Babar Hamed looks tired. Not surprising.
The man responsible for organizing the most important cultural and sporting event in Pakistan in the twenty-first century moves forward with interest in his chair, taking care not to interrupt eye contact.
We found a quiet corner in the bustling Multan International Cricket Stadium, where the hard turns are only suitable for our county’s ceiling fan.
Abroad, 30,000 locals will experience the elite taste of cricket in their city for the first time in 12 years. The stadium is swaying with expectations. Hamid thinks for a moment and smiles.
“When you see someone dancing to their local band, your heart will triple,” he says.
“This is what I worked for, this is what my country needs, and this is what we are – a peaceful, loving and hospitable Pakistan.”
Hamid, PCB’s commercial director and chairman of the PSL organizing committee, wears a distinctive green hand lapel pin; The index and middle fingers have an elongated V-shape.
V for five, this is the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League.
But most importantly, V is Pakistan’s Victory.
“PSL is a matter of national pride,” he says. “This is a league that was created five years ago and the idea is to bring it back to Pakistan. We are all very passionate about this. It’s actually a dream come true – 220 million Pakistanis are waiting for this to happen, when cricket appears. house in full. ”
It doesn’t take us long to realize that PSL is more than just cricket.
The Pakistanis are desperate to show that there is no compelling reason to avoid their country – and this is evident from the moment the Cricketer landed in Lahore.
There I was greeted by an airport clerk named Gilani – a bearded barrel of a man who somehow met me at the international passport control side and crossed the Pakistani border without a whisper.
Are you a player? he asks me to keep me from blushing before he changes the subject. “You know Pakistan is safe. You hear these strange stories and the way they talk about us. It is not true. It’s not who we are. ”
Gilani’s words are repeated by every local cricketer that the cricketer meets for eight days in the country.
From construction company employees running an abandoned clock tower in Multan, to fans flocking about my interview with a local TV station, to teachers at a girls’ school in rural southern Punjab, the message is the same: Pakistan is not what you are. think. …
“This is a good country,” says one security guard who was previously part of the special forces. “We (have) problems, but not now.”
Those who served in the military throughout the 21st century, and in particular until 2011, saw the worst in Pakistan as it fought the epidemic of terrorism.
Attempts to assassinate prominent political figures were common – former President Pervez Musharraf was targeted four times, including on Christmas Day 2003, when his car was covered in blood on the hood in Rawalpindi, where 14 others were killed; Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed twice at a rally in the same city in 2007; Three years ago, Prime Minister-appointed Shaukat Aziz survived a suicide bomber attack on his convoy in the city of Fateh Jang, 50 kilometers from Islamabad.
It was just a handful of shocks in the ongoing social earthquake that rocked Pakistan for much of that decade.
According to a 2018 study by the Watson Institute for International and Public Relations at Brown University, more than 23,000 Pakistani citizens and more than 8,000 members of the country’s security forces have been killed in the “war on terror.” In 2009 alone – when cricket tragically intertwined with the narrative when a Sri Lankan team bus was ambushed by militants in Lahore – 3,349 people were killed by terrorists in Pakistan.
Economically, the country also suffered significant damage: in the first ten years of the millennium, losses associated with terrorism amounted to about $ 68 billion. The 2018 State Economic Survey estimates that total economic losses attributable to the war in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban and general terrorism-related operations have totaled a staggering $ 126.79 billion since 2001, accounting for more than one third of the current gross domestic product. country. a country with a population of about 220 million.
As a result, Pakistani cricketers have been expelled from their hometowns and from the United Arab Emirates, where match prices have skyrocketed and revenue streams have dried up. What’s more, according to the then PCB CEO Star Sethi in an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2018, the cost of terrorism in Pakistani cricket was over $ 200 million.
But the effect is deeper than the dollar and the rupee. Social and culturally, Pakistan has suffered equally.
Previous cricket hotspots have seen interest wane, much of the country has never had a chance to see its heroes play the carnal game, and Pakistan’s place in the world has left scars.
This is why this PSL is so important; Not only the PCB, not only the economy, but the Pakistani community as a whole.
This gives the country the opportunity to heal, develop and reopen itself to an international audience.
In Multan, the secession that has occurred over the past two decades has been more evident than in cosmopolitan Lahore. When you walk the streets like a white man – or “mountain” to use an Urdu adjective – your eyes quickly fall on you and stick to your back. Throughout the stadium, strangers are about to take a selfie and then ask for your name. You are a great attraction for a circus, an unusual sight in the flesh.
This is where PSL does more than just bring cricket back to the people of Pakistan.
Actor and documentary filmmaker Adnan Malik told The Cricketer, “We need people with international experience and knowledge systems to come here because that’s how we’re going to become more dynamic.”
“The frontier is now full of holes in the knowledge creation process. For some reason, we were ostracized, and because of this, we did not grow up as we should. Cricket is a symbol of true social and economic transformation. ”
The PCB has often been ridiculed for poor decision making and acknowledged the importance of this year’s tournament not only for the people of Pakistan, but also for the international image of the nation.
