In 2015, six years after the Lahore shooting episode that triggered a ban on international cricket in Pakistan, hundreds of Pakistanis gathered on the grassy roundabout at Liberty market where the terrorists had shot at the Sri Lankan team bus. It was a cathartic moment. A game against Zimbabwe, who were the first and thus far the only international team to come for a series, had just ended, and emotions were running high. Thousands had queued up five hours before the start, shouted themselves hoarse through the evening, joyous at the return of cricket, and later congregated at the roundabout where Pakistan cricket was wounded.
More healing is around the corner, with the announcement that a World XI, a motley group of retired and active cricketers, will be in Pakistan to play three T20s in September. What it means to cricket fans in Pakistan cannot be overstated — and cannot be understood by the rest of us. Fans and players are fed up of playing their home games in Dubai. What cricket means to the people was seen in how Sarfraz Ahmed’s house was mobbed for days after the Champions Trophy triumph. Or, in the fact that lakhs of teenagers turned up in the trials of the PSL T20 teams.
How should the international cricket community look at this attempt by the World XI to bring back cricket in a land thirsty for it? Are they in a position to say cricket should resume? Can the international teams be told that they have to travel to Pakistan to play cricket at any cost? It’s a decision that can’t be taken on sentiment or emotions alone. One can only hope that these three games proceed without any hurdles, and pave the way for more.