After nine years with no cricket of comparable magnitude, Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, is gearing up to host the Pakistan Super League final. This is the second major venue after Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium to host a high-profile game in recent years, and it is considered a crucial step on the long road to reviving international cricket in the country.
The final between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi will be played at the National Stadium and the entire route from the hotel to the stadium will be lined with guards from Pakistan's paramilitary force, the Rangers, and the Sindh police. A full house (around 33,000) is expected, with tickets sold out hours after they were released. There is a three-tier security layer, heavily guarded by security forces. Deputy Inspector General Traffic Imran Yaqoob Minhas, while addressing a press conference, said a total of 8500 police personnel will be deployed around the stadium for the match.
The landscape of the city has changed drastically over the last nine years and the law and order situation has improved significantly. Karachi still remains the venue of the last completed Test match in Pakistan, a few days before the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore.
Karachi is generally viewed as a more challenging city in terms of its law-and-order situation, and providing a complete security plan, what with the nearest hotel being at least 12 km from the National Stadium, is harder than it is in Lahore.
The stadium is situated in the centre of the city, and all major routes from all four directions that connect with the stadium will be closed for the general public. The two biggest hospitals of the city, Agha Khan and Liaquat National, are located close to the stadium, but the roads leading to them will be open. A shuttle service will be in place to take fans from the parking area to the stadium gates. The flow of traffic is likely to be reduced, but a strict directive has been issued to follow the day's plan to avoid congestion. The fact that the game will be held on Sunday will help.
"It's a big occasion for Karachi and the whole country," said Rashid Latif, the former Pakistan wicketkeeper who is now team director at Karachi Kings. "I am very much thankful to the PCB for making this possible. This was a much-needed step because you cannot revive cricket by playing at one venue. It's important to involve at least three or four cities to get this going. Otherwise, you cannot have a positive impact. Karachi is a huge city and I cannot explain in words how big this would be for us and for this country.
"We have played a month in Dubai and Sharjah but we actually felt the intensity when cricket came to Lahore for the playoffs. We realised how people are hungry for cricket and how desperate they are to have cricket back in their stadiums. This is huge for fans; they are really passionate about the game and during isolation we have suffered a lot in world of cricket.
"I think the security is somewhat overdone. I don't want to be critical but I feel security should be given to the foreigners only, not to us. When we were in Lahore for playoffs, even local players and officials were restricted from going out freely. So this shouldn't be the case because this will give off a bad impression among the overseas players."
The security protocols are being overseen by international security consultant Reg Dickason who has praised the "remarkably thorough" security arrangements for the final, saying they were "as good as I have seen in all my years".
The PCB plans to bring a major chunk of the next edition of the PSL to Pakistan, with at least three venues hosting more than 15 games in total. "We plan to have half of the PSL next year in Pakistan," Najam Sethi, the PSL chairman, said on Friday. "But for that, we need four stadiums. As of now, we have Lahore, Karachi and Multan ready to host big matches, so now our focus is on preparing the stadiums of Rawalpindi and Peshawar. We've been working day and night to bring international cricket back to the country."