Not many foreign players have experienced their names being chanted as vociferously as Darren Sammy’s was on multiple occasions in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) Season 2 finale at the Gaddafi Stadium on Sunday.
It might also be because the jam-packed stadium took Sammy to be one of theirs. Sammy was of course designated as the home captain for the final, since Peshawar Zalmi were supposed to be the home team for the coin toss.
And yet it was Sammy’s overseas identity that was at the heart of everything he achieved on Sunday, including an 11-ball 28 that eventually catapulted Zalmi to 148, batting first.
Once it was announced that the PSL final was going to be held in Lahore, the actual play was always going to take the backseat. It was “more than cricket” as Sammy put it perfectly in the post-match conference.
If all went smoothly, cricket would win, Pakistan would win. But there was only one man who was going to lead cricket and Pakistan to victory. And like a true leader Sammy did everything he could, and then some, to orchestrate the triumph.
He did it all: from selfies with the ground staff, laps around the stadium in an SSG cap, dancing on stage amidst Overload’s dhamaal with Hasan Ali and Kamran Akmal, then going on to demonstrate his big hitting and then the epic celebration with his teammates once the on-field result was sealed.
This wasn’t a man fulfilling his contractual obligation to participate in a three-hour cricket game. Sammy knew exactly what was at stake for us all. It was almost as if he’d been with us every moment throughout the past eight years. And he was willing to single-handedly get us out of it.
But he wasn’t alone in it. Marlon Samuels, the Man of the Match in the finals of both the World T20 triumphs that Sammy has spearheaded for the West Indies was there. And so were the two Englishmen Dawid Malan and Chris Jordon, at a time when the entire English contingent of the Quetta Gladiators had decided against travelling to Lahore.
Then there were the Gladiators foreign roster as well, who played an equally significant part. West Indian Rayad Emrit was arguably the pick of Quetta’s players and the pacer would be inviting bids from the world over, based on his bowling displays in the final.
While the Gladiators were without their foreign stars, Zalmi were without their superstar as well. But every glimpse of Shahid Afridi on the big screen was cheered like a massive six over long on by the crowd inside the stadium.
On Sunday all larger-than-life clichés did converge at the Gaddafi Stadium and they all did come true. Pakistan did loudly and proudly manifest its unity and diversity for the world to see.
Teams from Peshawar and Quetta played out a final in Lahore in front of thousands of fans supporting either team’s jersey. And both teams had their contingent of Lahore boys – one of them, Kamran Akmal, bagging the Man of the Tournament award – as well, to make it a truly national event, with manifestations of all the pluralism that the nation often fails to reciprocate outside the cricket stadium.
All eyes on Sunday night, however, were inside it. If what transpired inside can be reciprocated outside, international cricket will be back in Pakistan for good. And that won’t be the extent of Pakistan’s successes as a nation.
Naturally there is hope that more matches – at the very least – from next year’s PSL would be played in Pakistan. We already have news of a World XI playing four T20s in Lahore. This was a day after the PSL final.
When international cricket does formally come back to Pakistan there will be one man this national would perpetually be grateful to.
Years from now, every time an international team’s visit results in jam-packed stadia, there will always be Pakistanis thanking him.
Peshawar has a new leader. Pakistan has a new hero. Thank you, Darren Sammy for leading Pakistan cricket towards his biggest triumph.