More than just a cricket tour
Harare- They might have lost a tight Twenty20 battle but Zimbabwean cricketers are being feted like heroes in Pakistan following their brave decision to become the first Test-playing nation to tour the cricket-mad Asian nation in six years.
Such has been the importance of this historic tour that the first match, before a sell-out 27 000 crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, even attracted the presence of the country’s President Mamnoon Hussain.
Until the Chevrons’ arrival, Pakistan cricket fans had not seen a top-level cricket playing nation in their backyard after the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lanka team bus, in March 2009, kept the big boys away from the Asian nation on security grounds.
The impact of Zimbabwe’s tour, though a short one that will only have two Twenty20 and three ODIs, has been felt throughout the entire world that it has been big news on major international news channels like CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.
And it has also been felt by millions in Pakistan who have been describing the Zimbabweans as heroes.
One of the game’s fans, Nasir Iqbal, who is suffering from polio, moved the thousands of fans at the Gaddafi Stadium when he dragged himself to be among those people who would be inside the stadium to watch his heroes play a game, on home soil, against top opposition for the first time in six years.
“Iqbal – a resident of Kharian spent his hard-earned 1000 rupees to visit Lahore – and managed to reach the stadium with struggle,” The Express Tribune newspaper of Pakistan noted.
“As he reached the FIFA Gate on Ferozepur Road, police officials sought his ticket at the entrance, but all what Iqbal possessed was his National Identity Card.
“Inspired by his passion, PCB officials intervened and allowed him to proceed. On his way to the ground, the spectators were equally moved to witness the resolve and zeal.”
This was the first time that Iqbal has been to the stadium and, given his disability, his sacrifice just to be among the thousands of fans, so that he could be part of the crowd to witness this festival dubbed the homecoming tour of cricket, caught the imagination of his country.
“I’ve come all the way from Kharian to see a glimpse of Shahid Afridi because he is my hero and I love watching him bat,” Iqbal told The Express Tribune.
“Despite being a poor man, I spent Rs 1000 just to reach the venue in hopes that I will be able to see Shahid Afridi and meet him.
“This is the first time I have ever come to the stadium and hopefully my efforts will not go in vain.
“I’m very strong mentally and do not get depressed by my condition. People might stare at me with sympathy but I do not like it. I am a cricket fan and a human being like everyone else.”
Wasim Akram, a Pakistan legend who won the World Cup for his country in 1992, tweeted about an awesome summer of cricket in his home country now that Zimbabwe had defied the odds and decided to tour.
“Geared up for an awesome summer of #Cricket in #Pakistan#PAKvZIM#CricketComesHome,” he tweeted, accompanying the tweet with his picture holding the national team jersey.
Pakistan cricketer Ahmed Shahzad thanked the Zimbabweans for their bold move.
“Team Green Blood Green Base Green Theme Green Alhamdolilah. Thank you Pak Thank you Zim for taking these black clouds away. #CricketComesHome,” he tweeted.
Pakistan’s number one cricket fan, Sufi Jalil, famously known around the world as Chacha Cricket, told AFP that he felt like a man who had been born again.
“I am born again today,” Jalil told AFP before the start of the first Twenty20.
“It’s the happiest day in my life as I waited for 2269 days to be exact from March 3, 2009 to this day.
“We want to give the message that Pakistan is a country of peace-loving people and a few people who have negative thoughts will not get success in their efforts and that Pakistani flag will wave like this always,” said Jalil.
Rameez Khawaja said the tour by the Zimbabwe cricketers was more than just a sporting event but a national declaration by their country in support of Pakistan.
“Zimbabwe today is a better country in my eyes than any of the big three nations,” he wrote on the Cricinfo message board.
“I am in tears after seeing such an act. You got to respect these brave men, as the players now, check their Twitter posts, they love it already, hope you guys do as well.”
Masood Rafi said his country’s national game will, forever, remain indebted to the Zimbabweans for taking the baby steps everyone hopes will end Pakistan’s nightmare of having to host its international games away from home.
“We as Pakistanis thank Zimbabwe for helping us in a time of isolation,” he noted.
“Let’s hope (our) country moves towards stability and we see more of this happening. Respect for ZC. Thank you Team Zim for being so supportive, this will remain unforgotten for years.”