to experience the atmosphere here."
Sammy, who twice led the West Indies to the World Twenty20 title, was among nine foreign cricketers who agreed to travel to eastern city of Lahore early Sunday as stringent security measures were put in place around the 25,000-capacity stadium.
Pakistan has not hosted a major Test-playing nation since 2009 when an attack on a Sri Lanka team bus — also in Lahore — killed seven policemen and injured several Sri Lanka players.
Since the attack in 2009, only Zimbabwe has visited Pakistan for a short limited-overs series in 2015.
Sammy, his fellow West Indian Marlon Samuels and England's Chris Jordan were presented with Pakistani army caps as they walked around the stadium before the toss. Sammy obliged some of his fans, standing close to the fence and taking photos with them. He even danced on the stage with Peshawar teammate Kamran Akmal and got a huge round of applause from capacity crowd.
PSL chairman Najam Sethi, who is also chairman of the PCB's executive committee, said on Sunday that he looked at the PSL final as the opening for Pakistan to bring back international cricket. He said that the PCB was in talks with the cricket boards of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to tour Pakistan later this year.
Security officials from cricket boards — including Australia, Sri Lanka, England and Bangladesh — and the International Cricket Council were also present at the stadium to see exhaustive security measures put in place.
There was a festive mood inside the stadium but earlier thousands of spectators had started lining up in long queues to clear three checkpoints at least six hours before the final began at 1500 GMT.
"Even if we have to pass through a dozen security checkpoints we won't mind," said Mohammad Afzal, a smiling 25-year-old Peshawar fan.
A special shuttle bus service was put in place at two security checkpoints that carried spectators to the 14 entry gates of the stadium situated in a sports complex. Sammy was joined by England's Dawid Malan and Jordan along with Samuels as Peshawar's foreign players. However, Peshawar missed the flamboyant Shahid Afridi after the all-rounder was ruled out from the final when he injured his right hand in the last knockout match against Karachi Kings in the United Arab Emirates.
Last year's finalist Quetta lost its four key foreign players who declined to travel to Pakistan due to security concerns. The team played its league matches in the United Arab Emirates.
But Quetta's last-minute inclusion of foreign players in the line-up, including Rayad Emrit of West Indies, Anamul Haque of Bangladesh, South African Morne van Wyk and Zimbabwe's Sean Ervine, wasn't enough to match the brilliance of Peshawar. Another Zimbabwean Elton Chigumbura couldn't make it to the playing XI.
All nine foreign cricketers involved arrived at the team hotel in the early hours of Sunday amid tight security en route from the airport. Security officials used sniffer dogs as part of a massive security sweep of the stadium.
"It's not a matter of who wins or loses tonight, it's a big day for Pakistan as we wanted to show the world we can host international matches too," said 18-year-old student Iftikhar Ahmed, who arrived at the venue hours before the game was due to start.
A series of bomb blasts in Pakistan last month, including one in Lahore at a rally that killed at least 13 people, raised doubts over the staging of the PSL final in the city. But the PCB got the support of the Punjab provincial government, the federal government and the Pakistani army to go ahead.
At least 8,000 security officials including policemen and soldiers were deployed around the stadium and the route from the teams' hotel as part of the beefed-up security ahead of the highly anticipated final. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was among a few Pakistani former Test cricketers — including Javed Miandad — who had criticised the PCB's decision to choose Lahore for the PSL final. Imran called the decision "madness" and said heavy security would send the wrong signal to the world and not help Pakistan in bringing back international cricket to the country.
But Imran wished both teams good luck in a tweet on Sunday and also said: "Really appreciate the public participation."
Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 10:06 AM