Cricket-starved Pakistan fans started to throng the Gaddafi Stadium five hours before the start of the match as exhilarating scenes were seen in and around the match venue which will be full to 25,000 capacity for the first of three Twenty20 internationals between Pakistan and World XI on Tuesday (September 12).
People in colourful Green Pakistan T-shirts soaked in the atmosphere and even a suffocating security checks, with body search and electronic detectors, did not deter their determination to reach the stadium.
“I have come from UK to watch this match,” said Fareeha Ali, who lives in Burnley. “It’s a festive atmosphere.”
Fans had to park their vehicles two miles from the stadium, from where private shuttles ferried them to the body-search area and then after blockades, they boarded another shuttle to reach the stadium.
But despite the hazards, these games have become it has an occasion that has united the whole country in celebrating a “big steps towards the revival of international cricket.” From Mamnoon Hussain, the Pakistan President, to Shahid K Abbasi, the Prime Minister and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, all have hailed the occasion and have called on the world to send their team to a “safe Pakistan.”
Cast into sporting exile following attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009 and regular terror strikes, the Pakistan Cricket Board have been forced to play their home matches on the neutral venues of United Arab Emirates and England. The PCB claimed they incurred losses of $120 million in the last eight years.
Beyond the finance, Pakistan’s younger crop of players — including established players like Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Amir — have never experienced the inspiring effect of a hometown audience or pitch. Only five Pakistan players from the current team – Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Ahmed Shehzad and Sohail Khan — have played in a home game before.
Pakistan are desperate to revive sporting fixtures at home, and must ensure that this is the first of several incident-free tours to restore confidence.
The series, comprising three T20Is was only made possible after Pakistan successfully staged the final of the Pakistan Super League in March, with eight foreign players including Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels featuring.
Even the World XI only agreed to tour after a security assessment, and each player being given $100,000 dollars for the tour. “It’s a historic day for Pakistan cricket,” said Najam Sethi, the PCB chairman. “We are thankful to the ICC and the World XI for making this series possible. The whole nation is celebrating the return and we hope that this series will pave way for more countries to come to Pakistan.”
Former captain Wasim Akram said: “It’s exciting. Cricket has suffered badly in Pakistan with no international activity, fans were deprived and grounds were left deserted but I am sure with this small step more cricket will come to our country.”
The PCB had invited a number of former players and captains but only Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi confirmed their attendance. Javed Miandad and Younis Khan, angry with the PCB over some financial matters, snubbed the invitation.
Imran Khan, another former great and a political adversary of the current government, also turned down the invitation as he was due to attend a friend’s wedding in the UK.