LAHORE- For more than fifty years, Haji Basheer has prepared the pitch at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium and witnessed some of cricket’s biggest moments including two World Cups.
The 74-year-old has been serving at the ground since it hosted the first match in November 1959 but a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus on March 3, 2009 put an end to visits by international teams. “It’s five years now that we have not seen any top-level international cricket in Pakistan,” Basheer told AFP. “My heart aches when I see matches go on in other countries and I always pray that I live to see the day when international cricket resumes in Pakistan.”
Eight people were killed and seven Sri Lankan players were left injured in the attacks five years ago, which resulted in the suspension of all international cricket in Pakistan and forced the national team to play its home matches at neutral venues such as the United Arab Emirates. Basheer remembers the day vividly. “It was terrible,” he said. “It was the third day of the second Test and I was at the ground when I suddenly heard gunfire and grenade attacks.
“I ran out towards the gate and after a few minutes a police van came inside the ground followed by the Sri Lankan team bus and it was pandemonium all around,” said Basheer, who has been responsible for overseeing all 40 Tests as well as 48 one-dayers at the ground.
“I called home to let them know I’m okay and then went to hospital with a colleague who suffered a gunshot on his shoulder and returned home late night.” A month later, the International Cricket Council stripped Pakistan of its share of World Cup 2011 matches.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) convinced Bangladesh twice to visit for short series in 2012 but the tours fell through over security fears. Pakistan was left to host newcomers Afghanistan for a short limited over (non-international) series in 2011 while an International XI, comprising mostly retired players, also toured the country in 2012 for private matches.
Pakistan’s new generation of players including Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad have not played a single international game on their home soil.
The imposing stands in the Gaddafi stadium have still seen full houses, but only for domestic Twenty20 matches. “I have seen all springs, every summer, every match and every joyous celebration at this stadium,” said Basheer, whose son followed in his footsteps and curates the Rawalpindi ground. “I have seen Sri Lanka win a World Cup here in 1996 and Pakistan losing the World Cup 1987 semi-final here. I saw the first Test here in 1959 with great Australian players like Richie Benaud and Neil Harvey.”
“The PCB is making sincere efforts and I am sure that day is not far when international cricket will return to our country. I pray for all grounds in Pakistan and I am sure my prayers will be answered,” he added.