Cricket fever takes hold of Lahore
By Fasih Ahmed
LAHORE: The Indian cricket team is expected to arrive here today on their first full tour of Pakistan in some 15 years. Excitement has wrapped its arms around the city.
On Monday, the city government demolished the stalls, shops and kiosks around Gaddafi Stadium as a security precaution. Officials have made it known that most streets would be closed to allow safe passage for the Indian visitors and all venues combed for explosive devices. More than 2,500 policemen will be on hand to provide security fit for heads of state, said the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman.
“Neither the Pakistan nor Indian team will be allowed to go anywhere except the grounds and their hotel,” said Chairman Sheharyar Khan, adding that entertainment for the visitors would be provided at their hotel. The visitors will be welcomed at a state dinner hosted by either Governor Khalid Maqbool or Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, he said.
The extensive security arrangements being put in place across the city have done little to dampen the enthusiasm pulsing through Lahore.
The 20 percent of all tickets made available online have been sold out. (Mr Elahi purchased five of them on the Internet.) 16,000 tickets will be available for each of the Lahore matches one week ahead of the games. Cricket board officials expect these to be sold out within hours. For the unlucky, the city is making other concessions.
Giant television screens are being put up at Racecourse Park and the Minar-e-Pakistan to allow people who are unable to get tickets chance to catch the games, said Chief Secretary of the Punjab Kamran Rasool on Tuesday. The city government is looking into whether such screens can also be installed at other venues, he said.
Like other residents here, Qasim Tiwana is happy to see ties between both countries improving. “I’m really looking forward to it,” said the Lahore-based event manager. “I’m sure they’ll love our singers and the sights we have to offer, like the Old City and the Minar-e-Pakistan,” said Mr Tiwana.
“I don’t know if the Old City will be so exciting for them,” said Jalal Salahuddin, who also runs an event management company in Lahore. “They’re coming from Delhi after all, not Australia.” Mr Salahuddin says the Indian team should be taken around to private homes so they can be shown “just how liberal Pakistan really is”.
Madeeha Gauhar of Ajoka Theatre Company suggests the Indian team play a match with street children. She also wants the team to attend the first Indo-Pakistan theatre festival her group has organised this month. “It’s important for sports and cultural activists to show solidarity,” she said. Ms Gauhar’s 15-year-old son, a cricket fanatic, has been badgering her to get tickets for the matches. “So far, no luck,” she said.
Vendors in the Walled City say the tour of the Indians would be incomplete without a visit to Food Street. “We hope that the Indian visitors will enjoy our traditional hospitality,” Muhammad Aslam, a shopkeeper in Anarkali, told AFP.
According to reports, Islamabad has issued some 8,200 visas to Indians, including 120 to Indian journalists. The wire service reported that hotels in the city are booked solid and that their prices have shot up five times the usual rate.