KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistan's biggest city will witness a high-profile cricket match for the first time in nine years on Sunday when the Pakistan Super League final is staged amid heavy security at a newly renovated National Stadium in Karachi.
More than 8,000 security personnel have been deployed for the Twenty20 final between Islamabad United and last year's champions Peshawar Zalmi.
Karachi, now with a population of 15 million, last saw a major game with international players in February 2009 — Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan in a test match.
On the same tour, terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus at Lahore. On March 3, 2009, the bus carrying the visiting cricketers, part of a large convoy, was fired upon by 12 gunmen near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. They were on their way to play the third day of the second test against Pakistan, and six Pakistan policemen and two civilians were killed, and six members of the Sri Lanka team were injured.
That resulted in an end to international cricket in the country, and the Pakistan Cricket Board was left with no choice but to choose United Arab Emirates as its "home" turf to host international teams.
However, the PCB continued in its efforts to convince foreign nations to begin touring Pakistan. Lahore first hosted the PSL final last year, and there were Twenty20 international matches organized against a World XI (three matches) and Sri Lanka (one).
But a reluctance from some international PSL players to play in Pakistan remains. The preliminary PSL matches were played at Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates
Australian Shane Watson (Quetta Gladiators) and Englishmen Eoin Morgan (Karachi) and Kevin Pietersen (Quetta) all refused to accompany their respective franchises to Lahore earlier this week for two PSL eliminators.
The absence of the top stars hurt both franchises and drew an angry response from Gladiators coach and former Pakistan captain Moin Khan.
"We, in the coming season, should only pick players who have the consent to visit Pakistan," Moin said after losing the first eliminator against Zalmi.
"We do not need to push for individuality as our league has now become a bigger brand ... we don't need to get these players who don't want to come to Pakistan. In fact, this is hurting Pakistan as it is sending a negative signal and affects our country's image as well."
The provincial administration in Karachi has put up in place stringent security arrangements for Sunday's final. Spectators might have to wait in long queues hours before the evening final and will get into the stadium only after going through at least three security checkpoints.
But the city is giving a festive look to welcome foreign players like Peshawar Zalmi's Darren Sammy of West Indies and Chris Jordan of England, and South African J.P. Duminy and New Zealand's Luke Ronchi of Islamabad United.
Billboards and player cut-outs have been displayed on the sides of main streets to celebrate an international-standard game for the first time in nearly a decade.
Sammy has become a household name in Pakistan — especially the way he has carried Zalmi to the final after playing four successive matches with a leg injury.
"Yes Karachi we're coming," Sammy said in a video message. "I want you all to come and support Peshawar Zalmi. I want everybody to wear the yellow shirt, it's a yellow storm, we're coming."