Chants of Pakistan Zindabad, cheers of Sammy Sammy and waves that ran through every occupied seat, the crowd at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore was a vision. Owing to the security protocol, the stands were filling in slowly but one couldn't guess that from the noise. What kick-started the festivities was the delightful rickshaw entrance of the World XI players. The people of Lahore were on their feet, welcoming these men to their homeland with gratitude in their smiles and joy in their eyes.
This was my first live game at Gaddafi and so I had come with no prior expectation of what it should feel like. That been said, from the moment I entered the stadium a wave of nostalgia and belonging took over me. The arena glowed beautifully under the floodlights, and home was what it felt like. I was sure everyone else in the stadium felt the same way - the moment we had all been waiting impatiently many weeks for was finally upon us. Any minute now, the celebrations would start.
Cricket was home.
The most emotionally stirring moment of the evening was the National Anthem. Every Pakistani was in ovation, singing in a cohesive rhythm of love and devotion. It was as if the arena itself had come to life by the sound of the trumpets. For those 80 seconds, a surreal force bound every Pakistani to each other, and it was evident that everything that was done, was done for this moment.
It was in the city of Lahore eight years ago that cricket was abruptly halted. As regrettable as that was, it made one thing unmistakably clear, that Pakistan and cricket are inseparable. We knew the game would eventually come back, it was only a matter of time. Zimbabwe's tour was a breath of fresh air, followed by the PSL final. Time and again, we were reminded of our unshakable love for this game.
Time and again, we longed for more.
Once again on 12 September 2017, the Gaddafi Stadium was adorned with lights, flags and fans. The energy was so contagious, the players couldn't help feeling a tinge too. Imran Tahir and Darren Sammy were crowd favorites instantly, and so were Hassan Ali and Shadab Khan. Every so often somebody from the stands would start singing, and the rest of the crowd would join in. Together they sang bits of Jazba Junoon and Dil Dil Pakistan, never going off rhythm once.
- It was a hot evening but nothing the people of Lahore couldn't withstand for cricket. Every boundary was celebrated, every wicket was a cue to cheer for a new batsman. They cared little about who was winning, for they knew who the true winner was tonight. Pakistan.
One could not help but notice the number of uniformed officers standing and doing their jobs. For many weeks leading up to that evening, they have been working tirelessly to ensure our security. From the television cameraman to the guy selling packet chips, everyone was unified under the banner of cricket.
It is hoped that the ground will be packed to its full capacity in the next two games. The madness will only grow bigger and the tunes will only get louder.
The writer is a freelancer and a former international cricketer at the junior (U-19) level. She tweets @RohaNadym