The deafening noise in the arena converges at its center and shoots upwards, perhaps stunning the limits, the thousands in the galleries hoot and howl, some pray while others sway — overcome by emotion. The myriad hues of human expression all resonate with your own heartbeat, for they all feel like you do, they smear themselves with your actions and ride alongside in hope and despair; Victory and defeat. The game is good when the crowd follows you, better when it hoots for you and best when it lives for you. Isn’t it dear sportsperson?
The singing of anthems, the waving of flags, the display of solidarity and love, the doffing of hats and the raising of bats — are these not intimate moments between players and spectators? Competitive sport is a beautiful rendezvous — despite the physical distance — between the performers and the onlookers. Both need each other and their relationship is the most valuable entity for the story to sustain itself.
Somewhere in the loneliness of the desert, two teams toil away- their efforts fetching them barely any applause. These are such torrid days that even the elements prefer to rest. The wind is still, the crow doesn’t caw — an absolutely brutal day for everybody. Yet, these fellows run around the vast expanse of the ground, giving everything they possess to every moment of the game. What’s a cover drive that doesn’t get a thunderous applause in return? What’s in that attempt that almost created a spectacular wicket and yet fails to get the oohs and the aahs? What are those galleries that remain stark and mute while watching a game of cricket? Why does the home team have no backing from the audience? But before any of that, where is the audience?
Welcome to Dubai, the adopted home of Pakistan cricket.
There is no home advantage here. The wickets are lifeless, the crowd is absent, the weather is questionable and the general disappointment of all involved in such games is evident and not unreasonable. From the overcrowded enclosures at the Gaddafi Stadium and the passionate raucousness of the National Stadium, Pakistan cricket has had to move to more placid and lifeless venues and understandably so. But one cannot stop feeling a sense of loss — both to cricket and to the war-torn nation as international cricket has stayed away. They mean too much to each other to bear and persist with this separation.
Back in its heyday, international cricket was the king of all entertainment — a status it has enjoyed throughout the sub-continent. In a society like Pakistan’s where precocious talents are plucked out of nowhere and placed amidst the big stars, a home season always gave the people more reasons to celebrate than just that of watching their team win. Brothers, nephews, neighbours and virtually everybody that played competitive cricket at a decent level could aspire to be a part of the national team, for no one ever knew when a selector or a senior player came around watching those games. The Pakistan cricket team itself was nothing short of potential and charisma. Its mercurial temperament added to the spice in cricketing folklore.
Street cricket is an invaluable facet of the game in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There is speed, there are constraints, there are challenges and there are challengers. People with grotesque techniques flourish, those with unbelievable skills emerge and at most places, these games along with those that blossom in the maidans are the breeding grounds for talent. Having the opportunity to witness an international game or participate in the preparations for one, would give these communities much needed inspiration and belief that they were not very far from the high altar of the sport. Unfortunately, the current situation in Pakistan has taken cricket away from them — the staunchest supporters and most diligent fans of the country.
There can be no denying that nothing comes before the safety of players and the audiences. Sport is a petty affair when life is under threat. Before one goes on to sympathise with the Pakistani cricket fan, one must empathise with the average Pakistani who faces the bitter reality of conflict and terror, year after year. It is at these times that one begins to wonder if there is anything that could be done to take cricket back to Pakistan or rather if it is safe and sensible for thousands to huddle at the stadium to watch a game of cricket.
Imagine the Australian Boxing Day Test being cancelled or the English cricket season not taking off on that special Summer Thursday. What are Lord’s, the Oval, the Eden Gardens or Kingsmead without their share of international extravaganza?
The Pakistan team itself has been flung into a sort of home which would make one feel that homelessness was better. To imagine that after Younus Khan retires, the team would have nobody that has played a test match on Pakistani soil is a reason for all of the game’s fans to frown. This shall remain to be one of the biggest tragedies in cricket’s history and if this were to continue, these players will never know the joy of a century compiled in Lahore or a test victory at Karachi, a reverse swinging ball in their hands in a test match hosted in Pakistan will be an exotic idea to them and they will never realise what it means to walk onto the field with an arena full of Pakistanis, waving their flags and howling in support, while celebrating the joys that life offers once in a while.
The PSL took a bold and brave decision in taking this edition’s final back to its headquarters. That all of the organizers were pensive and praying to pull off an incident free game was a given. But the jam packed stadium at Lahore was in stark contrast with the lonely gatherings at Dubai.
The success of this final could help allay the fears of visitors to some extent and restore a little faith in the country’s ability to remain safe for large gatherings.
However, the big question continues to loom above — can international cricket make a comeback in Pakistan?