Pakistan vs World XI: When Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium roared in delight at Darren Sammy's sixes

‘Ben Cutting through ice’, ‘Tim Paine relieving pain’ — despite the horrible and under-prepared taglines for the World XI stars, Lahore was ready to host its first match of international standards in almost a decade. Zimbabwe toured a couple of years ago but that team didn't carry the star power this World XI squad does.

One of Lahore's busiest markets, the Liberty Market, was shut down to ensure parking for fans. When Zimbabwe toured a couple of years ago, the city was excited but not fully prepared. It took an hour to reach the stadium through security checkpoints. Now, after the Zimbabwe tour and the Pakistan Super League final, Pakistan Cricket Board and Lahore have learnt how to manage such a grand event with all the excessive security. A shuttle bus service was put in place for the PSL final to enable fans a swifter and easier route to the stadium, the same thing was done for this World XI match.

Fans cheer at the start of the first T20I between Pakistan and World XI in Lahore on Tuesday. AFP

Outside the Gaddafi Stadium, Pakistan flags held aloft, fans of all ages made their way inside with as much discipline as possible — there was excitement among the fans but there was no chaos. Even the fans realise the importance of this series and want to play a part in portraying a positive image of the country — an awareness also witnessed during the Zimbabwe series and the PSL final last year.

It took a while for the stadium to be filled up since a lot of fans were stuck in queues outside the stadium but that didn't annoy them. By the time the first ball was bowled, there were enough people in the stadium to bring down the roof in response to Fakhar Zaman's back-to-back fours. A ball later the line in front of Zaman’s name on the scorecard read; "Caught Amla, bowled Morkel.” That is something this generation of Pakistan fans would never have expected to see in their own country.

Growing up in Pakistan and having watched matches in the stadium, I witnessed the entire stadium stand up and cheer for a Pakistani fast bowler running in to bowl. But it almost never happened for an opposition fast bowler.

But on Tuesday, fans cheered for Morne Morkel, Ben Cutting and Thisara Perera as they ran in to bowl despite the knowledge that they were on the opposing side. There was a genuine sense of gratitude from the fans for these players. After all, they are facilitating in bringing cricket back home.

Pakistan ended up winning the match by 20 runs, thanks to a brilliant innings by Babar Azam and handy bowling by all on display. But none of them received the reception that Darren Sammy did. Sammy's sixes were met with a loud roar, fans who remained in the stadium at the end were cheering Sammy more than their own players with the obvious knowledge that the match was well and truly Pakistan's by this stage.

Sammy, Faf du Plessis and the other World XI cricketers were treated like Pakistan's own, their boundaries were met with applause if not huge roars. Pakistan's wickets and sixes received a similar response. It seemed like the crowd was confused, they didn't know which team to support — on one side they had their own country's stars playing their favourite sport. On the other, they had international stars helping bring their favourite sport back to their country.

The atmosphere by the end was subdued, most fans left early but most had their first experience of watching a cricket match in the stadium. Perhaps the culture of watching cricket hasn't developed yet among fans in Pakistan. Perhaps they were subdued because of the extreme humidity and heat. But one thing is for sure, they all want international cricket to be played in Pakistan and this was just the first step in the right direction.

Published Date: Sep 13, 2017 10:46 am | Updated Date: Sep 13, 2017 10:46 am