“Cricket is a big part of our identity as a nation,” says Malek.
“Joining the PSL and the participation of foreigners in the game influences the culture of this place. There is a sense of multiculturalism and the positive effects it brings. You see people from different backgrounds and different races.
“You hear different stories, you have different experiences. It’s about getting us back on the map. I work in the field of culture and we want our voices to be heard, because culture is soft power. You want people to know your stories and this is how you are internationally valued. You want the Guardian or the New York Times to write positive articles about something. “Good happened.”
To this Westerner, Pakistan appears to be constantly in a state of organized chaos. Decisions seem to be made mostly on a whim, and the most thoughtful plans are often broken up into pieces and put together in a completely different order at any time.
Like the traffic on the streets of Multan, with horses pulling crop carts carrying flocks of motorcycles and pedestrians fearlessly making their way between chariots, there seems to be little direction. However, everyone gets to where they need to be.
PSL can’t work that way. He could not live in a state of madness. The challenges of hosting a major global sporting event in a country whose infrastructure is at mission level – filtering outages throughout the city during a heavy rainfall when much of the runway collapses – large enough for organizers not to play kicks and games – hope against competition.
The total of 70 PCB employees tasked with handing over to PSL is the same number that took responsibility for the event when it was hosted by the majority in Dubai and Sharjah.
They face the unenviable task of coordinating ticketing, marketing, event management, safety, player welfare, media operations, travel, logistics and contingency planning.
They should contact the Punjab and Sindh governments, the army and local police about the current head of state protocols required for all six teams and their behind-the-scenes personnel.
They have to transport a production team of about 150 people to the four host cities and make sure there are 400 hotel rooms of adequate quality and hygiene at the PSL site in Pakistan within a month.
This kind of logistical and operational scale has never been seen in Pakistan in the last 70 years. “Everything we do now is first and foremost,” says Hamid.
So far, there has been one establishment in Dubai. There are four. And that means two different production teams, for the spider camera, Earth circle panels, and two different teams on our team.
“Now this is a test of how hard this team can withstand. So far, thank God, it was a great tournament. The stadiums are overcrowded. ”
For gamers, life in PSL can be boring. Depending on which city they are playing in, it can also be endless.
In Lahore, the Pearl-Continental’s spa, sports bar, seven restaurants and an on-site shopping center offer ample entertainment to keep you from having a fever at home.
However, there is little distraction in Multan. The teams are recruited at a modest Ramada hotel near the city’s airport. It’s functional, clean, but offers little to no entertainment for guests who check-in at any time other than training and matches.
There is a table tennis table, volleyball net, plunge pool and gym. There is one buffet restaurant.
The Peshawar Zalmi battalion was invited outside to spend the evening indoors.
Moin Ali, the founder of England, is a member of the Sultan squad.
“Sitting in this room is good,” he says. “You have FIFA, you have a pool table and table tennis. You’ve been to international rounds where you didn’t have it, and you’re stuck in your hotel room. ”
“ There are days when you walk, but honestly, when you are on tour, you don’t go out very often.
“I’m not a beach lover. Even when I’m in Australia, I go back and forth, but it’s the same there. The PCB will look into this and they will have activities that players can go to and enjoy. We have it here. We had lunch when we got to Multan. Looking forward to it. I’m sure there will be others. ”
This will, of course, depend on future declines in security.
To this end, the PSL agreements are as intense as possible: the protection of a head of state costs hundreds of millions of rupees – an estimate based on several conversations with senior sources, and the actual amount tightly tied to routine.
Armed guards patrol the hotels, the stadium is surrounded by military police with semi-automatic weapons, snipers sit on overhanging rooftops; Team management is required to notify the authorities 48 hours in advance if they want to play classics in a nearby park, and players are escorted through the host cities along closed roads in columns of huge cars of about 40 cars.
Sometimes the escorts working in difficult conditions get a little nervous.
As we got closer to danger, when we got to Multan, it was almost likely that the four soldiers in the army and the crazy terrain were running down the road to throw petals at the passing convoy.
But Pakistan knows it only has one chance. As one well-placed source inside the PCB put it, “If something happens, it will set us back another 10 years.”
PCB CEO Wasim Khan told The Cricketer, “We always want to make security easier because players want to go out and do something, but if you are under state security, then there are certain protocols that need to be followed.”
“What we saw is the strength of the partnership between the military, police, PCB office and government.”
This partnership in action is amazing. Some may think that protecting UK sporting events is onerous. Compared to the Pakistani approach, this is no more comprehensive approach than capitalizing on the password strength.
The entrances to the Multan International Cricket Stadium are watched by soldiers in black bulletproof vests and masks; Bags go through airport scanners and people go through brackets to detect metals; Each gate is guarded by uniformed guards.
