The PSL Opening Ceremony witnessed cricket greats as well as stars from all walks of entertainment, flown in to support their teams.
No matter which team won, the victory would be Pakistan’s. This is the incredible feeling with which the Pakistan Super League kicked off on February 4 in Dubai. And this is my account of events that led up to the Opening Ceremony at Dubai Stadium.
Ali Zafar with Shaniera Akram and Frieha Altaf
PSL on ground looked like a celebration more than a competition. Carlton Hotel – where the teams were staying – was a panorama of bright uniforms, all five of them speckling the area cheerfully. Scheduled to leave for the Dubai Stadium at 5pm for the opening ceremony, the players had started assembling in the lobby, surrounded by hyperactive Pakistani cricket fans, who didn’t shy away from running after their favourite players for a picture. Selfie after selfie was being obliged, even though everyone was running late and there was no time to lose.
A long drive led us to the Stadium, where the ceremony had already started by the time we got there. And instead of patiently queuing up to enter, we decided to walk our way over the stadium. No one had warned us that the area was surrounded by sand and gravel and the walk would make us feel like camels trekking the desert. That’s what we were and my heart went out to Zara Shahjahan, who had been ‘advised’ to dress up for the ceremony and therefore was wearing her high-heeled Louboutins. She obviously considered them more precious than her feet because she decided to walk barefoot, risking glass, nails, rocks and all sorts of construction site debris.
Hamza Ali Abbasi with Ammara Hikmat
It was all worth it because the intensity with which we obsess over cricket was reverberated by the hundreds of thousands of spectators that had assembled for the ceremony and first match between Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators. The Pakistani flag waved from box to box, illuminated wristbands sparkled from the stands and every now and then the crowd would break into song and dance.
Cricket and PSL fans must have witnessed the actual ceremony on television – introduction to the teams, Sean Paul’s act and Ali Zafar’s performance followed by a bedazzling display of fireworks – but what one gets to see and hear in the booths (especially the VIP booth) was a value added experience. The stars Ali Z, Fawad, Hamza were so involved in the entire razzmatazz around them, and so engrossed in the cricket that they were as star struck as the cricket fan. It all led to a celebrity overdose. While the cricket stars did the customary rounds on field, the booths hummed with energy from the entertainers.
Ali Zafar came up after his performance. He’s composed and sung the PSL anthem as well as the Islamabad United song and was in high spirits despite not being too happy to see his team lose the first match. Fawad Khan was there with his wife Sadaf and son Ayyan, who is a Ranvir Singh fan and gave us a step-by-step, perfectly choreographed rendition of ‘Malhari’ from Bajirao Mastani. He loves RS (even has the same haircut) but when I asked him who dances better – Fawad or Ranveer – he replied “baba” without a second’s hesitation. How many of us would mind seeing a dance-off between Fawad and Ranveer?
The Peshawer Zalmi team was out in full force. Shahid Afridi – who manages to make the crowd roar every time he as much as steps on to the field – came in with over 140 children of the Army Public School in Peshawar. “Overwhelmed wth joy on welcoming#APS students2Dubai.The twinkle in their eyes sparks a ray of hope within.Content in fulfilling the promise,” (sic) he tweeted. And won a couple of hundred thousand more hearts. The big Zalmi controversy was whether Humaima Malick was an official Ambassador or not. She was there but she wasn’t in her team’s gear or colours. She wasn’t even photographed with her counterpart, Hamza Ali Abbasi, even though she did manage to catch a few shots with some cricketers. Rumour had it that Shahid Afridi was unhappy with her representing the team but it couldn’t be confirmed.
Ali Zafar, me, Fawad Khan.
With Yasir Hussain and Sanam Saeed at the mike and Ali Zafar, Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malick, Ayesha Omar, Faakhir, Frieha Altaf, Shaniera Akram, Zara Shahjahan and basically anyone associated with a team present in support, the opening ceremony was quite the place to be. The question on everyone’s mind: how soon before PSL can be hosted in Pakistan? And that would need to be soon, very soon, for the tournament to reach its full potential! This inauguration gave one hope that it’s not impossible!