(By Aijaz Hussain)
For Pakistanis, cricket is that unique source that forms the basis of the spirit of unity. You can belong to any caste, you can be of any ethnic background, but all these differences are put to the side while watching the National team face off opposition in the cricket field. That is when the person is not more than a Pakistani.
The unfortunate firing incident with the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 was a major blow for the PCB and cricket fanatics across the nation. There were no proper international competitions in Pakistan until 2015 because the other cricket boards were skeptical on sending their players to Pakistan to play matches because of security concerns.
But there is light at the end of every tunnel; after vigorous talks with the Zimbabwe cricket board, the PCB reached a deal in which the Zimbabwe Cricket team toured Pakistan for 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is in 2015. However, it was the 2017 PSL Final in Lahore that proved to be the real breakthrough. International stars like Darren Sammy, Chris Jordan, Rayad Emrit and Dawid Malan featured in the match and the success of the final meant better things to come for cricket in Pakistan.
Pakistan played host to 3 matches of the 2018 edition of the PSL. The 2 eliminators were played in Lahore while the final took place in Karachi. This racked up to a total of 8 games in Pakistan in the 2019 season; all games were again held at the National Stadium in Karachi including the final. It was quite clear that the foreign players were complacent with the security arrangements in Pakistan. Big names were a part of the PSL that year some of which included Shane Watson, Alex Hales, Colin Munro, Keiron Pollard and Dan Christian.
PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani had promised the nation that the whole of the 2020 edition of the PSL will be staged in its home country; and with the help of everyone at the board, this promise was delivered. The games of the PSL 2020 were played across 4 major cities in the country, including Multan, during the months of February and March. After a stoppage of 8 months due to the pandemic outbreak, the domestic and foreign players returned for the playoffs leg and once again Karachi’s National stadium was given the rights to play host to the matches.
It is without a doubt that the PSL has been the major reason for international cricket’s revival in Pakistan. ICC security consultant, Reg Dickason, during his visit to Karachi to assess the security arrangements that were made for the final of PSL 2018, was full of praises for what he saw, and commented that the planning was ‘remarkably thorough’.
This prompted the possibility of more international cricket being played in Pakistan; the possibility turning into a reality. Sri Lanka toured Pakistan for 3 ODIs, 3 T20Is and 2 tests in 2019, which was followed by Bangladesh’s tour which consisted of 3 T20Is and a one-off test, the second test being called off due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to recent developments, it has been confirmed that the England’s national cricket team will tour Pakistan for 2 T20Is in October 2021. Meanwhile, talks with South Africa’s cricket board about a possible international series to be played in Pakistan are in the final stages and the fans hope that this will end on a positive note as well.
All and all, the gates of International cricket have truly opened for Pakistan. These are extremely exciting prospects for the die-hard cricket fans in the nation, who were deprived of the scintillating live action for a major part of the period from 2009 to 2020. The PCB and the security personal deserve huge credits in this for their resilient efforts in bringing back cricket to the country.
The arenas have started to fill, the countdowns have begun, the floodlights are now illuminating the sky on a regular basis again, the vibes of an electric atmosphere are being experienced from time to time once more; cricket is truly returning, and is returning with a bang.