Thousands of spectators endured long queues and navigated stringent security checkpoints hours ahead of a high profile cricket match on Sunday in Pakistan’s biggest city, the first time in nine years that it has hosted a game of such stature.
At least 8,000 security personnel that also included armed soldiers guarded the 27,000 capacity National Stadium where Peshawar Zalmi will take on Islamabad United in the third PSL final.
“It’s (the PSL final) giving a message to the world that Pakistan is a peaceful country and Pakistan will play role in sports,” said 24-year-old spectator Hamza Yousuf Shah, who was waiting in one of several long queues to get into the stadium.
The five main roads leading to the stadium became a no-go zone for anyone without a ticket starting at noon local time (3 a.m. ET). The final is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. local time.
Spectators had to use a shuttle service before walking the best part of a mile to go through two security checkpoints.
Karachi, which has a population of 15 million, last hosted a major game featuring international players in February 2009 _ a test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Later on that tour terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus. On March 3, 2009, the bus taking the visiting cricketers to play the third day of the second test was fired upon by 12 gunmen near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed, while six members of the Sri Lanka team were injured.
The incident resulted in a halting of international cricket in the country, forcing the Pakistan Cricket Board to play abroad with the United Arab Emirates as its “home” for hosting international teams.
However, the PCB has been trying to convince foreign nations to begin touring Pakistan again. Lahore first hosted the PSL final last year as well as three international Twenty20 matches against a World XI and one against Sri Lanka.
But some international PSL players remain reluctant to play in Pakistan. Preliminary PSL matches were played at Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
Australian Shane Watson (Quetta Gladiators) and Englishmen Eoin Morgan (Karachi) and Kevin Pietersen (Quetta) all refused to accompany their respective franchises to Lahore earlier this week for two PSL elimination matches.
“Pakistan is full of cricket fans and it’s a great thing that cricket is back in Pakistan, hopefully it will be a success,” said 16-year-old cricket enthusiast Ria Martin.
Love of the game also brought 14-year-old Maaz Ahmed, who uses a wheelchair, to the ground.
“I had always wanted to see star players live in action and today my dream will be fulfilled,” he said. “I simply can’t describe my excitement in words, I just want the final to begin.”
Other spectators carried placards proclaiming “No Fear, play here” in support of Pakistan’s bid to regain the confidence of foreign teams that the country is ready to stage international matches again.
Peshawar Zalmi is led by West Indian Darren Sammy who is joined by fellow international players Chris Jordan of England and Liam Dawson of South Africa. Islamabad United features JP Duminy of South Africa and Luke Ronchi of New Zealand.
Local Pakistani singers, led by Ali Zafar and Shahzad Roy, headlined an hour-long musical show before the toss.
Sammy joined the musicians on stage where he showcased his dancing skills with teammate and fellow West Indian Andre Fletcher and fast bowler Hasan Ali to the delight of the spectators.
A clearly delighted PCB chairman Najam Sethi told the Karachi crowd that he hoped they would return when the West Indies play three Twenty20 internationals there on April 1-3.
“You have to come back again, fill the stadium and show the world that we are again ready for international matches,” Sethi told the crowd.