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Hassan Cheema

Questions linger after landmark series

If everything beyond the Nishtar Park Complex is ignored Pakistan can still host series, and perform better than they do anywhere else in the world. But is that a price the fans, and visiting teams, are willing to pay?

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
Pakistan fans make their intentions loud and clear, Pakistan v Zimbabwe, 2nd ODI, Lahore, May 29, 2015

An oasis in the desert or a start of something bigger?  •  Associated Press

It started as everyone would have hoped it to - a packed house, goosebumps and Pakistan playing on home soil. It ended as so few would have expected it to - an unseasonal rainstorm drowning the Gaddafi, and forcing the twenty odd thousand present there to find shelter where there was none. Cricket had come home, but so had everything that stops cricket.
The success of this series is difficult to determine. A fortnight during which, in Pakistani eyes, nothing big happened was worth the hassles it brought. There had been six checkposts and a kilometre long walk leading up to the Gaddafi for the first four games. On Sunday, for the third ODI, the number of checkposts was increased and the walk doubled. And still the stadium was sold out. The fans continued to come in droves even when their treatment was anything but fair. The PCB can sell that as a success.
But the viewpoint of the local populace doesn't really matter in the larger scheme of things. For them the fact that the attacker on Friday could not even clear the first line of defence would be seen as a success. This, after all is a country where apathy often gets confused with resilience and which is so used to such incidents that a low death toll can be considered a "success" - however disgusting that idea might seem from afar. The PCB had attempted normalcy but Friday was a reminder that at the very edge of everything they hold dear still stood those who make this society abnormal.
What will matter, though, is the perception beyond Pakistan's borders. The attempt to suppress what had happened and then failure to spin it positively when the truth was revealed will be all that is remembered. And for that Pakistanis will continue to blame everyone but themselves.
But I digress - let's leave the security matters to the security men.
For Pakistan the cricket team this series was a positive in most cases. They got their T20 team back on a winning track and the ODI team showed a template that the rest of the world employs often but is considered revolutionary for Pakistan. It also allowed Azhar Ali to grow as the leader of the team, Shoaib Malik to make a successful comeback and youngsters the chance which their predecessors have not had - an opportunity to wreak havoc against a mediocre bowling attack on pitches that they know like the back of their hands. What Mukhtar Ahmed and Babar Azam have done in this series is what home debutants are supposed to do in the modern game.
The bowling was a concern. The persistence with Mohammad Sami bordered on the ridiculous. Of course, that line has been written many a times over the past decade, to no effect, so expect Sami to continue to make comebacks till Ragnarök. Wahab Riaz's continued maturation into the leader of this attack continues, but beyond that, the suit that Pakistanis have always relied on is in need of repair; at least until the platoon of injured fast bowlers returns.
Then there were the Zimbabweans, who towards the end almost looked embarrassed by the continuous and countless thank yous they had received in their fortnight here. For a moment Elton Chigumbura almost became a cult hero, something I am sure he would have achieved completely if he had played all the matches. More than once, in every match, the chants of "Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe" echoed around the grand stadium - a reminder from the people of the gratitude they felt. The image of a beaming Hamilton Masakadza, a turban on his head, was always what the PCB had wanted this series to end with. That it happened in front of an empty stadium with drizzle in the air was a reminder that even the best laid plans can't foresee everything.
The questions for Pakistan that remained before this series will remain - both the country and the team haven't really learnt much beyond what they already knew. If everything beyond the borders of the Nishtar Park Complex is ignored Pakistan can still host series, and perform better than they do anywhere else in the world. But is that a price the fans, and visiting teams, are willing to pay? That question will define the legacy of this tour.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag