PSL final, a moment of catharsis for Lahore

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Pakistani spectators hold placards prior to the start of the final cricket match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi at The Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on March 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fans came in large numbers, the security was top notch, and though the match itself was one-sided, the fact it took place was huge for Pakistan

Six army paragliders dive out of a helicopter and land in the Gaddafi Stadium. Goosebumps. It was one of several events that made clear the PSL final was about more than just a match for Pakistan. It was about changing perception, a step towards ending their isolation from hosting international cricket. And in that moment, watching the country’s top security personnel put on a show, the fear that had gripped the people of Lahore after the recent wave of bombings was forgotten.

 

More than 22,000 made their way through the gates, braving security checks that began two kilometres outside the ground. The closest roads were blocked for traffic by 2 pm and wary policemen patrolled the streets. But the hassle didn’t matter. Something special, something most missed, was coming home.

 

There were free shuttles to drive the fans from the first checkpoint to the second, and as they travelled they were treated to a selection of the most patriotic Pakistani songs. The crowd was made to line up at the final layer of security and wait for their transport to take them to the stands. The journey took them past the roundabout where the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked eight years ago. Things have changed a lot since then, but have they changed enough?

 

Terrorism has hurt Pakistan. A recent wave of attacks took over 100 lives in the space of five days. Lahore, the second-largest city in the country, was also under severe risk but the PCB did not give in. They had the Punjab government in their corner, which brought no less than the army to ensure the safety of those attending the PSL final. It was unfortunate that Quetta Gladiators’ overseas players could not come and play the game – which turned lopsided without Kevin Pietersen, Tymal Mills, Rilee Rossouw, Luke Wright and Nathan McCullum – but it didn’t really matter either.

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