A hesitant, but unhindered road to the PSL's Lahore final
"We still need to get the medals! As soon as the game was finished, we were straight back on the plane."
There was no parading the PSL trophy on the outfield when the Peshawar Zalmi team were presented it after a 58-run win over Quetta Gladiators in the final. While there was just about enough time for a few photos, the players soon snapped out of their euphoria with the realisation that they didn't have much time to shower, change and jump on a bus that would take them back through the emptied streets of Lahore, to a plane waiting to take them out of Pakistan. Even with a minor delay to their flight, their trip had not quite ticked over 24 hours.
"It was pretty manic," recalls Chris Jordan. Dawid Malan, after "the quickest shower ever", returned to his spot in the dressing room to find security guards removing their bags from the changing room. "We all knew we were on a tight schedule."
The only two England cricketers to make the journey to Lahore, Jordan and Malan played their part in a historic PSL final that saw international cricketers return to Lahore for only the second time since Sri Lanka were ambushed in 2009 on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium. It is, above all else, a start for Pakistan's reintegration as a host for international cricket. In the short term, it has bred optimism.
"It went smoother than I thought, actually," says Jordan, who arrived at the PSL unsure about whether he would make the trip to Lahore. "But having arrived and begun playing in the competition, I found myself talking to a lot of the local guys about it. You know, I was hanging out with Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Akram. Being with them for a month and then getting to know them, it started to ease my mind a bit. But I didn't commit to a decision right away. I still had a few discussions to have."
As well as consulting with Pakistani team-mates, the overseas players discussed matters together. Some were candid, others were blunt. "There was a lot of yes' and no's," says Malan. "You also got people saying you're stupid for going and whatnot. I was quite open-minded up until the end. That's not to say I was 100% going. I was struggling to get my head around the idea that while we might be fine, something could happen outside the ground, targeting spectators. Imagine waking up the next day and thinking that a few people passed away because you played a cricket match? In the end, it was happening with or without us."
For both Jordan and Malan, it was conversations with their families that gave them the confidence to make a decision. Jordan "had a good long chat with his family, as well, and the important people in his life". He soon had their blessings. Input from Reg Dickason, who oversaw the recent ECB tour to Bangladesh and was working on behalf of FICA for the Lahore final, also helped Jordan come closer to a concrete decision.
"The franchise, it has to be said, were very welcoming and, to their credit, didn't put too much pressure on us to make a decision to go and very much knew we had to take our time. We had loads of briefings where we asked so many questions. Even if it sounded like a stupid one, we asked. And they were able to give us certain assurances.
Malan's conversations were not as smooth. "My dad was alright, my mum wasn't too pleased. She had a few sleepless nights. As soon as I spoke to my dad about the security measures, he was of the same opinion I was: that it was in the PCB's best interest to leave no stone unturned. All eyes are on this."
He also consulted with his Middlesex director of cricket Angus Fraser and CEO Richard Goatley. Perhaps the most important conversation he had came with his brother, who works for a tobacco company. As part of his work, Malan's brother often employs the services of an ex-SAS solider, who has toured Iraq and the Falklands, as his own security consultant. "I got in contact with him and spoke about the security they were offering. He actually advised me not to go. But he also assured me that, given the level of security, he can't see anything happening in the short window that we are there."
It was only at 1:30 am, in the early hours of Saturday, just after their win against the Karachi Kings, in the third playoff, on March 3, that players were asked to make a decision by noon. Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels agreed almost instantly, leaving Malan and Jordan to decide.
"That Saturday morning, Jords and I were texting each other: going through all the details, asking who we were speaking to and what we had heard from them. Basically sharing as much as we could and thrashing it out between ourselves. Eventually, we agreed that we'd both go.
"The funniest thing was after that, no one really knew what was going on. It was only at around 4pm that I sent a message to everyone asking 'Guys, do you know when we're supposed to be leaving or what time the flight is?' Then I got a reply saying the flight was at 10pm! It was pretty hectic. That bus drive to the airport in Dubai was the most nerve-wracking. You're all there looking at each other thinking, 'No turning back now!'"
Upon landing in Lahore, the team was greeted by private security and escorted into one of many bombproof buses, before being driven through clear roads to the Pearl Continental hotel. There, the overseas players were put on the same floor, with around four armed guards to each room.
On the morning of the match, the squads travelling to the ground were put onto buses just outside the hotel reception. After waiting for close to 10 minutes, they pulled away in sync, with armed guards running alongside, turning into the road outside to join a formation of five or six vehicles with mounted machine guns - in front and behind the bus - as well as cars driving alongside the bus, within touching distance, boxing it in. The other side of the road was completely closed, with the same number of army vehicles set-up.
"I've never seen anything like it," says Malan. "But I did feel reassured when the ICC security advisor, who was sitting near me, was filming it on his phone and saying 'this is textbook.' That put me at ease. Then, when we got to the ground itself, you saw policemen and snipers taking up high vantage points. Even on the field itself, you could look up and see a few on the roof."
Both Jordan and Malan have been overwhelmed by the well-wishes from fans, players and administrators. "If it does play a small part in bringing back cricket and normality to Lahore, then it's an awesome thing to have been a part of," says Malan.
Jordan echoes the sentiment: "Playing a game in Pakistan for the first time, I really don't know what it was going to be like. It was a good experience and one I'm glad I can sit here today and say I've had."
Both say they would return, provided they were given the same security measures and provided the situation did not worsen. "You never know what will happen between now and that time, though," says Jordan. "But if it was tomorrow - yes."
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport