“Let the show begin in Rawalpindi. Let the sun always smile on the land of passionate cricket fans”

 

10 years ago, a Pakistani cricket fan would wake up and discover, the historic Lahore or Karachi stadium is left empty. There would be no cricket carnival in the city. The cities would be left without colours and music. The buzz around the country was absent. A Pakistani cricket fan’s dream to join the party and enjoy the music in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi or Multan would be overshadowed by a curse, which haunted the cricket-loving nation for more than two decades and for the last 10 years, cricket came to a standstill in the land of passion, festival, music, friendliness, and colours.

On March 3, 2009, Pakistan’s status as an international venue became questionable when masked terrorists attacked the team bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers to the Lahore Cricket Stadium.  Six police officers and a driver were killed, and seven members of the Sri Lanka contingent were wounded. Bus driver Mohammad Khalil drove the vehicle away from the coordinated attacks at an exposed intersection as bullets pierced the windscreen and windscreen of the bus. Later, Sri Lanka would honour Khalil for his heroics.

Mahela Jayawardene, the then captain, and Kumar Sangakkara, his deputy, received minor injuries. Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera, and Tharanga Paravitarana were also injured in the attack. Samaraweera and Paranavitana, whose injuries were more serious, flew out in a chartered plane and landed in Colombo where they went by ambulance to a private hospital.

As soon as the news broke out, world cricket came to a standstill. When Pakistan joined the United States of America and its allies to fight the war against terror, the security status of the land became a concern for others. Still, teams did tour in Pakistan until 2009. But after that horrible incident in Lahore, Pakistan would be isolated. They would play their home series in abroad – the Middle East would become their home venue.

The Men in Green contested in the Middle East in front of foreign crowds, who did not come in numbers at times. Passion drove the Pakistanis and despite all the hurdles, they remained alive and roared more often to convey the message, they want to play cricket and conquer.

But can a venue in abroad quench the thirst of cricket fans?

A Pakistan cricket fan grows up watching big teams visiting their land and trigger a party. Fans gather in the stadium to watch their heroes in action. Their big stadiums have delivered so many historic encounters in the past, which became a part of day to day conversation in the office, home and coffee shops – are now left abandoned. It was a painful experience for the fans, but at the same time, they could not deny, the decision was justified under the circumstances.

Pakistan’s security status started to improve each day. Pakistan Cricket Board officials and political diplomats left no stone unturned to bring international cricket back in the country. Invitations were sent to many nations, but few responded. Some nations gave hope but twisted later on. The frustration of Pakistan cricket fans continue to grow. Whether they would be able to witness their team at their own backyard or not, always remained an impossible dream.

After a long gap, Zimbabwe responded. Then West Indies visited. A few years later, Sri Lanka played a limited-overs series. But the possibility of a Test series in Pakistan was still under scrutiny. Until and unless a Test series is held, the doors would not fully open for Pakistan to invite others. A Test series would help to clear the doubts regarding security status.

460 Test matches took place all over the world since last time Pakistan hosted a Test Match in Pakistan. After 10-and-a-half-years, finally, Pakistan would host a Test series and who else, but Pakistan’s closest friend Sri Lanka stepped forward to resolve the matter. At Rawalpindi on December 11, 2019, Test cricket would resume in Pakistan.

This isolation created a lost generation of cricket fans and the financial loss had been huge as well as the CEO of PCB Wasim Khan said, “I mean that in terms of both participation and those supporters who have become distant because they couldn’t just go along and watch their heroes”.

Many of the current generations of Pakistan cricket fans have a little idea of what it likes to enjoy a Test match in Pakistan. For them, it would be a new experience. For them, enjoying Test cricket in Pakistan is necessary for cricket to improve further out there.

Wasim Khan said,  “Having the likes of Azhar play at home, in front of their fans in rocking stadiums with thousands watching, will only drive the players on to bigger and better things”.

So many things changed in 10 years, but for Pakistan cricket – a Test series at home remained unthinkable. Finally, the efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Cricket Officials, and the prayers and support so many Pakistani cricket fans around the globe, did not go wasted.

Let the show begin in Rawalpindi. Let the sun always smile on the land of passionate cricket fans.

10 years have been a long and painful wait.

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