First came the migration. I live in Model Town so I got off at the blockades across from Barkat Market, where Rangers were stopping cars from going any further towards Gaddafi Stadium. For any Karachiite reading, these are areas where you can safely walk the streets while being on your phone.
I was told by the Rangers on duty that the Speedo buses — connecting shuttles for the Metro buses, but mainly of use in cricket matches — taking people to the stadium were a little further forward. This is exactly what the next Rangers guys said, and the next, and the next. I heard a man complaining that he couldn’t even find a rickshaw, let alone a bus on the route the Rangers had pointed him down. The Rangers replied that 3,000 people had gone by and none had come back, so why was he complaining?
I feared those 3,000 people might never come back. Because after another few rounds of “Keep going, it’s just ahead,” one of the Rangers guys finally levelled with me. These buses they were talking about were departing from FC College. I had walked a few kilometres to Raja Market already, FC College was another four or five. I am unwell, I have severe abdominal pain, I can’t sit, so I had to stand through the four-hour duration of the match. Now I had to walk for two hours as well.
To say that it was criminal mismanagement by the PCB and Najam Sethi is putting it mildly; people were confused, tired and infuriated by the time they got to the stadium. There were also infuriated people stuck in the redirected traffic. People who didn’t understand how putting a city on security lockdown showed the world it’s safe to come here. The converse, if anything.
Still, nothing can dampen Lahore’s passion for cricket. Not even the most annoying PA announcer in the history of the sport. He kept shouting and playing ‘Cricket ka halalala!’ (This is one slogan/song that should have died at the drawing board.)
He also decided to play ‘Afreen, afreen’ when Darren Sammy came out to bat. Starting from the lyrics, ‘Never witnessed anyone so beautiful.’ I’d like to think of this as a lovely gesture but I suspect it’s blatant racism disguised as a joke. The crowd at least was much nicer to Sammy, chanting his name and shouting we love you. They were really nice to Morkel too, and du Plessis. There were muted celebrations when du Plessis got out; I think people wanted to watch him bat a bit more. This was the first match by the way, in case I start causing confusion.
I was in the spanking new Wasim Akram Enclosure. Yellow and orange seats, catered with a menu straight from a banquet hall. The way people attacked the food was reminiscent of a wedding. Ten minutes in, they were complaining to the caterers that the dessert was all gone. It was all gone because people had put the dessert next to the biryani and qorma on their plates, just in case it was all gone later. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
The reception our players got was superb. Afridi made a random entry into the ground and the reception he got was even better. The match started with a ball Fakhar Zaman missed and so did the wicket keeper. I had a great view of the action from almost behind the keeper’s back. The ball hit the boundary, there was a giant roar.
The next ball was smacked through the covers by a confident looking Zaman. There was an ever bigger roar. The ball after that, he nicked to the keeper. There was still a roar. Lahoris are nothing if not accommodating. That little shooting at the bus incident was a one off, probably an angry caterer.
Babar Azam settled any nerves after that. He smacked the ball left and right, unfortunately never towards where I was sitting. But the crowd was more interested in Ahmed Shehzad. Chants of ‘Selfie, selfie’ rang out as Shehzad hit ball after ball to a fielder for no runs. People had paid good money to watch him in ‘inaction,’ it seemed.
It was good money too. My VVIP enclosure cost Rs8,000 a ticket. I could organise a street cricket tournament for less. The VIP enclosures cost Rs6,000 each; the First Class enclosures Rs4,000; the Premium enclosures Rs2,500, and finally the general stands Rs500. To put this into perspective, the last time Pakistan played an international match here, against Zimbabwe, a ticket to a VIP enclosure was only Rs1,500. But it seems we must pay a premium to see the world’s (somewhat) best players play in Lahore.
How much of a premium will cricket fans and commuters have to pay for a foreign team touring, I wonder?