At the end of each match, two teams hastily assemble into minibuses surrounded by motorcycle lanes and dozens of armed escorts, followed by ambulances and fire trucks. As darkness falls, the suburbs are flooded with artificial light, created by the creak of homemade generators that illuminate the central reservation all the way from the stadium to the hotel.
caution. caution. caution. Photos of the horrific attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore just over a decade ago still burn in the nation’s mind.
“Pakistan went through a difficult 10-year period when there was no cricket here due to an accident,” says Hamid.
“The reason we hold us so tightly is because we have to be prepared for any eventuality. Everything is done with precautions in mind.
“As we do this next year and next year, things will become much more relaxed. This time for the first time, everyone is careful, everyone is excited, everyone wants to play in the best tournament we can.
Players agree that safety provisions make them feel safe, and frankly, that’s the point.
Moyne has moved most of his family to the tournament, while Claire Connor – the ECB women’s leader and partner of Andy Flower’s head coach Multan – stops four days en route to Australia for the T20 Women’s World Cup.
“Some men might think that ‘this guy with a gun might attack you,” says Moyne, “but you can’t take these things too negatively.” “Personally, I feel safer. I took my children, I took my children, I brought my mother, and my father will come.
“I understand it; the safety of people is paramount, and something that we do not know about can happen. But it can happen anywhere. ”
One of Zahra’s first overseas tours was a test cricketer who was in Pakistan long before the outbreak of terrorism, when teams moved freely around the country.
He played in Quetta, where the State Department does not recommend going. Together with his teammates in Zimbabwe, he climbed the Khyber Pass, now largely off-limits to all citizens except Pakistanis, and dined with the governor in charge of Afghanistan.
He played in Peshawar, Shehubur and Sahiwal, where elite cricket has not been seen for most of a generation.
“My relationship with Pakistani cricket seems very personal to me,” he says.
“This early experience was great for me and it was a completely different culture. We played against the greats like Wasim, Reverend, Moshe and Guid Mayandad. It was a very important experience for me as a cricketer and as a person. ”
“I feel like I have a strong relationship with them. To play a part in rebuilding cricket in Pakistan by bringing the 11th player here, the initiative that Giles Clarke started was fantastic. ”
“This PSL is another very important step.
“It’s great to be greeted so warmly, it’s a really warm welcome from the people of Pakistan and the cricket community.
“By right, the security measures here are very high, very strict, and we are limited, but the warm welcome, in general, made up for this.”
However, there are fewer and fewer reasons for abandoning Pakistan in this sport.
Last year, the British government relaxed its travel guidelines for the region, while other countries playing cricket have suffered atrocities in the meantime.
“Unfortunately, there is evidence of similar risks in previously very secure parts of the world – who would have thought New Zealand would have terrorist attacks forever,” says Flower. “We know what has happened in Europe over the past few years.
“Pakistan may increasingly claim that they are being treated unfairly, but I think that at the moment they are taking a very mature and reasonable position and providing evidence that international cricket can be played here.”
“I think this is somewhat unfair because you are not safe anywhere.
“It could have been the wrong place and the wrong time. Even now, the crime rate in England is huge. I just feel that you have the impression that it is not safe to drive. My counterargument is that it is not. really safe anywhere. ”
As part of their commitment to showcasing the good in Pakistani society, PSL organizers devote an enormous amount of airtime to honoring people who have made significant contributions to the country’s development through an initiative known as Hamari Heroes.
Young people and families are encouraged to participate, with some ticket prices discounted. Although rural Multan is dominated by men – partly because of its suburban location and partly because of traditional gender roles in the region – in Lahore and Karachi, many women come to the games.
The country is also experiencing an economic recovery.
The streets are filled with advertisements with the faces of cricket idols, and every product, from laundry liquid to margarine, carries some sort of PSL backing. Some are formal, others test the flexibility of copyright law. An outrageous local billboard maker is trying to amplify the impact of the competition by pinning its face to Multan owner Ali Tarin on a 40-foot sign from the stadium. An equally brave bus driver mistakes Tarin’s resemblance to his father Jahangir and lifts the wrong face on the side of one of his cars.
The TV commercial breaks are an unrelenting wave of Pakistani cricket kings – Shoaib Malik smacks Sprite, and Babar Azzam smacks the family savings account (the lack of advertising for gambling and alcohol is so refreshing for a viewer tired of the UK’s commercial diet) – and why not? PSL is big business.
“Today this brand is probably the largest in the country,” says Hamid.
“When it comes to an event like this, the hotels are fully booked, the car rental companies are fully booked, and when people arrive, it’s the holiday month and people come out to grab a bite, and the restaurants have big screens for people to come and watch the game. if they can’t go to the stadium, ”says Hamid. “Whenever an event like this happened, there was a huge response.
“Many people have come from Dubai, England and Saudi Arabia to attend and watch the matches and they will spend more money. The tournament is getting bigger and bigger. The more and more the league develops, the greater its contribution to the economy. ”