It is not very often that you get to watch top cricket teams playing live in your backyard when you live in Ireland, a country where Gaelic football, Hurling and Rugby are perhaps the sports of choice for most viewers. However, I recently got the opportunity to attend a couple of ODI matches in Dublin when first Pakistan and then England toured the country. Although the match between Pakistan and Ireland was the one which I was looking forward to watch more but surprisingly it was the match between England and Ireland that brought back memories of watching cricket live back home in Pakistan.
Given the history between Ireland and England, a sporting victory over the ‘Auld Enemy’ is always one to savour for the Irish and having already beaten them in the 2011 World Cup, the spectators at the Malahide Cricket Club were pumped and hoping for another upset. The sold-out crowd cheered every wicket and every boundary but unfortunately this was not their day and the English team ended up the victors. Nonetheless, being in the ground that day was an exhilarating experience, an experience which reminded me of another cricketing rivalry which is much nearer to home and much nearer to my heart. Yes, I am talking about the cricket rivalry between Pakistan and India!
I cannot help but recall watching Pakistan and India play live at the National Stadium, Karachi in 2006 when we ducked out of the office during lunch to watch the 4th day’s play of the 3rd test match of the series. We actually paid five times more money for the tickets but it was all worth it when we got the opportunity to see Mohammad Asif knock over VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar with two amazing deliveries. The crowd roared in unison as each Indian wicket fell and you could feel the passion running through your veins as Pakistan romped to victory by 341 runs to win the three match series 1-0 leaving me with an experience that has been etched in my memory ever since. That being said, I also fondly recall images of the 1996 World Cup which Pakistan jointly hosted with India and Sri Lanka. The successful event was capped off by a glorious final between Australia and Sri Lanka at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium which was all lit up for the occasion and although Pakistan were not in the final, the ground was still brimming with passionate cricket fans from across the country and perhaps the world.
Unfortunately, the experience of watching live international cricket is one that many Pakistanis might miss out on due to the dearth of international cricket in the country since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. The consequent refusal of teams to tour Pakistan on security grounds has robbed millions of cricket fanatics of the opportunity to see their favourite players in action. Needless to say, the lack of international cricket at home has also been a contributing factor to the decline in fortunes of the national team who have only recently lost a test match to Zimbabwe, a team they would usually be expected to beat easily.
The security situation in the country has only worsened since that fateful attack in Lahore and I do not see any international cricket teams touring the country any time soon. However, initiatives such as the 2012 tour by an International XI are steps in the right direction and need to be encouraged. As a Pakistani cricket fan I sincerely hope that peace returns to the country soon so that the passion and enthusiasm of Pakistan’s cricket fans can be displayed to the world once again.