THE Zimbabwe national cricket team was pampered with royal treatment by the government of Pakistan, cricket officials and the general populace of Lahore during its 12-day visit which ended on Monday.
Zimbabwe’s visit to Pakistan faced many challenges but once there players and officials who traveled to the Asian country arrived they were convinced it was worth it.
When the team arrived on May 18 the country almost came to a standstill; the city of Lahore was particularly frenzied at the prospect of the return of international cricket.
When news broke that Zimbabwe had arrived news channels hit the streets of Lahore to get a feel of the excitement, and many of the fans were so overwhelmed they wept.
Cricket fans of the nation that worships the game had endured six years without seeing their team ply its trade on home soil — since the gun attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in the same city.
And once Zimbabwe touched down every member of the team became an instant hero, attaining A-list celebrity status.
Whilst the Pakistan Cricket Board officials feted the Zimbabweans like kings, fans demanded their pictures and autographs.
The team was treated to four welcome dinners, several gifts and had to forgo a trip to Islamabad where the country’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, had invited them to yet another one in appreciation of the gesture they had shown.
There was a stampede to spoil the Zimbabweans and ZC officials, overwhelmed by the princely treatment, were left with a lot of homework on how they would reciprocate when Pakistan visits Zimbabwe in August as expected.
When it came down to serious business on the field of play, barring the sweltering heat of around 42 degrees Celsius it never felt like an away match for the players, what with the fans chanting “Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe” at the slightest opportunity.
After the explosion outside Lahores’s Gaddafi stadium police chiefs came to address the players and reassure them about their security.
“You people are our heroes and we are treating you as such,” Amin Wains, the Capital City Police Officer of Lahore told the players. “We have never paid so much attention to anybody in this country. You have done so much for the cricket of this country and we are not sleeping just to ensure you are safe.”
Zimbabwe Cricket board chairman Wilson Manase said he was overwhelmed by the VVIP treatment.
“These people have done a lot for us on this tour,” said Manase while in Pakistan. “We are so humbled; I do not even want to think how heartbroken they would have been had we decided against touring.”
This week Manase addressed a press conference where he insisted Zimbabwe had done the right thing to tour Pakistan as a return for a favour they received during their time in isolation.
“The players were well looked after, the Pakistan people invested a lot in it. They had thousands of soldiers and police looking after the team. I have never seen anything like that in my life. I also sat with the president of the country for the first T-20 throughout the match and surely if it was not secure their president would not have watched the whole match.”