It seems like just yesterday that I last visited the National cricket stadium in Karachi to see a cricket match that involved foreign players. The last such incident was way back in the winter of 2007, which would make it a good 5 years in the past. The last time this stadium in the city by the sea hosted foreign players was during the ill fated 2009 Sri Lankan tour of Pakistan, that match was when Younis Khan scored his triple ton and that very tour was one that sent Pakistan into cricketing isolation. Hailed by the media as the first step towards the return of international cricket in Pakistan, it was definitely something that tens of thousands of people in Karachi, as well as Pakistan were looking forward to.
It wasn't the most impressive line up of foreign stars that descended on to the National Stadium, most of them were retired international cricketers from the West Indies and South Africa, led by the Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jaysuria. The only current international players in the International playing XI line up were two Afghan players.Pakistan's all Star XI was led by none other than Boom Boom Afridi, along with other well known names in Pakistani cricket such as Imran Nazir, Wahab Riaz and Umar Akmal. Some noticeable absences included current T20 Pakistani captain Muhammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal and test captain Misbah Ul Haq, though i highly doubt Misbah was really missed. He after all carries the burden of being nick named 'Tuk Tuk', which I think is a brand of Auto Rickshaw i think, I am not sure so do not take my word on that.
Getting into the stadium was probably the hardest part of the evening. I had forgotten how disorganized match day outings were in Pakistan, particular at the National Stadium in Karachi. Very different from a match day experience at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia or the Oval in London, where you have the concept of assigned seating, logistically well coordinated entry into the ground enabling one to even show up seconds before the toss and claim their rightful seat. Since the concept of assigned seating is non existent here, would be spectators have to reach the stadium hours before the toss. Even upon reaching the stadium, there is no guarantee of entry regardless of holding tickets with all the chaos, it almost feels like all hell is about to break loose. Thousands of fans also had to bear the brutal brunt of the Sindh police deployed at the venue who were definitely not reluctant to use their clubs at ticket holders. I am so fortunate I just marginally missed out on getting clubbed.
Our entry into the ground was made possible by a kind family who assisted us on entering the venue alongside them, as it was relatively simpler for families to walk in, as opposed to groups of men. The stadium was packed beyond capacity, as the normal capacity of the stadium is around 40,000, yet they were 70,000 spectators in the ground. The sheer volume of the spectators reflects, how eagerly this city of 20 million awaited the return of international cricketing action to their fair city. It was a sea of green as far as the eye could see, though one did occasionally witness the odd spectacle such as spectators climbing the very long metallic fence like they have been bitten by a radio active spider. These fences are usually designed for the purpose of security and for ensuring spectators stay within their respective enclosure. From time to time one days feel as if they are cooped up in a cage.
The match was pretty much a one sided affair, Pakistan's all star XI racked up 222 runs for the loss of 7 wickets in a span of 20 overs courtesy of some power hitting by Shazaib and Umar Akmal. It was beyond the reach of the veteran stars of the International XI who fell short by a huge margin of 84 runs. There was good news in the making even some 1000 miles up north. In Pakistan's second largest city of Lahore, tens of thousands of spectators had gathered at the national hockey stadium on the opening ceremony of the Youth festival to break the Guinness World Record for the largest audience participation in singing of the national anthem and that they did. All in all, a good day for Pakistan, here is hoping some foreign cricket boards make some gusty decisions and make the initiative of sending their teams for a proper cricketing tour of Pakistan. To the foreign players who showed courage and made the journey here, we thank you, we hope to see you and others from your country again in the future.