KARACHI: There have been many false dawns and the hyperbole has reached levels ludicrous and laughable several times before. Every time a foreign player puts a step in Pakistan, it is dubbed as cricket coming home. Every time a team said they were open to the idea of touring Pakistan, it was dubbed as cricket coming home. Every time there was a development of any sort, it was dubbed as cricket coming home.
But let’s face it. Cricket has not come home. There was the Zimbabwe series. There was the PSL final. But something, somehow, has always been missing along the way.
The fans and the board cannot be blamed for getting overexcited about even the slightest hint of the resumption of cricket — parched throats and empty stomachs seldom complain of taste. Whatever the country has been afforded ever since that fateful Sri Lanka attack, it has gobbled up hungrily.
On September 12, they will tell you that cricket will once again return home. But this time around, something seems to be different. This time around, there seems to be a quiet confidence that this is not a tentative toe into the water but rather a giant leap onto a very real wave of optimism.
Don’t let the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) marketing department and its silly hashtag of cricket halalala (whatever that may mean) fool you. This is serious business. A match against World XI is of course not the same as Australia or England or South Africa touring the country but it has some veritable superstars in its ranks.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis and his compatriots Imran Tahir and Hashim Amla are some of the greatest players in the world. With all due respect, this is not Zimbabwe or a PSL team. Pull this off successfully and the world will stand up and take notice. Pull this off and the message will be sent, loud and clear.
Du Plessis has been refreshingly honest in his conversations with the press. He has openly admitted that money was a factor in him coming to Pakistan and that there were a lot of doubts before he and the others finally said yes.
But he knows what this series means. “It’s a huge honour to be here as it’s not often that you are playing cricket in a cause which is much bigger than the game,” he said.
A cause larger than the game… This is not just three T20Is — even though the ICC has said this will be characterised as an official match, with performances having a bearing on the rankings and career stats of both teams and its players. This will shape where Pakistan and its cricket go from here.
Lahore, understandably, has reached fever pitch. The excitement and the tension is palpable. Security will not be compromised and there will be several inconveniences caused in its name, but it is a necessarily evil.
But Du Plessis’ press conference also had a warning in it. “This tour is more about personal choices, but the decision for the national team’s visit to Pakistan will be taken by the board and I have no authority over it,” he said, answering a question regarding whether he would be leading his South Africa side to the country any time soon.
The message is clear – this is a massive step towards cricket coming home, but this is not cricket coming home itself.
Make no mistake about the importance of this series. This is not Pakistan making history, this is Pakistan making its future.