On Sunday, March 5th, Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, Pakistan was heavily guarded with security personnel and infiltrated with enthusiastic cricket fans. The Pakistan Cricket Board was hosting the Pakistan Super League (PSL) finals. The finalists, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi, were gearing up for a highly anticipated international event. All eyes were on Pakistan, as the domestic Twenty20 match returned to its homeland this year with several international players returning to play in Pakistan. What kept them away? Turns out, international players stopped playing in Pakistan after the attack on a Sri Lankan team in 2009. An increase in violent attacks on Pakistani soil have created some friction for cricket players from Pakistan and those that play against or for Pakistan.
PSL, which is in its second year, is a professional cricket league formed in 2016 that represents five different teams in Pakistan and hosts 11 players from different countries. Cricket, which is Pakistan’s most popular sport, is often considered one of Pakistan’s biggest achievements and prides. Last year, PSL hosted all of their games in Dubai to avoid the dramatic events from the past where several people were killed and/or injured. Terrorism, however, does not define Pakistan and certainly does not stop cricket. It never has and never will. In a strong show of support the Punjab Government employed thousands of additional security personnel as PSL returned to its native country. Extra searches, increased security, closed businesses in and around the stadium, and several checkpoints, were just some of the extreme precautions taken to ensure that everyone who came to play in Pakistan was going to see that attacks from the past would not stop the country from progressing and moving on.
…International players stopped playing in Pakistan after the attack on a Sri Lankan team in 2009.
Hopeful fans cheered at Gaddafi stadium as their beloved players started prepping for a final that all of Lahore along with the entire country had been eagerly awaiting. Tickets were sold out almost immediately and tensions were high as Pakistan faced intense amount of scrutiny leading up to the big day. The heavily guarded stadium welcomed domestic and international players to the field. Although, the match itself wasn’t the most exciting one to date, it brought together Pakistani’s after a disastrous few weeks.
A terrorist attack killed over 75 people in early February at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a prominent Sufi Shrine. Days earlier suicide bombers attacked a local government office in Mohmand and before that 13 people were killed in Lahore at a policy rally. A bloody week cast doubt on the future of PSL’s final, that was meant to happen days later. Pakistan’s internal struggle to contain factions of extremist groups spread around the country is often at the center of international foreign policy and security debate. At no surprise to anyone, tensions from extremist groups run high and often caste a distasteful shadow on all the good Pakistan has to offer. However, the PSL final was the beacon of light that Pakistani’s needed to regain their strength after losing many of their citizen’s just days before. The finale was a moment of solidarity for Pakistani’s because it highlighted what Pakistani’s are also known for, strength and perseverance.
Pakistan reminded the world that like every country, it has its ups and downs but it remains steadfast in its commitment to fight extremism and break barriers. To those international players that came to play in Pakistan, as a Pakistani, I thank you. Amid the security risks, the controversies, and the media uproar, you showed the rest of the world that humanity beats all and cricket is international and has no boundaries.