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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With more than 40 test matches and a World Cup final on its half-century long resume, Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium was the epicenter of Pakistani cricket until 2009, when a group of terrorists ambushed the visiting Sri Lankan national team just as their convoy was about to arrive here. The Sri Lankans’ quick-thinking bus driver continued through a hail of gunfire to the relative safety of Gaddafi Stadium. The driver of an accompanying vehicle in the convoy wasn’t as lucky; he was among the eight killed. Pakistani military helicopters landed on the playing field to evacuate the Sri Lankan team to safety, but international cricket has not returned to Pakistan since the last helicopter took off from here.
Somehow, life goes on. Pakistan’s national team has established a de facto home-away-from-home in the United Arab Emirates. The Pakistan Cricket Board still keeps its headquarters at Gaddafi, and the venue remains well cared for. Due in part to the attack, Pakistani domestic cricket mostly missed out on the global domestic cricket boom ushered in by the Indian Premier League, but various high-level domestic leagues do indeed exist, and most call Gaddafi home.
We set out to review Gaddafi Stadium from the perspective of an average cricket fan attending a match in the Gold League of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan’s highest List A league. We turned up for the final day of the four-day match. Sadly, the gates were locked, and multiple security guards turned us away.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Pepsi logos that were just barely visible on certain sections of seats through the locked gates tempted us, but alas, the match was closed to the public.
Kudos to organizers for manning a full scoreboard for the sole benefit of the players on the field. Beyond that, well, the weather was nice. Unfortunately, a match played behind closed doors doesn't have much of an atmosphere.
Three major stadiums, a noteworthy regional cricket ground, a few smaller sports fields, and an arts and culture center make up "Nishtar Park Sports Complex," but most Lahoris simply refer to this whole area as "Gaddafi Stadium." It includes Punjab Stadium, National Hockey Stadium, and Lahore City Cricket Association Ground. On those all-too-frequent days when none of the venues are attracting a crowd, this complex could be a black hole in the center of the city. Thankfully, it's not, as Lahore has succeeded in doing something that many US city planners promise but struggle to deliver: turning the stadium district into a year-round destination that sees plenty of life even on non-event days. Gaddafi Stadium's exterior is the center of the complex's everyday use. Restaurants, a banquet hall, and a book store are among the commercial establishments built underneath the cricket venue's stands. With direct access from the stadium's exterior, these establishments draw enough everyday traffic to keep the complex active despite the dearth of event dates.
Lahore's well-known, moderately-priced Liberty Market provides an alternative shopping, dining, and lodging destination within a long-ish walk from the stadium. Given Lahore's spread-out, decentralized and car-centric nature, most would choose to drive. Posh MM Alam Road is not much farther. While violence can happen anywhere and has occurred nearby on a small number of occasions, Lahoris consider these areas safe and pleasant places to walk around.
What came first: the chicken, or the egg? Wait, let's try that again. What came first, interest in attending Pakistani domestic cricket matches, or the organizers' willingness to let fans attend Pakistani domestic cricket matches?
We understand that there is relatively little fan interest in attending 40-hour long cricket matches played by players who have relatively little chance of becoming celebrities. And we understand that there is no need to open up a stadium when no one is likely to show up. But due to security concerns, this is the best Pakistan has to offer right now, and frankly, it's pretty good cricket. With domestic cricket flourishing in nearby India, we fail to understand why the Pakistan Cricket Board is not promoting its domestic product, and we fail to understand why ordinary Pakistanis are not demanding access to see the best cricket their country has to offer.
Everyone in Lahore is familiar with Gaddafi Stadium. The venue is centrally located, but central Lahore's unpredictable traffic adds guesswork to travel time. Gaddafi Stadium can also be reached from the Gaddafi Stadium stop on Lahore's new Metro Bus BRT system. When nothing is going on, parking is both plentiful and cheap. At worst, you'll pay 50 US cents. If and when large events return here, expect traffic headaches on game days.
Once inside, we can't say much. Despite speaking with multiple guards in both English and Urdu, we were not permitted to enter the ground during our 2014 visit. In late 2012, we were able to sweet-talk our way inside (in the Urdu language) to take a peek at the venue during a youth match, but we were limited to only a few minutes in a small area.
High school math tells us that we can't divide by zero, so we're not entirely sure how to grade no entertainment for no cost. Well, perhaps "no entertainment" is too harsh. Gaddafi Stadium's exterior architecture is pleasant and distinctly Lahori, as is the area it calls home. You can-barely-catch some of the action through the gates. Directly across the streets sits Lahore City Cricket Association Ground, an unassuming venue that attracts better cricket than one might guess.
With no exterior walls, you can't be turned away there. If you have no luck at Gaddafi, at least fans have another option nearby. Finally, we did talk our way into Gaddafi once, so anything is possible.
This must be an incredible place to see a match. Gaddafi Stadium oozes cricket history, good, bad, and tragic. Yes, it's named after the Libyan dictator (to honor his support for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program). Yes, the most tragic event in recent sports history occurred here. And yes, Gaddafi stadium and the average cricket spectator have mutually forgotten one another. But Pakistan still adores cricket, and Gaddafi Stadium has that worn-in, blue-collar vibe that signals an ideal venue. We can't wait to see Pakistan play here. Insha'Allah.
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