What brought cricket home?

It is time for us to celebrate not just because the cricket has returned home, but how our country's each institution has shown its supreme commitment towards national interest

It was eight years back in Lahore’s Liberty roundabout, just few meters away from the Gaddafi Stadium, when the whole nation witnessed a terrorist incident that brought curtains to the international sports in Pakistan. On early morning of March 3, 2009, a group of terrorists carrying RPGs, hand grenades and guns, stormed a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team to Lahore for the third day of their second Test match against Pakistan. Despite the poor security arrangements, the security personnel escorting Sri Lankan team’s bus fought valiantly to ensure that somehow the bus must get out of terrorists sight to safety. The driver of the team’s bus Meher Mohammad Khalil was shot, but he showed amazing presence of mind to drive the team away from the assault to safety. However, heartbreakingly, seven people were killed including six policemen, and another 20 were injured which included seven members of the visiting cricket team as well. It is very imperative to also mention that at the time of this sad incident, a governor rule in Punjab was imposed by the then federal government of Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which led to an absolute governance chaos.

What followed later is no surprise as every international sports team refused to tour Pakistan, and especially from cricket's point of view, Pakistan’s position as a host nation came under serious doubts, which eventually led to the absence of cricket for a long time.

In 2015, the international cricket finally returned to Pakistan as Zimbabwe visited Lahore for a limited over cricket series. Then, the year 2017 proved really successful for Pakistan due to the successful Pakistan Super League 2 final and World XI tour. This raised huge hope among the fans eagerly waiting to experience the flavour of international cricket. Nevertheless, there was something missing! The Pakistan Super League 2 Final had been effectively organised, and the recent World XI tour very much cemented Pakistan a safer place for sporting events. Yet, among all this, there was a void needed to be filled.   

Just as I was in my thinking process, the Sri Lankan cricket board after long negotiations with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and analysing high-tech security solutions being utilised by the provincial government and successful arrangement of PSL, eventually announced their visit to Pakistan for playing the last T20I of their home series with Pakistan. Now, this was the missing link that I was constantly thinking about. This is where to me the actual revival of international cricket at last happened, with Sri Lanka returning back from where they left.           

Pakistan had already clinically won the ODI series against Sri Lanka, and were 2-0 up in the T20 series as well. The public participation was phenomenal, and many of the fans were extremely disappointed for not getting tickets as the stadium was already sold out two or three days prior to the match. Even, PCB Chairman Najam Sethi was constantly saying to his friends, colleagues and family members, not to ask for free tickets and passes.

What really pleased me is the security arrangements made by Punjab Police and Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) who yet again showcased their security capabilities to the cricketing world for the third time in eight months.

The amazing side of this beautiful story was the great behaviour of the policemen, who made sure that maximum comfort from their end was provided to the public. This match would also be remembered for the fact that every person was made to follow the rules. Especially, the cars were parked at the designated parking stands, and strict SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) were followed in that regard. The cooperation from the people was also brilliant as they agreed to all the instructions from the forces, and did not made any issue of it.

Apart from the match, the talk of the town was the Punjab Safe Cities Authority’s (PSCA) state-of-the-art security arrangements. Established under the Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance 2015, the 'Safe City' is all about providing quality security to today’s complex cities through the ideal use of technological processes. The PSCA ensured dedicated monitoring of players’ route to observe every object and movement. An interesting fact is the independent security officials from ICC, who came for pre-match security inspection, were really amazed to witness the surveillance being carried from PSCA's central control rooms. The impressive part which these officials highlighted was the manner in which these cameras were setup, as some of them can zoom so close onto the pitch at the stadium.

These security plans are a huge evidence that it is not just the match for which these security measures were taken. Overall in Punjab, there has been significant improvement in law and order situation the results of which are now visible in the international cricket matches organised in Lahore this year. Plus, the political stability is another aspect, which is adding huge value to all these concrete initiatives. For instance, the PCB is solely in charge off all the major cricketing venues within Pakistan. However, despite this, the Punjab government itself has shown keen interest to look after the Gaddafi Stadium, that deserves huge applause.    

Then, the City Traffic Police (CTP) made a comprehensive traffic plan for the smooth traffic flow, for which four SPs, 17 DSPs, 80 inspectors, 203 patrolling officers, 49 lady wardens and 1,800 traffic wardens efficiently performed their duties, because of which no mishap was reported.

The highlight of these security arrangements was the arrival of a special team from Sindh, which was briefed about all the arrangements as the cricket has come home already, matches might take place in different cities.

Wow! Isn't it spectacular? As a Pakistani, it is indeed a proud feeling to watch your country progress regardless of all the surrounding negativities. It is time for us to celebrate not just because the cricket has returned home, but how our country's each institution has shown its supreme commitment towards national interest. Hats off to the Punjab government, especially Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, for putting their mammoth effort to guarantee successful preparations for the match, and this is no time to bring political differences because Pakistan ultimately has won its battle against the extremists. Pakistan Zindabad!

The writer has completed MPhil in Mass Communication from Beaconhouse National University, and passionately loves travelling and cricket.

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