The yr was 1989. The Indian cricket group was visiting Pakistan for a take a look at collection after a spot of a few years and the venue was Nationwide Stadium in Karachi.
I used to be sitting within the press gallery when a pupil wielding a stick abruptly barged in and began to shout slogans. He then dashed in direction of the bottom the place the India and Pakistan groups have been taking part in. However the police caught him simply in time.
The protest, we got here to know later, was staged to attract consideration to the arrest of the coed chief of a right-wing get together in a homicide case. Thankfully, nobody was harmed throughout the scuffle and the match resumed after an hour.
Learn extra: Cricket—not only a ‘recreation’ in Pakistan and India
As I watch South Africa play Pakistan this week on the Nationwide Stadium, I’m pulled again to 1989.
There’s one distinction although. The stadium is empty because of the coronavirus pandemic. But, the go to of an vital cricketing nation, which too confronted worldwide isolation until the Eighties for nearly three many years, will definitely assist Pakistan’s picture as one of many most secure locations to play cricket.
However the street to the entire return of worldwide cricket is not going to be straightforward. Pakistan has been a sufferer of terrorism, attributable to which 80,000 folks have misplaced their lives.
In 2002, the New Zealand cricket group cancelled the remaining a part of a collection in Pakistan after terrorists attacked a bus carrying French engineers exterior a five-star resort. Though the visiting group was not the goal, it rattled the gamers, who had witnessed the explosion from their resort rooms throughout the road.
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Then, the 2009 militant shootout in Lahore shut the door to worldwide cricket for Pakistan. Thereafter, for a very long time, nobody was able to ship their group for a full collection.
Nevertheless, since 2013, the legislation and order state of affairs within the nation has proven outstanding enchancment. This additionally led to the revival of sports activities actions.
With a renewed sense of confidence, Najam Sethi, the previous chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, flouted the thought of a Pakistan Tremendous League (PSL) on the sample of the Indian Premier League.
The thought was a hit, and obtained the eye of many worldwide gamers. Initially the PSL needed to be hosted within the UAE, however for the final two years, throughout the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf authorities, the whole collection has been staged in Pakistan.
The go to of the world-leading cricket group of South Africa for a take a look at collection is inarguably a giant achievement for Prime Minister Imran Khan. Credit score can also be attributable to Sethi, who conceived the thought of the PSL and to cricketing legends Sir Viv Richard and Darren Sammy, who inspired others to present Pakistan an opportunity.
Learn extra: Safety in Pakistan gave gamers peace of thoughts: Faf du Plessis
If additional promoted, sports activities can play a key function in easing tensions with our neighbouring international locations and in nurturing tolerance in our society.
Prime Minister Imran Khan created historical past when he invited legendary Indian cricketers Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Navjot Singh Sidhu for his oath-taking as prime minister. Whereas Dev and Gavaskar couldn’t make it, Sidhu not solely got here to Pakistan and gained hearts, however his journey additionally laid the foundations of the Kartarpur Hall.
Throughout his second tenure as primer, Nawaz Sharif had made the same daring gesture by sending the Pakistan cricket group to India, regardless of threats from Indian extremists. The tour turned out to be extremely profitable and the Pakistani group was applauded for its gesture.
I nonetheless bear in mind the phrases of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who welcomed Sharif’s determination and mentioned that each international locations should maintain sports activities away from politics. However what has occurred for the reason that Modi authorities took workplace has altered Vajpayee’s narrative.
Cricket has the flexibility to vary folks’s mindset and it has up to now. These spiritual extremists who opposed cricket within the Nineteen Nineties, calling it a “sin”, are actually cheering it on. Whereas the tribal belt, which was as soon as generally known as the “hotbed of terrorism”, is producing outstanding sportsmen right now.
And it is because of this that cricket ought to and might nonetheless be made a part of the 2014 Nationwide Motion Plan to rid Pakistan of extremism.
Cricket can go a great distance in constructing Pakistan’s picture internationally. Let’s utilise this chance to its full potential.
Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The Information and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO