On the morning of 3rd March 2009, I remember watching the highlights of India vs South Africa match which had taken place a day before. Suddenly I saw a beeper flashing on SuperSport which was unheard of because a sports channel is not expected to give news beepers in normal situations. The beeper read “Pakistan vs SL, test match abandoned”. A test match being abandoned just didn’t make sense to me, a day could be washed out due to rain, a day could be canceled due to the playing area being wet but the whole test match being abandoned didn’t make sense. Out of curiosity, I flipped the channel to Geo News and slowly but surely, the horrific news started to sink in. Early morning on March 3, 2009, a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team to Lahore’s Qaddafi stadium was attacked by armed militants. Around 8:50 am, terrorists stormed through the Liberty Chowk, Lahore, with the intention of carrying out a multi-pronged attack on the Sri Lankan team’s convoy. Using RPGs, hand grenades, and guns, the attackers took aim at the bus carrying the cricketers. The Pakistani driver of the team’s bus was shot, but in a remarkable feat of endurance and extraordinary presence of mind, he managed to drive the team away from the assault to safety. Tragically, seven people were killed including six policemen and another 20 injured in the attack. The injured included seven members of the visiting cricket team.
What transpired after the attack has been nothing short of a nightmare for Pakistani cricket fans. Pakistan was completely isolated by the international cricketing fraternity. An entire generation of Pakistani cricketers has grown up without playing a single match at home. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Wahab Riaz, Muhammad Amir, Yasir Shah etc have been around for ages but they’ve been deprived of playing in front of their own fans. They don’t know how it feels to raise the ball to the crowd after taking a fifer, they don’t know how to raise your bat in jubilation after scoring a century, they don’t know how to take a victory lap around the stadium after winning an enthralling match.
And then I feel for the Pakistani fans. 8 years (excluding the Zimbabwe tour). A small speck in the history of the cricket. But ask those who have been deprived of queuing outside stadiums, of cheering out loud the moment they caught glimpse of their heroes, of going manic in the stands as they saw Umar Akmal’s shot fly towards them, of all the dancing as Mohammad Amir sent a stump cartwheeling, of feeling anxious every time Misbah blocked, of missing the careers of a generation of young cricketers, of being appreciative yet grimacing at Kohli hitting your leading spinner for a six, but missing *that* Afridi celebration. For all those who complain about the glut of cricket, for a moment think of the plight of a Pakistani fan. Lahore, despite its excessive security, is a city of joy and it gives me great pleasure to say that it will again be the heart of cricketing activity next week.
Tragedy struck Pakistan cricket again a year later when 3 of their leading cricketers were caught in spot-fixing. The international fraternity was outraged. Some called for a 5-year ban on Pakistan, others wanted an even harsher life ban. Pakistan was fast waning into oblivion and then out of nowhere came the rescuer, the savior, the Messiah, Misbah Ul Haq. The calm and composed Misbah was exactly what the doctor had ordered for Pakistan. Under Misbah’s captaincy, Pakistan’s cricket claimed milestone after milestone. Misbah himself became Pakistan’s most successful captain overtaking the great Imran Khan. Pakistan became the first Asian team ever to win a series in South Africa, Pakistan whitewashed England and Australia in the UAE which virtually became Pakistan’s fortress. Pakistan drew against England in England, something which was unheard of in Pakistan’s recent history and Misbah doing push-ups at Lords became the poster-boy image of Pakistan cricket for years and years to come. It was a fitting farewell for the Niazi from Mianwali to win his last test match in dramatic fashion when Shannon Gabriel was bowled by Yasir Shah. In between all this chaos and madness which Pakistani cricket is, the Zimbabwean cricket team did overtake a tour of Pakistan in 2015 to play some limited overs matches. The ICC though refused to be a party to it and the PCB had to appoint their own umpires in all the matches. All in all, that still didn’t pave the way for teams to come to Pakistan.
Then came the PSL which turned out to be a game changer. The final of the 2nd edition was held in Lahore amid the Quetta Gladiators foreign players boycotting it. But despite that, some of the biggest stars in world cricket right now, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, David Malan and Chris Jordan came to Lahore for the final. The players took away nothing but love and affection with them and that is exactly the reason why Darren Sammy is accompanying the World XI squad too.
Coming onto the players, the world XI boasts a seriously impressive squad. Lead by none other than Faf Du Plessis, the squad also has Morne Morkel, David Miller, Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir who are all regulars for SA’s national team. Samuel Badree and Darren Sammy are the two West Indians in the squad and they are among the most sought after players in world cricket right now. Tim Paine, Ben Cutting, and George Bailey are the 3 Australians in the squad. The Australian contingent is pretty strong too with George Bailey being Australia’s former captain and Ben Cutting playing leagues all over the world. Paul Collingwood, Tamim Iqbal, Grant Elliott and Thisara Perera make up the rest of the squad which should give Pakistan a good run for their money.
Credit must go to Najam Sethi for successfully convincing all these players to tour Pakistan. The role of Giles Clarke is equally commendable as he headed the task force which paved the way for cricket to return back home. This 3 match series will set the benchmark for future tours to come. If this (hopefully) goes well, Sri Lanka and West Indies are ready to come and play short series in October/November. But this shouldn’t be the ultimate plan of the PCB. The eventual aim should be to bring back cricket to all big cities of Pakistan. Karachi should be next with Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan etc the following suit. Till then, let’s hope and pray that everything goes well and the World XI players go back happy with their decision of touring Pakistan. You may now glue your eyes to your TV screens.