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“THIS WAS a match between Pakistan and terrorism, and Pakistan has already won this match.” For all the cricketing superstars that broke new barriers and descended at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, it was singing sensation and composer of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) theme Balle Balle, Shezhad Roy, who summed up the magnitude of elite cricket’s return to Pakistan soil the best.
For by the time Ramiz Raja finished screaming, “Lahore, are you ready to entertain Pakistan?” before cupping his ear Hulk Hogan-style to indicate that the crowd wasn’t responding loud enough, Pakistan had commenced a new chapter in their cricket history. After years of being left languishing in the dark, cricket in Pakistan was back in the limelight with the Gaddafi Stadium shimmering under the Lahore night sky. Even if it was only for one night only at this stage, Pakistan was making a statement to the rest of the cricket world.
Standing next to Raja was Darren Sammy, who’s become the face of the PSL this season. He and four other high-profile T20 stars, all part of eventual champions Peshawar Zalmi, from around the world had broken new ground earlier on Sunday by agreeing to make the trip to Lahore for the final. They included fellow West Indian Marlon Samuels and England all-rounder Chris Jordan. And Sammy — who’s fast gaining the moniker of being the most liked cricketer in the world — had been at his entertaining best during the closing ceremony of the PSL that was held some two hours before the final. While he enthralled a packed Stadium with the inevitable Champion dance, he also clicked selfies with the groundsmen before walking around the field along with his fellow foreign players proudly donning a red-coloured Pakistani military cap.
Sammy, the Zalmi captain, didn’t fail to raise the roof with bat in hand either after walking in to bat with his team in a precarious position. He smashed three sixes or ‘chhakkas’ as they are referred to in the PSL, in an unbeaten 11-ball 28 that turned the complexion of the match. One of the sixes landed up in the third tier of the stand, with Sammy brushing his bicep and bat nonchalantly as if to say ‘that was easy’.
His innings took favourites Zalmi to 148 for 6, a total that was always going to test Quetta Gladiators who were making do with a slew of second-stringers with the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Tymal Mills having given the final a miss.
The most high-profile member of the Gladiators camp was in the dug-out, and Viv Richards did shake a leg to his team’s theme song often as Rayad Emrit and Mohammad Nawaz ran through the Peshawar middle order to give their beleaguered team hope of doing the unthinkable and upsetting the Zalmi brigade. For most of the time after that early period, it was mainly Zalmi Tarana that resonated around Gaddafi. Sarfaraz Ahmed tried doing a MS Dhoni by promoting himself to No.4 but it was a futile attempt at stopping the Zalmi brigade.
Back at the toss ceremony, Sammy had revealed the reason behind his decision to come to Pakistan, one which got him a “thank you” from Raja.
“My good friend Lala Afridi told me, ‘Bro, if we reach the final you should come to Lahore. It will be good for me and good for the country.’ It is important that cricket is the winner in the end,” he said.
Extreme security arrangements
For once, the “cricket is the winner” line didn’t seem clichéd. Sammy meant it. And it made sense as well. There had been a lot of talk about the extreme security arrangements leading up to the match. Not only was the stadium surrounded by thousands of security personnel, including paramilitary forces, the fans had to go through three high-level security checks to get to the venue. But it hardly seemed to deter them as they had filled up the stadium hours before Roy broke into the catchy ‘Balle Balle’ to kick off proceedings.
Most of the chants from the emcees at Gaddafi were aimed at asking the crowd to show the world what the return of live cricket meant to them. And they didn’t disappoint, roaring raucously every time they were called upon. The camera obviously kept zooming into the Zalmi dug-out with the lens trained squarely on Shahid Afridi, the star of this year’s PSL, who had to sit out the final due to an injury. Not like Zalmi really missed him on the field.
The PSL final also managed to reunite Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, who after having traded hateful diatribes at each other on Twitter less than a month ago, were suddenly sharing the commentary box. If you needed one sign of how much this match meant to Pakistanis, this was it.
After what sounded like an awkward greeting — Wasim going “Hello Vicky” to which Waqar responded with a “how are you Wasim bhai?”— they went on to discuss their favourite topic, fast bowling, and in Peshawar seamer Hasan Ali they found the perfect subject. There were also a lot of reminiscing by the two about their playing days when crowds would pour into Gaddafi Stadium to watch them tear opposition batsmen apart.
As it turned out, the Gaddafi Stadium unveiled two new stands for the PSL final, one named after Wasim and the other inevitably after Waqar. At one point, the wide-angle drone camera captured scenes of the city of Lahore, the busy streets and the illuminated minarets. “Look at the amazing, eternal & beautiful city of Lahore,” Wasim would say, his voice barely hiding the emotion behind it. It was a poignant moment on a day there were many, on a day that cricket in Pakistan defeated all odds and enjoyed an unlikely tryst with destiny.