Originally written for Dawn Blogs, published February 25, 2016: http://www.dawn.com/news/1241842/falling-on-my-face-and-other-hurdles-how-i-nearly-missed-the-psl-final
If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, it is to watch a cricket match live in the stadium — I’ve been a cricket buff for as long as I can remember and I follow the game closely.
The recently concluded Pakistan Super League had me excited and proud. For the sake of my cricket-starved country, I wanted the PSL to shine, to be amongst the best leagues in the world, to be the league all the international stars yearn to get into.
Even though my favourite Zalmi and Afridi were out of the tournament, I still liked the gutsy Moin Khan-esque Sarfaraz Ahmed and was hoping that Quetta would win.
So, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to go and watch the PSL final at Dubai International Stadium.
My sister and her family had flown in from New York especially to watch the match and had one extra VIP ticket — it was fate. After settling the kids down at home, I set off for Dubai Sports City at around 7:30pm.
The drive was fairly smooth and my best friend Google ensured that I was on the right track.
As the beautiful lit-up stadium came into view, I called my sister who was already inside and told her that I had arrived and would soon be joining them. Little did I know.
As I neared the exit for Dubai Sports City, the traffic came to a standstill. The queue was extremely long and many people resigned to just parking their cars in the sand on the right and walking to the stadium because the match had already started.
After being stuck, for around 20 minutes, I realised that even if I did cross the exit and get into the stadium area, finding a parking spot there would be near impossible.
So I swung the car to the right and entered the sandy area where thousands of cars were already parked.
I could see the stadium a little farther ahead of where I was. I took relief in the fact that if so many people had parked here, there was probably a way to walk to it too.
As I measured my options, I realised that I would either have to walk along the main road (easily a 35-40 minute walk) or find a shortcut to the stadium from the sandy parking area.
None of the options seemed exciting — the road did not have a sidewalk so it felt dangerous to walk alongside the heavy traffic, and the sandy area had no lights and looked pretty scary.
I took a deep breath and finally decided to follow a group of men nearby, who were also trying to find a shortcut to the cricket stadium.
Only a short while later, a big fence cut off our progress. But one of them inspected it carefully and found a spot where the fence was half bent and jumped over it easily. The others followed suit.
Realising there was no other way except jumping over, I, too, gathered my flowing chiffon top (green, of course) and decided to go for it. Shaking, both because of how challenging it seemed and because of my company that night, no one was more surprised than I when I made it to the other side.
Just as I went over, I heard one of the guys say that their tickets were at the East side.
Mine’s premium West, I thought to myself and felt faint: I had left my ticket in the car!
I made the jump again and this time I nearly ripped my jeans because a pointy bit of the fence got stuck in the side pocket. Now began the process of trying to find my car in the big sandy jumble of vehicles. I traced my steps back and to my utter horror, my car was nowhere to be found.
Alone in the dark and eerie parking lot, which was in the middle of nowhere, with scores of people who didn’t even look remotely friendly and with a car that was lost, I wondered if the cricket match was worth it at all.
I decided to drive back home — as soon as I found that dratted car.
Just then, coming out of the darkness, I saw a lady in a long white skirt leaning on the arm of a man. “Oh come on, Rano, walk a little faster. And I told you not to wear a skirt and heels!” he told her.
Rano looked as desperate as I felt. Then, just as suddenly, I spotted my car and I rushed over, grabbed the ticket and followed the couple.
“Err,” I began uncomfortably. I told them that my family was inside and that I had to get to the stadium, asking if I could walk with them.
The couple was sweet and happy to let me tag along. I gladly did so, relieved that I hadn’t already left.
When we arrived at the first fence, the man, Hassan helped Rano and then they both helped me. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, had I not forgotten my ticket, I would never have run into the helpful duo.
On the other side of the fence, things looked pretty grim. There was a humongous construction pit on the ground, and that was the reason a fence had been put up in the first place. I’m terribly scared of heights and here I had to walk on the narrow path by this huge pit.
Another fence! I swallowed the lump in my throat and ploughed on resolutely, not looking left or right. Rano landed on the other side of the second fence with some help from Hassan. Thanking God that I was wearing sneakers, I, too, crossed the hurdle, sweating and exhausted.
I wondered how much longer we would have to walk in the dark. It seemed as though the stadium was moving farther away from us, and for one long moment, I wondered if we were even going in the right direction. But Hassan was confident that all was well, and so, on we went.
Ten minutes later, the night air brought a welcome sound to my ears. We could hear the faraway noise of a national song, which I surmised to be ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’.
My heart leapt with joy — we were close.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.
In front of us, not more than a ten-minute walk away was the entrance to the Dubai International Stadium. Quite a sight for sore eyes. But just then my phone rang (the family had been calling all this time and had called again to get an update on my progress).
In answering the phone, I missed a gutter along the road. It was covered thankfully, but the cover jutted out at a strange angle and wham! I fell flat on my face on the road.
Hassan and Rano helped a dishevelled me up and I let out a groan as my knee began to throb. Gladly I was okay except for minor scrapes. I walked along carefully now.
At last, we walked into the entrance and showed our tickets. We were seated in different places, so I thanked the lovely couple and found my family.
What I saw next just blew me away!
It was a real cricket match, just like on TV, only better and clearer. Ahmed Shehzad had just hit a four and the crowd had gone crazy.
People were wearing Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United jerseys and screaming and signalling four, swaying from side to side.
If I had any doubts at the parking lot about the match being worth it, I had none now: the atmosphere was electric.
A young Quetta Gladiators fan.
The next three hours just flew past. I followed the game closely but the side I was supporting (Quetta) lost, thanks to Islamabad’s great batting.
The energy and the vibe of the crowd were infectious. I’ve heard of people having a passion for the game but this one I embodied in a way that I had never imagined.
Crazy as it was, my experience of watching my first match live was truly memorable and I would definitely go again.
When a mother of three, all alone at night, save for a strange couple, jumps over fences thrice to watch a league final, you know the PSL has made it.