A packed to the hilt Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore witnessed the final match of the second edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) on Sunday. Even a week before the final, the possibility of the event being moved away from Lahore was very real, given the tense security situation prevailing in the country. It took a monumental joint effort by the Punjab government, the PSL administration, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the Pakistan Army and the local administration to ensure that the final took place without any untoward incident. Security measures, the likes of which have never been seen in Lahore were in place, with thousands of soldiers and policemen patrolling the city, choppers whirring overhead and roads leading up to the stadium only open to ticketholders.
Inconvenient as they were, Lahoris took the extensive security measures in their stride and cooperated with the arrangements, understanding the significance of the event. Fans had thronged Lahore from all over Pakistan in anticipation of the final, and those who could not get a hold of the tickets just soaked in the atmosphere of the city, which had been given an overhaul to welcome the foreign players.
Lahore gave the look of a city in celebration: multi-coloured lights adorned trees and pavements, flowers had been placed around light poles, and the signs and sidewalks got a fresh coating of paint. The energy around the city was palpable.
On the day of the final, everything came together seamlessly, with the spectators from Lahore and around the country forgetting about their woes and security concerns to flock the Gaddafi Stadium in droves. The arrangements ensured that the spectators got to the ground without much hassle, as special shuttle buses took them from the designated parking spots to the stadium.
The Gaddafi Stadium, having not been used for an event of this scale since the 1996 World Cup Final, was restored to its former glory. Spectators and citizens of Lahore were transported back to earlier times, when the entire city would be at a standstill to witness an important cricket match. Giant screens were placed at parks for the benefit of those who could not watch the match inside the stadium.
The match itself was preceded by the closing ceremony, which was a regal affair. The PSL administration pulled all stops to ensure that the closing ceremony was one to remember, as they called in the biggest names in the music industry to perform, namely Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat, Overload and Faakhir. The musicians belted their famous songs as the crowd sang as one and the old and young danced around the aisles. The audience was also treated to a spectacular performance by paragliders, who jumped from a helicopter and landed at the ground, the six paragliders representing the flags of Pakistan and the five teams.
The match itself – between Quetta Gladiators and Peshwar Zalmi – was rather one-sided, as the latter strode easily to victory on the back of a 32-ball 40 by Kamran Akmal and a late cameo by the Zalmi skipper Darren Sammy, who scored 28 runs in 11 deliveries. Peshawar Zalmi were clinical in their performance as their bowlers bowled with great discipline to ensure that the Quetta Gladiators were bowled out for a mere 90 runs. Hassan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Muhammad Asghar were the destroyers in chief, picking up seven wickets amongst them.
The result and the uncompetitive nature of the match itself paled in comparison to the fact that the match took place at all. The odds were so heavily stacked against Lahore hosting the final without any hiccups, that the spectators rejoiced in just being there and having a good time. Instead of reporting on depressing security developments, the television channels broadcasted the revelry around the stadium and the city.
Ali Zafar captured the mood of the nation with his anthem for PSL, which blared throughout the match in the stadium and on television channels across the country. “Phir seeti bajay gi, stage sajay gaa, aur taali bajay gi, aur phir khel jamay ga.” (Whistles will be blown again, the stage will be decorated, there will be applause again, there will be fun and games again).
The anthem encapsulated the hopes and aspirations of a nation which is sick of the violence that engulfs it, and yearns for normalcy and peace. The PSL final may well be the first step in that direction, with the government and citizens showing that they have the will to stand united and defiant, and overcome any obstacles to ensure that terror does not consume our lives. Long live Pakistan!
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