3rd March 2009
Match time: 10am
Call time for Ramiz Raja: 7:45am
I live in Model Town in Lahore. It’s merely a 10-minute drive in the morning from home to Gaddafi Stadium through the Liberty roundabout you see!
Had I lived farther, my call time would have been earlier.
Had I lived farther, I would have been at Liberty earlier. Maybe, at the same time when the Sri Lanka team and officials were under attack and cricket in Pakistan was being muffled for years to come.
On the morning of 3 March 2009, I was preparing to leave home to commentate on the third day’s play, when at the gate, my driver mentioned to me a couple of blast-like sounds he thought he had heard.
Dismissing his observation, I got into the car and told him to get a move on.
But he had heard right. The team was shot at, the officials injured, a brave heroic bus driver had prevented a bigger carnage, the tour scrapped midway, a nation bruised and shell-shocked, a cricketing fabric destroyed and Pakistan forced to shut shop.
That was the beginning of the end of international cricket in Pakistan.
Lahore is my hometown. I have lived and played all my cricket here. My father played his club cricket at the Lahore Gymkhana, my elder brother Wasim Raja was Lahore's favourite child. Wasim and I have a stand at the stadium named after us ----I live and breathe Lahore.
To have something you take for granted snatched away from you suddenly under tragic circumstances is a shock. For me that was cricket.
Karachi, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Multan, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta ...... tremors of this event were felt throughout the country and left in its wake devastated players, forlorn fans and a collapsed administration.
With the passage of time, cricketing wilderness set in across the country. Stadia were empty, fans were deprived of the game they loved, players were frustrated, I was in anguish. The glue that held the nation together had come unstuck. Cricket was off the radar.
It affected the national psyche and perceptions about Pakistan as a safe country for cricket grew murky. But naturally, it gave way to an emotional and economic meltdown.
So, when a World XI is announced to tour Pakistan, it is just not a cricket tour. Given the circumstances it, can never be just that. It signifies that the cricketing fraternity will not let Pakistan be left behind.
The tour by the World XI will hopefully lead to resumption of a regular international cricket calendar in Pakistan. Credit must go to the players and the ICC for braving perceptions and possible personal pleadings by family and friends to look at the larger picture. The larger picture being - you need us, we need you. That is the only essential for cricket to survive.
Pakistan made a strong case for bringing world cricket back home by playing impressively out of home. Wins in the UAE, rising to No.1 in Tests, two successful editions of the PSL, and a frustrating-to-a-magical run at the ICC Champions Trophy - take a bow Pakistan!
Without playing at home in front of passionate fans, no idols to watch live at home for youngsters, lack of lucrative sponsorships and players battling their own mental demons- Pakistan was determined to ride through all these storms and more and see through the resolve of getting cricket back home. The efforts paid off.
The tour by the Zimbabwe team in 2015 and the successful final of the PSL this year at Lahore were fledgling signs that the cricketing world was opening up to Pakistan again. The PSL exposed the international fraternity to the frustration and helplessness of the Pak players, especially the young apprentices, who were being wronged by a situation which was neither of their choice nor their making.
The world was ready to rally behind one of its core members.
Not many would know of the persistence that went into bringing the game back to the country. I was a member of the Pakistan Task Team launched in 2009 to ensure the country stayed afloat. I know of its continuous engagement with various quarters and understand how I again have the opportunity of commentating from the box I so love!
The barren cricket terrain of Pakistan is soon to be watered again. Like a farmer who after having prepared the field and sowed the seeds can now look forward to enjoying the fruits of his hard labour, Pakistan cricket too will soon be reaping the benefits of its hard slog over the past eight years.
12th Sept 2017
Match time: 7:00pm
Call time Ramiz Raja 4:30pm
You see, I live just 10 minutes away from Gaddafi Stadium through Liberty roundabout!!!!