Cricket leads Pakistan revival amid extraordinary security

The World XI will again visit Pakistan in year 2018 and 2019 to help promote international cricket in the country, said Chairman, Pakistan Cricket Board, Najam Sethi on Wednesday

Pakistan on Tuesday took another crucial step towards reviving international cricket at home with a 20-run victory over the World XI in a match played before excited crowds and amid huge security in Lahore– capital of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab, and its heartland.

A big crowd in an upbeat mood turned out at the Gaddafi stadium as the first of the three T-20 games between Pakistan and the World XI on Tuesday marked the start of an important phase in the country’s struggle to recover from the effect of terrorism perpetuated in the country over the last 15 years– it has cost the country more than $123 billion in economic losses besides hosting international cricket and other popular world events.

The first Twenty20 match of the Azadi Cup 2017 (Independence Cup 2017), accorded international status by the International Cricket Council, is only the second time Pakistan has hosted an international match since militants attacked the bus of the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009. That attack killed eight people and injured seven players and staff.

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Sethi said  the matches of the Pakistan Super League will also be organized in Karachi and international cricket matches will also be staged in the port city to bring international cricket there after establishing the faith and confidence of foreign players and teams.

Much was at stake and the Punjab government made an extraordinary and elaborate security arrangements for the game, which is to be followed by another one tomorrow and the third and final match on Friday. Long before the match started at 7:00pm, around 9,000 police and paramilitary personnel had taken positions around the area, cordoning off the teams’ hotels and Gaddafi Stadium.

The visiting players were provided president-level security. All routes to the venue were protected and special directions were issued for those wanting to go to the stadium to watch the game.

LAHORE: Members of the World XI ride in traditionally-decorated rickshaws before the start of their first Twenty20 cricket match against Pakistan’s team on Tuesday.

After a complete search and sweep operation, ticket holders were allowed to board shuttle buses at around 4:00pm. The Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMA), on orders from the provincial government, provided 38 buses from its feeder fleet of 200 for use on the free shuttle service between Gaddafi Stadium and designated parking areas.

Pakistan hopes the series will help end their international isolation, with Sri Lanka due to play a Twenty20 in October, followed by three Twenty20 internationals against the West Indies in November.

DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf said around 8,000 policemen were deployed for a five-layered security plan. Talking to The Express Tribune, he said approximately 2,400 wardens had also been deployed to maintain traffic flow, while snipers and plainclothes police were also on the job.

The Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) had installed more than 200 CCTV cameras for live monitoring of security arrangements at the route and inside the stadium. They had also handed over 4-G wireless handsets to SPs for effective communications. These handsets could also be used for live video streaming to the PSCA operations room.

Businesses in the nearby markets, including Hafeez Centre and Liberty, were closed, at a cost to their owners. There were complaints by commuters stuck in the traffic jams caused by the staging of the game. Some of the educational institutes in the area around Gaddafi stadium were closed.

Related atricle: Why isn’t World XI cricket coming to Karachi, Sindh minister asks Pakistan Cricket Board’s Sethi

The board’s effort for the restoration has continued and the current event commemorating the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth, is being officially termed as the second long stride towards restoration of international cricket in its full glory.

The board had asked for support from the people and the turnout at the stadium for the first game was impressive. However, there were people around who questioned locking down a good part of the city for the grand show. The lockdown in itself, in the eyes of many, exposed the people to fear.

The business community had to make a particularly heavy contribution for the return of cricket by facing almost a week-long closure — individual shops and centres along the Gulberg Main Boulevard were made to pull their shutters down on Tuesday.

All marriage halls, hotels and guest houses in the vicinity have been told not to entertain guests or hold any function for the next four days, reported local media.

“The local police visited all guest houses and made the owners sign an undertaking that no guest is allowed in their places till September 16,” said the manager of a guest house.

To augment the element of shock, in the true local police style, the orders were implemented on a notice of just 24 hours, report Dawn. Offices in the neighborhood, were told to shut down for next four days, regardless of the nature of their business, said an affected businessman. He had to relocate his offices with 150 employees to avoid suspension of his work.

“It could have been handled in a better way,” a businessman said. A plan could have been chalked out much in advance and businesses warned in time so that they could take steps to minimise their losses and inconvenience.”

Apart from businesses, traffic mess — for second day running — hit the entire city, chocking all roads as police kept the Gulberg area sealed off for the better part of the day and evening. Stung by the last time incident during a match of Zimbabwe, when a terrorist was able to sneak into the inner police cordon when it relaxed during the match, this time police is not taking any chance; keeping the area totally off limit during practice sessions and matches.

“Overzealous police, lacking coordination only added to the woes of the Lahorites,” alleges Malik Asif. It took intervention by the Chief Traffic Officer to let commuters onto a section of the main Boulevard, where, otherwise, police had blocked the entry. The CTO denied ordering the closure, at least two hours before the start of the match, and let people travel. It only showed how lower rung of police officers were deciding on their own and adding to the inconvenience of the common man.

The police had its complaints as well. “What is happening on the roads is not part of the traffic plan devised by the traffic police,” says a police official. The police never recommended dual blockage of the roads but wanted to keep open at least one side of the road and this is what was agreed upon. The district administration, however, changed the plan at the last moment and added to the mess on the roads.

The police posted in the streets responded to the public grumbling by saying that they were taking absolutely no chances.

“You cannot hold big sporting events anywhere in the world without tight security which is going to cause some discomfort to the people,” remarked a journalist. “It is not just about Pakistan or a country recovering from terrorism. Security exacts its own price and the Lahorites must be prepared to pay it.”

One of the T20I matches between Sri Lanka and Pakistan– part of the upcoming UAE series to be played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, will be hosted in Lahore “subject to security clearance”, said PCB in a press release.

Efforts are now said to be on the front-burner to return international cricket to Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi which has long held the tradition of hosting such events.

PCB chief Najam Sethi has said he wants international cricket to return to Karachi too.

“I will meet DG Rangers, Core Commander and CM Sindh when I visit Karachi [to discuss the security arrangements if the city is to host international matches],” said Sethi. “We will make sure international cricket returns to Pakistan soon. We have started receiving positive answers from teams.”

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Sethi said  the matches of the Pakistan Super League will also be organized in Karachi and international cricket matches will also be staged in the port city to bring international cricket there after establishing the faith and confidence of foreign players and teams.

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