KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life. Despite losing the use of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.
But one dream keeps eluding him. For the past six years, he has been unable to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.
With “home” matches played abroad for years due to security risks and, more recently, limited numbers of spectators allowed in stadiums because of coronavirus restrictions, Ali is yet to see his beloved Peshawar Zalmi side compete in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket competition.
Ali, a Karachi resident, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, the home team that represents Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, his home province.
The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the UAE due to security risks, preventing fans such as Ali from attending.
Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play the Multan Sultans.
But the devoted cricket fan never made it to the stadium on March 13: The coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.
This year, with only 50 percent spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the pandemic, Ali found that getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.
“Last year, I had bought a ticket to watch my favorite Peshawar Zalmi, but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed limited crowds only, which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”
Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in Karachi. He was only 12 months old when he contracted polio and has never walked.
But his disability did not dampen his dream of becoming an athlete: He is now Pakistan’s No. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level competitor in wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school by day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.
“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Daren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played at international level for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”
Ali hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.
“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet the Peshawar Zalmi players.”