GeneralDoes Karachi Hate Cricket?

Does Karachi Hate Cricket?

The short answer is – no, we don’t.

The longer answer starts somewhere in the several hundred cricket matches that sprout from the ground throughout the city as soon as the day cools down into evening. At one point, so many neighborhood kids started ringing our doorbell on a daily basis to extract their cricket balls that had ended up in our garden that my grandfather had to devise a script to keep them away: Beta, main BP ka mareez hoon. Baar baar iss tarah ghanti ki awaaz pe uth ke nahi aa sakta.

A few days ago, I’m sitting in a cafe on campus, studying for an exam. On the table in front of me, a group of boys are watching a daytime PSL match, complaining about the glitches in the stream. When the match gets held up by a boy disrupting Pindi stadium by flying a kite, the boys in front of me break into an impassioned debate about who should open for Pakistan in T20s – one of them says Saim and Babar, the other says Rizwan and Haris (and also gifts Rizwan the captaincy in his hypothesis). There is no other option but Babar. The other says no, Babar should come one-down, with Sahibzada Farhan to follow. Frustrated, his friend says, tumhara bas chale tou tum Shahid Afridi ko bhi khilaa lou.

Last September, when India and Sri Lanka clash in the final of the Asia Cup, I’m out shopping, and my phone has run out of data, so I can’t really check the score. All I need to do to get the score, however, is to say the word “score” or “match” out loud in the vicinity of a shopkeeper, who is updated nine times out of ten.

When I was nine years old, Pakistan played India in that World Cup semi-final in Mohali. Someone living in my apartment complex set up a huge screen in the parking lot for everyone to watch together – and later cry. Did it choke up the entire parking mechanism for the whole day? Of course.

Once, I saw a waiter forget to reach the table he was going towards because he got distracted by the TV, watching Muneeba Ali open the batting versus South Africa.

I went to an all-girls school where we played a lot of sports, but not so much cricket. In the third grade, my friends and I decided to change that. We only ever got a fifteen-minute lunch break, so once, we brought bats and balls to school and spent ten of those minutes deciding who would bat and bowl. To make things easier for everyone else, I decided to be the umpire – I was just happy to be there. We weren’t allowed to bring bats for much longer after that.

Once, before last year’s World Cup, a friend of mine who doesn’t watch cricket at all brought me one of those special cricket Pepsi bottles with Naseem on the label and said, this is the one who’s injured, right? (I may have cried).

All of these might just mean nothing – after all, they are just incidents more about me than about cricket. And of course, someone who watches more cricket matches in a week than she has real conversations with real people will notice all the cricket around her, in every eavesdropped conversation and gully cricket match and every seven-year-old boy who is forced to umpire when he just really wants to bat. But all of these things happened to me, and all of these observations I made while living in this city – in the busy and annoying and throbbing heart of it. If you don’t pay attention, you may just simply not notice all the cricket around you. But I do.

Karachi is the only city I have ever lived in – and twenty-two years is a long enough time, I think, to know a city. And Karachi doesn’t hate cricket, that much I can tell you.

Then why does it act like it? Why does Karachi – this city of teenage analysts and ambitious players and self-proclaimed pundits, this city that loves cricket so much – never show up? The barren stands in the later stages of this year’s PSL has everyone up in arms about Karachi’s lack of participatory power in cricket. Give the games to a more deserving crowd, they say; give the cricket to the people who care about it.

But only those who live here – those who know the systemic and structural and logistical rot that has irretrievably spread throughout the foundation of the city know that things that should be simple, straightforward, and joyful just end up being difficult, complicated, and painful here. Those who live here know that cricket season often means that there are important roads and thoroughfares put out of service for at least some part of a day to let the teams go through. Those who live here know that getting to the premises of the stadium itself is a tougher sport to crack than cricket. The allotted parking is never consistent – it changes almost every series and every league, and sometimes in the middle. The allotted parking is never near the stadium itself – so you might have to walk. A lot. If you make it, you might be barred from entering your enclosure from its actual gate, so you might have to walk a bit more.

And after all of that, once you’ve crossed the barriers and made it to your seats, the view might suck a little.

My city loves cricket. It offends me when people accuse it of not doing that – when people accuse us of being nonchalant or lacking in spirit or lacking in passion. If there is one truth I know, it is that Karachi loves cricket. The cricket – or those in charge of it, at least – might not reciprocate the feelings, though. What Karachi needs, then, is a little bit of love it gives out in return. We need better stadium facilities, stronger and more convenient infrastructure, and a little bit of stability in administration. On a grander, less material level, we need to not fear for our lives when we leave home so that we don’t have to meet more security guards than family members every day. We need cricket in Karachi to love us the way we love it – in sickness and in health, in sweeping wins or last-over defeats, in ease and inconvenience.

Possibly the saddest thing about this is that the average cricket fan can’t fix any of it – never on their own, at least. These problems need structural upheaval and for someone in authority to have a true, genuine desire to give this city what it deserves.

Until then, however, you can pry the National Bank Stadium Karachi and its paltry but passionate crowds out of my cold, dead hands. We are a very dheet city, and we’re not going anywhere.

The author

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