From the roof of Karachi’s National Stadium, the city is visible in all directions, up into the hills in one direction and out to sea in the other. Approximately 18 million people reside here. Only the soldiers are notable. They are visible in their black uniforms, as dark, numerous, and vigilant as the kites in the sky.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has spent so much on security for this tour that even with corporate support, it will not be profitable. It is a loss-leader for the country, intended to reassure the English that this is a safe place to visit and the international community that Pakistan is a safe place to conduct business.
Before Tuesday’s Twenty20 international, it was possible to identify the three-man sniper teams stationed surrounding the stadium, one on the roof of the Indus University, another on top of the enormous billboard advertising Strawberryade, and a third above a building silhouetted by the setting sun. The Spidercam, which was intended to give overhead images for the television stream, was removed overnight. The rumor spread that it was removed because the security crew realized it would prevent the army chopper that follows the squad from landing on the outfield in the event of an emergency evacuation.
The England team was performing their regular warm-up kickabout on the pitch. The distance between the players and their security detail was the greatest it had been all week. Harry Brook stated, “Every time I use the restroom, I’m being followed.” I’ve never truly experienced that before.
The players were first alarmed and held a team meeting to examine the security situation. The guards were instructed to remain within a few meters so they could intervene if a knife or pistol were produced. All of which have the effect of simultaneously making you feel more protected and less secure. It heightens your sense of danger, as if the foyer of their five-star hotel, which is full of wealthy businessmen sipping tea and affluent families attending weddings, were a lair of possible assassins. Extraordinary measures have been taken to make Karachi seem like a regular cricketing location.
Outside the city’s metal gates is a different face of the metropolis. Moeen Ali is aware. When he arrived in 2020 to play in the Pakistan Super League, he brought his family with him, and they visited cafés, restaurants, and shopping centers freely.
This week, all of us have been able to accomplish exactly that. Out there, Karachi is brimming with restaurants, attractions, and activities. Everywhere you go, people inquire about your impressions of the city.
They inquire whether you are enjoying yourself and are eager to learn whether they can assist you further. It is a sign of the stigma they must have suffered during their years in exile from international cricket and how it must have wounded them.
International teams will one day be able to experience the country as Moeen did. However, the PCB has no choice except to cut them off for the time being. It has been seven years since Zimbabwe played two Twenty20s in England, the first visit by a Test-playing nation since 2009, but the recent few months have been their most prominent series of fixtures to date.
Australia returned for the first time in 24 years in March, England for the first time in 17 years in September, and New Zealand will restart the series they abandoned in 2021 due to a real danger to the team’s safety in January.
In 2002, the New Zealand squad was staying in this exact location in Karachi when a bomb exploded outside their hotel. Their trainer was hurt by flying glass, and the game was subsequently called off. Their captain, Stephen Fleming, expressed his astonishment at how the city (which had undergone a decade of sectarian bloodshed) went about its business in the aftermath.
But this is a different era. These days, London is also a victim, and it is easy to forget that the 2005 Ashes and the 2017 Champions Trophies were played in England following terrorist attacks in the city.
The PCB must go above and above because it cannot afford anything to go wrong. There are numerous reminders of what may go wrong if you want to seek them. In this series, Ahsan Raza is serving as one of the umpires. He will show you the gunshot wounds he sustained during the 2009 terrorist attack on the Test in Lahore.
The nation’s governing body has ambitious goals for the coming years. It is launching a Women’s Super League and courting prominent investors, in addition to a Pakistan Junior League in which 66 under-19 players from around the world will compete in a Twenty20 competition in Lahore.
Approximately 175 international players have enrolled for this draught, including ten from England, including leg-spinners Archie Lenham and Rehan Ahmed. The expectation is that this will be the first of many journeys to Pakistan by this generation of players and that over time the PCB will be able to peel back these security layers so that by the end of their young careers, Pakistan will be a destination comparable to any other.