And just like that, it finally happened. A bowler ran in to bowl and a batsman blocked the ball. Over two thousand days of exile ended with that simple act of cricket.
The hours leading up to that moment had felt surprisingly normal. Those interminable queues shepherded by sweating policemen; that chaos and confusion around parking; the spontaneous humour throughout it all. At one point, as we crossed a row of metal detectors that were constantly going off, the crowd started mimicking the cacophony of robotic sounds. The serious cops broke into laughter, and the paranoia and nerves began to dissipate along with their chuckles.
The Lahore crowd also made the occasion count. The entire stadium was heaving when the Zimbabwean anthem came on and when they played the Pakistani anthem the very foundations of the stadium were left shaking. They were raucous right through the long build-up — the strict security meant that people were supposed to be at the ground well before the match started.
I had expected the cheering to be a bit desperate at times; after all, this was a series set in boiling heat against a lower-ranked side. Yet midway through the Zimbabwean innings there was a moment of joyous spontaneity.
It happened when Ahmed Shehzad went to field at the deep midwicket boundary. As the crowd, which had been superb with all sorts of quips, began to shout “selfie selfie” in reference to his penchant for posting his pictures. After a few minutes, he turned around, waved and then mimicked taking a selfie. The crowd erupted in response, and you knew that the bit of magic that makes sport come alive was kindled again.
Just to wrap it all up, Pakistan also managed to take a simple match into an unnecessarily tight finish. What that meant was that instead of a cakewalk the crowd could expunge its nervous energy into a perfect crescendo. They shouted themselves hoarse, they smacked plastic bottles to a deafening rhythm, they howled Afridi’s name. The captain obliged, smacking the winning boundary towards the stand that was dressed with banners saying #CricketComesHome. You couldn’t have written a better script.
Years from now Pakistanis will look at the scorecard and wonder what the fuss was about. Why a one-sided T20 generated such meaning. But the simple answer is that after six years, a country had a chance to feel normal once again. A chance to remind itself that it was part of the larger world, that its hopes and dreams also had a right to exist.
The next match will see the security officials dial down their zealousness, the logistical blockages would be sorted, and the novelty will wear down. Slowly, very slowly, cricket will come to the fore. For a few heady hours in Lahore tonight, it felt like it had never been away. –Cricinfo