KARACHI: The official capacity of the National Stadium is around 32,400. Since the Pakistan-leg matches of the Pakistan Super League 2019 have moved to Karachi, the glamorous city of lights, five matches have been played and each match has seen almost a full-house. Same is the story for the remaining three matches, including the 17 March final (Eliminator 2, 15 March and Final sold-out).
What a great story it is for the game, a proud nation, and the league, which has become one of the most followed leagues in the world in a very short span of time.
The Pakistan-leg matches started on Saturday and even on working days of Monday and Wednesday, people thronged the stadium and created a buzz which has matched last year’s final in the city of the Father of the Nation.
The Government of Sindh had declared the PSL days as “Festival of cricket” and as soon as the teams started to descend on the city from March 6, the festival began. All the teams have been warmly greeted and well looked after, something which has been acknowledged, applauded and appreciated by all the players.
“I love cricket”, was the theme of these matches with walls and hoardings spreading the message throughout the nook and corner of the city. Life-size cut-outs of most of the famous cricketers from all six teams adorned the city, leading up to the National Stadium.
The refurbished National Stadium stands have given a wonderful look with some parts filled with the supporters of one team and the other with the rival teams, supporters have chanted slogans to back their players and teams all in an incredibly friendly manner.
The spectators, dressed in all sorts of stunning and attractive attires, have been dancing to the rocking music tunes and enjoying to the core, and time and again reflecting their love for cricket, peace, solidarity and one sport one nation philosophy.
“I am hugely impressed with the changes at the National Stadium,” PCB Managing Director Wasim Khan said, adding“The fans are symbolic of the vibrancy and passion of the real Pakistan – they are the lifeblood of the game. They have turned up in their thousands from all over the country, to support their teams. There is no clearer message to the world with regards to what the PSL and cricket in general means to the nation.”
“This is highly enjoyable,” said Sameena Ahmed, a student of near-by Economics College who had come with her parents. “I went to see Shahid Afridi’s match and had a lifetime experience when he came close to our stand and I got a selfie with him. These are wonderful moments of our lives as cricket has come back to our city in a big way.”
When action began on Saturday evening, the crowd at the National Stadium was at its feet and got their money’s worth when South Africa’s Cameroon Delport hit the second century of the season four off just 49 balls. The local boy Asif Ali further enthralled the crowd with a quickfire 17-ball half-century during his knock of 55 not out laced with half a dozen sixes.
The buzz on Sunday was even more enchanting as local team Karachi Kings outlasted Quetta Gladiators by one-run in a last-ball thriller.
Fans were on the edges of their seats, chanting “Karachi, Karachi” in a cacophony with high-pitch music creating an atmosphere which people had not witnessed for years.
It reached a crescendo when fast bowler Usman Shinwari defended three off the last ball. Home team’s one-run-win was celebrated throughout the city as if they had won the league.
All the 43 foreign players who are in Karachi were amazed, if not spellbound.
“It was amazing,” said Karachi’s vice-captain Colin Ingram. “I have not seen such scenes before and enjoyed the moment to the hilt.”
Australia’s all-rounder Shane Watson must have realized what he had missed by not coming to Pakistan for the last two PSL seasons in 2017 and 2018. This time around, he changed his mind and admitted he was caught up in the love of the game.
“It’s very special to be here,” said Watson. “I am really caught up in the love of the game of cricket. That is as simple as it is. When you walk up to the wicket, there are so many people who love the game as I do and that’s very special.
“It’s incredibly special to be able to play in front of incredible atmosphere and fans. There is no question since I arrived in Karachi, I am enjoying. The people of Pakistan are warm and welcoming as I have experienced them whether they are in Australia or anywhere in the world.
“To be able to play in this atmosphere is great and I would always cherish the opportunity.”
Despite being a working day, Monday saw almost a full-house at the National Stadium. Naturally, because Pakistan’s most popular cricketer Shahid Afridi was in action. It was the only match Shahid featured in as his team bowed out in the first round. The stadium was filled to capacity in the second game on the doubleheader Monday as Kamran Akmal’s 86 inspired Peshawar Zalmi to a 61-run win over the Kings.
Wednesday saw the Qualifier and no wonder the stadium was filled to capacity, an hour before the start of the match.
Quetta’s opener Watson gave crowd moments to savour with his lusty hitting during his match-winning knock of 71. The crowd responded to the call of the announcer as he called, “Shane” and the crowd followed it with the chants of “Watson”.
Fans were on the beck and call of the announcer as they opened the torches of their mobile and moved it as per the orders, a routine sight every day.
It will be double joy for the fans on Thursday when local team Karachi takes on defending champions Islamabad United in Eliminator 1. The local support is likely to inspire the Karachi team and if they win, the home fans will have another party come Friday when Peshawar Zalmi will be their next opponents.
The climax is expected on Sunday, the day when the champions of the PSL 2019 will be decided in the final. Tickets are already sold-out as a royal battle is expected.
Whoever wins the PSL 2019, the winner remains Pakistan cricket, the fans and the nation.