Cricket comes home again

Today, Pakistan will play against Zimbabwe at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. Pakistani cricket fans are ecstatic. They cannot wait to see the match. Tickets for the first T20 have been sold out. And why not? We have waited for six long years for this. The images of the Zimbabwe cricket team arriving at the Lahore airport on our television screens made me shout out loud with joy. It was an emotional moment because after six years, international cricket was has finally returned to Pakistan. It has been a long wait.

The Pakistani cricket team during net practice at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore yesterday. International cricket returns to Pakistan today for the first time in six years when it hosts Zimbabwe in a T20 match. Pic/AP
The Pakistani cricket team during net practice at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore yesterday. International cricket returns to Pakistan today for the first time in six years when it hosts Zimbabwe in a T20 match. Pic/AP

I vividly remember the day the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked back in 2009. Sitting in front of a television, I could not stop my tears while watching the horror that was unfolding in the heart of Lahore. We have seen many a terror attack in this country, but we all thought that cricket is too sacred to be attacked, even for terrorists. As Ahmer Naqvi, journalist and writer, recently wrote: “Until that moment, I was among several people (perhaps even a majority of Pakistan fans) who thought cricket would never be attacked.”

Thus the shock of watching a visiting cricket team being attacked was gut-wrenching, to say the least. Fortunately, the Sri Lankan cricket team survived the attack but for cricket lovers in Pakistan, everything changed. No international cricket team was willing to tour our country. Our home series were being played far from home. Most of us could only celebrate Pakistan cricket team’s wins from a distance. We would curse them when they performed badly, not realising how difficult it is for a team to play away from its home grounds, not knowing when and if they would be able to perform in front of a home crowd. In a video (http://www.pcb.com.pk/videos/18/66.html) posted on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) website, our ODI Captain Azhar Ali says he will play an international match in Pakistan for the first time. For an international cricketer, it is unthinkable that he has not played an international game in his own country, but that is how things are in Pakistan. Many cricketers in our current squad will be playing an international match for the very first time in their homeland.

I have often said to my Indian friends that you people take everything for granted, be it democracy or cricket but we do not. We simply cannot take anything for granted in a country where we hear bad news every single day, where we have seen our friends being attacked by terrorists, where we have seen our friends being killed, where we have seen how democratic governments cannot function because of conspiracies to destabilise their regimes, where we have seen children being massacred, where we have seen religious and ethnic minorities being target-killed, where we have seen progressive voices being silenced, where we have seen so much blood and gore that we think we have become immune to everything, until another horrendous terrorist attack shakes us. This is Pakistan. This is how we live.

Security in Lahore is extremely high due to the Zimbabwe series, but we don’t mind because it is important that nothing untoward happens during this tour. The measures taken by the government, the PCB and its staff, and our law enforcement agencies are commendable.

Today, I will be standing in the stadium along with thousands of other Pakistani fans and celebrate the return of cricket in my country.

I know I will have tears in my eyes...tears of joy...because it is not often that we cry with joy. Mostly, our tears are full of pain and shock and disgust. Today, we will celebrate because cricket comes home...
finally!

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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