© Getty Images
© Getty Images

The horror stories of March 3, 2009 have been recounted so many times that it seems almost unnecessary to reproduce here (who wants to relive them anyway?). We, the fans, had followed the incident on satellite television, texting anxiously to find out the fate of our stars and on-field tormentors. I clearly remember looking everywhere frantically for updates on Ajantha Mendis — less than a year after he had helped Sri Lanka defeat India in a Test series.

Cricket had been pushed back to irrelevance that day by humanity following a heinous attack by a dozen human beings. There had been guns and grenades, and even a rocket that had missed the bus. And today, over eight years later after the Lahore nightmare, cricket has helped mankind shove terrorism into an obscure — irretrievable, hopefully — background.

Lahore was where it had happened eight years back. Lahore was where the Zimbabweans had arrived in May 2015, marking the return of international cricket in Pakistan. And Lahore will be where the ICC World XI will play every single match of their upcoming tour.

A lot had happened in these 8 years. During this period Pakistan had nine international captains. They won a World T20 that year. Teams refused to tour them for the Champions Trophy the same year. They were hit by spot-fixing the next summer. They were denied the chance to co-host a World Cup in 2011. They lost bowlers due to allegations of suspect actions. Nazam Sethi and Zaka Ashraf continued to play musical chairs. By 2016 they became World No. 1 in Test cricket. In 2017 they, the lowest-ranked side, lifted the Champions Trophy. Waves of corruption hit them again. And Shahid Afridi retired a few times.

In other words, Pakistan cricket did not stop being Pakistan cricket over these eight years: there was chaos and pandemonium and illegal money-making, interspersed with dizzying heights and embarrassing lows on the field.

Pakistan had reached the top spot despite not playing at home. They did this after Saeed Ajmal, their finest spinner and the greatest cricketer to have never played a home Test, got banned. This is not a fact that can be overlooked. Their captain was, if I may remind you, past 42; their top batsman, perhaps the greatest in their history, was not too far behind. Three men debuted for them during the Champions Trophy they won.

No, these are not highs any other side has achieved in the history of the sport. And yet, the fans back home, the ones who could not afford a ticket to watch a match outside the country, were deprived of such feats.

Cricket never returned properly to Pakistan in 2009. This is not the kind of return they would have wanted to, but this is what they will have to do with — now.

You cannot blame other nations for refusing to tour Pakistan after the attack at Liberty Square. But then, you may also raise a valid point. Didn’t England play a Test at Chennai a fortnight after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai? True, they went back, but didn’t they return? Of course, it could be argued that Chennai and Mumbai are over a thousand kilometres apart…

But then, hadn’t England toured Pakistan in 1968-69? Hadn’t they stayed put in Ceylon playing practice matches, waiting for the right time to go to Pakistan for a quick 3-Test tour amidst riots and (promises of) security?

Hadn’t England’s 1984-85 tour gone ahead despite Percy Norris, the British Deputy High Commissioner of Bombay was gunned down. The Test had started the day after at Wankhede Stadium, a mile away from the incident…

Martin Crowe had witnessed the 1992-93 Colombo blast himself. He later recalled the horror of limbless corpses (shreds of white uniform still clung to them) amidst their entrails, soaked in a seemingly infinite pool of blood. It had taken place in front of the Taj Sundara Hotel, where the players were put up. The tour went ahead despite six men opting to return home immediately.

Yes, international cricket tours have gone on despite terrorist attacks. Pakistan had themselves ‘hosted’ Tests in Colombo and Sharjah in the early years of the millennium. Unfortunately, things were never the same since 2009.

Cricket has been restricted to the television and the internet. No, the mercurial geniuses who conjure pace with tape ball in their salwar-kameez cannot flock to the grounds to witness Sarfraz Ahmed lead his men out against an international side.

A generation of cricket talents (and they do produce talents in Pakistan as frequently as anywhere else in the world) was denied an opportunity to cheer for their heroes for no fault of theirs.

True, they did get to see a PSL final in Lahore, but it is not the same, is it?

They also had Zimbabwe, who had shown tremendous courage in 2015 when others had refused to. Zimbabwe knew what was at stake, for they had been through isolation as well. Things had actually been worse for them, for there was no Dubai or Sharjah or Abu Dhabi to call a home away from home.

Perhaps this World XI tour may change things. It has to. Even if it does not, there will be history in the making, for ICC has granted the matches international status.

There will also be quality cricket on the offering. Things have changed since that 2005-06 Super Series when the ICC World XI was flattened by Australia. The idea, though novel, turned out to be a fiasco, and had to be scrapped.

This will be different, for cricketers are most used to play alongside others from different nations anymore. Too many T20 leagues are being played these days (just pick two random letters and add L at the end, and there is a chance that you have named a league). While the concept may be repetitive, it cannot be denied that Samuel Badree and Imran Tahir know more of each other than they would have done in the pre-franchise era.

No, there is no doubt that the cricket will be intense, tough, and outstanding. There will be that extra effort to set the tone of cricket in Pakistan. There will also be the touch of history.

Think about it: do you want to regret missing out on the terrific match that would mark the return of international cricket on Pakistan soil — and live with that for a lifetime?

Wouldn’t that be stupidity?