It was a day everyone was waiting for, a big day for Pakistan cricket. A moment full of emotions for everyone related to Pakistan cricket.
Entering Nishtar Sports Complex’s premises via FIFA gate, I witnessed passionate fans, holding flags of Pakistan and Zimbabwe, giving interviews to different TV reporters.
These fans had remained deprived of cricket at home ground for more than six years, but the ordeal was about to end.
Around six years ago came the darkest day in Pakistan cricket history. On March 3, 2009, the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers was attacked by terrorists at Lahore’s Liberty round-about.
The attack locked the doors of international Cricket in Pakistan, colourful stadiums turned into desert, and international cricket’s drought caused malnutrition of talent in Pakistan.
On May 19, 2015, Zimbabwean cricket team landed in Pakistan. The dark night ended.
The arrival of Zimbabwe, despite some last minute glitches, turned Pakistani fans euphoric. Many of them booked tickets to Lahore to witness and celebrate the “Cricket Comes Home” moment.
And, the series started in a manner everyone was expecting. A full house, fans — with faces painted with colours of Pakistan and Zimbabwean flags — chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Zim-ba-bwe, Zim-ba-bwe” with full energy. Security officials left no stone unturned and protected not only the visiting cricketers, but also the fans.
For Pakistan Cricket Board and fans, it was more than just a series. It was an opportunity to show Pakistan’s love for cricket and Pakistan’s capability of providing fool-proof security to the visiting teams, officials and fans.
Zimbabwe were provided head-of-the-state level security, never seen in international cricket before. Dozens of police mobiles were escorting the team bus, a helicopter was busy in aerial surveillance, and thousands of policemen were securing the venue.
The arrangements made by Pakistan Cricket Board and the administrative officials received praise from the visitors.
Zimbabwean cricketers praised the security arrangements made by the Pakistani authorities. “Thank you to the security who worked day and night to make sure we were safe, and to the fans. See you soon,” Tweeted Zimbabwean Cricketer Sean Williams.
It is not too difficult to determine the success of this series. Two weeks, full of excitement, passion and energy, with cricket being enjoyed by everyone, from players to fans and from media to officials.
“After witnessing the security arrangements made by Pakistani authorities in Lahore, I feel that Pakistan is certainly safe to host international cricket teams,” said Harare-based Kevin Mapasure, a journalist from Zimbabwe’s Independent Newspaper, who was in Lahore to cover the landmark series.
What else Pakistanis have to do to exhibit their love for cricket than walking a kilometer to enter the Gaddaffi Stadium in scorching heat of Lahore.
Former Sri Lankan batsman and now head of Sri Lanka Cricket’s interim committee, Sidath Wettimuny, was one of the dignities who visited Pakistan during the series. He also backed the PCB for visits by international teams. “I am hopeful that it [Pakistan vs Zimbabwe series] will help change perception about security situation [in Pakistan] and the security plan of the PCB to the rest of the boards,” Wettimuny said after his meeting with PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan.
The series was also a great opportunity for Pakistani cricketers to exhibit their skills in front of home crowd. Many of them experienced it [playing at home soil] for the first time.
On cricketing front, the series helped Pakistan to come back on the winning track. It was an opportunity for youngsters like Mukhtar Ahmad and Babar Azam to prove their mettle; it also showed what Azhar Ali is capable of; and provided a successful comeback to Shoaib Malik.
“It has to be one of the happiest moments of my life. To see the crowd and cricket fans having a great time, and my return to the team made it a memory of a lifetime,” said Shoaib, who scored 151 runs in three innings. “We have conveyed it to international community loud and clear that Pakistan is safe for international cricket and I hope the ICC and the cricket playing-nations feel comfortable after the Zimbabwe series,” Malik added.
There shouldn’t be any ambiguity left after arrival of Zimbabwe series, which may be a baby step, but one in the right direction.
Pakistan Cricket Board did what it could to convince the international cricket fraternity. Now the ball is in the court of other Test-playing nations. It is time other teams came forward and played their role in nourishing Pakistan cricket.