KARACHI: As India and Pakistan deploy extra forces amid rising tensions along the border, residents of Karachi were gearing up for battle on another field -- cricket.
With the Pakistan Super League's (PSL) matches to be conducted as per schedule, the country's financial capital welcomed local and overseas players as the craze for the game reached a fever pitch.
“I am very excited that we will be able to watch matches of the PSL in Karachi,” Kashan Ali, a college student, told Arab News after he took a selfie, with a portrait of fast bowler Hasan Ali in the background, outside the artificial roadside cricket stadium at the Shahra-e-Faisal – a thoroughfare named after Saudi's late King Faisal.
Ali says he couldn’t buy a ticket last season as only one match had been held in Karachi at the time, adding that this year he's already bought the tickets for the first and final matches.
Meanwhile, the National Cricket Stadium (NCS) of Karachi -- a city which local authorities have declared as a Cricket City due to a series of arrangements for fans – will host a total of five matches, with the first to take place on March 7 when the Karachi Kings will take on the Peshawar Zalmi.
The other four matches will see the Karachi Kings against the Quetta Gladiators on March 10, qualifier 1 against qualifier 2 on March 13, eliminator 2 on March 15, and the final on March 17.
“Karachi is a cricket-loving city. The way it greeted international cricket last year speaks volumes about the love the people of this city have for the game,” Iftikhar Shallwani, Commissioner Karachi told Arab News.
The NCS, which was under renovation last year, today dons a magnificent look with Teflon sheets installed on the roofs, and with new seats and grandiose dressing rooms.
“The cricket ground, however, is not enough to accommodate all fans. For this purpose, cricket matches will be live-streamed in 10 major parks of the city,” Shallwani said.
With the events of the past few weeks leading to strained ties between India and Pakistan, there was uncertainty over the future of the matches scheduled to take place in Lahore and Karachi. However, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and all six franchises announced on Thursday that all matches will be held as per schedule.
Addressing a news conference at the Dubai Stadium, Ehsan Mani, PCB chairman said: “We want to reconfirm that the PSL matches will all be played in Pakistan as scheduled.” The franchises’ owners, who flanked Mani, one by one confirmed that the decision taken by the PCB had the full backing of the overseas players.
Shallwani, for his part, is happy with the decision, adding that his team had ensured "tightened security arrangements for the players".
Javed Afridi, Chairman of Peshawar Zalmi said playing in Karachi was always special.
“Last year, when we played the final of the PSL3 in Karachi, the whole stadium was filled with yellow flags and Zalmi was echoing throughout the stadium. On the 7th of March, I expect a jam-packed crowd not only in the stadium but the streets will be blocked all around the city, too,” Afridi told Arab News.
Mohammad Omar Shahid, a Grade 6 student, said he will be watching the cricket match in the stadium for the first time. “My father told me he had watched Pakistan’s test matches against Australia in the national stadium. This would fascinate me very much. However, I could not watch it last year ... This year I will,” Shahid, 12, told Arab News.
“We want peace, we want cricket,” Shahid said as he ran towards the drummers in his neighborhood and joined the dancing enthusiasts.