Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2016-17, final, Lahore March 6, 2017

PSL final, a moment of catharsis for Lahore

The fans came in large numbers, the security was top notch, and though the match itself was one-sided, the fact it took place was huge for Pakistan

Lahore fans express their delight at cricket's return to Pakistan © AFP

Six army paragliders dive out of a helicopter and land in the Gaddafi Stadium. Goosebumps. It was one of several events that made clear the PSL final was about more than just a match for Pakistan. It was about changing perception, a step towards ending their isolation from hosting international cricket. And in that moment, watching the country's top security personnel put on a show, the fear that had gripped the people of Lahore after the recent wave of bombings was forgotten.

More than 22,000 made their way through the gates, braving security checks that began two kilometres outside the ground. The closest roads were blocked for traffic by 2 pm and wary policemen patrolled the streets. But the hassle didn't matter. Something special, something most missed, was coming home.

There were free shuttles to drive the fans from the first checkpoint to the second, and as they travelled they were treated to a selection of the most patriotic Pakistani songs. The crowd was made to line up at the final layer of security and wait for their transport to take them to the stands. The journey took them past the roundabout where the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked eight years ago. Things have changed a lot since then, but have they changed enough?

Terrorism has hurt Pakistan. A recent wave of attacks took over 100 lives in the space of five days. Lahore, the second-largest city in the country, was also under severe risk but the PCB did not give in. They had the Punjab government in their corner, which brought no less than the army to ensure the safety of those attending the PSL final. It was unfortunate that Quetta Gladiators' overseas players could not come and play the game - which turned lopsided without Kevin Pietersen, Tymal Mills, Rilee Rossouw, Luke Wright and Nathan McCullum - but it didn't really matter either.

A Pakistani soldier stands guard at one of the entry gates © AFP

The evening began with a huge roar of Lahore Lahore aye. The Gaddafi was full well before the paragliders touched down wearing the flags of the five teams and then the country's own. Everything went off without a hitch. Tickets were sold out within two days of their being available despite a large majority of them priced at 8000 Pakistan rupees and above.

There was a huge support for Peshawar Zalmi and, by the end of the night, their captain was renamed Darren Sammy Khan. He responded in kind too, taking as many selfies with the crowd as he could. An equally warm ovation was given to the Rangers and the policemen, with sincere applause and stirring salutes.

The match itself turned out to be damp and one-sided. Complications with the presentation ceremony didn't help matters either; it began in haste and was quite rushed with security personnel extremely concerned about getting the players out of the ground. Even in such extraordinary circumstances, daily life in Lahore wasn't affected. Those who had turned up for the match dispersed calmly and a city of 18 million kept chugging along.

The PSL has ended, quite successfully as well. But what now? Will the final convince other teams to tour Pakistan? The security advisor to the ICC Sean Norris was present at the match. So were representatives from England (Reg Dickason and Julian Siebrand), Australia (Sean Carroll), Sri Lanka (Sarathchandra Liyanage), Bangladesh (Major AKM Anisud Dowla) and an independent expert from Nicholls Steyn and Associates (Robert Nicholls, who has worked with South Africa when the organised the 2003 World Cup).

An immediate revival of international cricket in Pakistan seems some distance away. Imran Khan, the legendary world-cup winning captain, actually thought hosting the PSL final in Lahore was madness. But it's smooth conduct indicated that the fans need not lose hope. And they didn't.

"Phir seeti bajay gi," they said happily while leaving the stadium, "Stage sajay gaa, Aur taali bajay gi, Aur phir khel jamay ga." [There will be whistles again, the stage will be decorated again, there will be applause again, there will be play again]".

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hassan on March 6, 2017, 21:03 GMT

    a special thanks to all those who contributed to making this happen, those who supported the efforts and those who simply joined in on the happiness......regards, A Pakistani cricket fan..

  • l122224867585 on March 6, 2017, 18:44 GMT

    On 13th November 2015, a bomb blast in Paris killed three and injured several. it happened at the entrance of Stade de France football stadium. France was playing Germany inside the stadium and one of the spectator in the stadium was The President of the country,François Hollande, himself. France organized the Euro 2016 tournament after that and many football superstars still play in their domestic league, even though they are always under high alert just like pakistan. on the other hand, an incident like this, if it had happened in the PSL final, would have shut the doors to international cricket permanently in Pakistan. why the double standards??? Pakistan should also opt out of all the foreign tours and only play with them in UAE cos so far thats the only place which is totally terrorism free. tit for tat !!!

    Thank You sammy, malan, jordan, samuels and the quetta overseas players . Respect!

  •   Talib Raza Pirani on March 6, 2017, 15:40 GMT

    Waking up early on a Sunday morning in United States to watch a cricket game? Some call it craziness here, but when you have so many stars ready to play in my home country after a long time, just that thought made me wake up two or three times at night. From the opening ceremony, to Darren Sammy's run around Qaddafi stadium, the songs being played in the background, to the patriotic chanting crowd, it was just mesmerizing enough to melt anyone's heart. Not many would agree but it wasn't the greatest of ideas to host it in Lahore, too much was at risk. But I am so glad it happened, now I just hope that international cricket returns to the land of pure soon. Thanks a bunch the all the players, the crowd and the organizers.

  • OmerPaki123 on March 6, 2017, 13:46 GMT

    @vasanth: even if we had waited for 10 more years and then invited a team/players to pakistan and something would've happened then we would also forget about cricket, all this security and efforts needs to be done if we want cricket back cuz thats the price we have to pay for the mistake the "zardari" government made and actually the entire nation made by voting them in and as far as imran khan is concerned i would just say he has gone so low that if tommorow the government says 1+1=2 he would say 1+1=11. i feel sorry for imran he has let all pakistan down

  • Jaffer on March 6, 2017, 13:28 GMT

    @VASANTH RAGHAVAN The words "WAS" & "Could have forgotten" are of past now..Every step matters, for us this step was taken and it wend in the right direction and spot on.. :) A day will come soon enough & YOU as well as a lot of people around the globe will change there opinion...

  •   Vasanth Raghavan on March 6, 2017, 11:48 GMT

    i dont think cricket will return to pakistan for some time. I agree with imran khan. Hosting the final in lahore was madness. Any untoward incident, and pakistan could have forgotten about hosting another cricket match for the next decade.

  • Muhammad Ammar on March 6, 2017, 10:56 GMT

    Right steps taken in right direction. People are out of disappointment now, and can think right about themselves. Terrorism has affected much stronger countries as well, but the layers corrective and preventive actions matter about the security of players, match officials and crowd. This was demonstrated to the whole by PSL and PCB. The experts will change their opinions now positivesly.

  • Cricinfouser on March 6, 2017, 10:54 GMT

    what a moment for pakistan cricket. salute to each n every forgn player who visited lahore.... well done PCB.... good coverage from cricinfo

  • Jaffer on March 6, 2017, 10:34 GMT

    Excellently portrayed...Indeed..Phir Seeti Bajay Gi...Phir Khayel Jamay ga.... I wish and pray it happens soon enough!!! :) Great Job PCB and Players.. Hats Off to the International Players also, Thank you from Pakistan and a cricket lover Pakistani!!

  •   Khurram S Chaudhry on March 6, 2017, 7:41 GMT

    Its a right step in right direction. Security was good atmosphere was excellent. Passion and excitement was visible. If any one thinks that they will be able to arrange matches without much security is wrong. Already paid high price for not providing enough ( even 40% of this final) to SL in 2009. So even if there is no threat, Pak will have to provide this type of security every time. A bit anti climax final where most games went to last over but in the end its the cricket and Pakistan which won. It wasnt abut two teams only. Well done and thanks to every one who participated and made this happen, thanks to every one present at the ground and big thanks to foreign players who came.

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