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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
If you’re one of the few lonely souls with an interest in following domestic cricket in Pakistan’s second-largest city, then this is your home. That’s a shame in a way. From a spectator’s point of view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Lahore City Cricket Association Ground aside from the fact that it is in no way befitting of the highest levels of the most popular sport in the world’s 6th most populous country. This would be a more-than-adequate venue to attend school-level or recreational matches. Considering that Pakistan’s appetite for domestic cricket is about the same as its appetite for recreational cricket, LCCA Ground meets the demand. Yet one leaves wishing there was an appetite for more.
Still, you make the most of the hand that you’re dealt. Cricketers are well-known for being fussy about the conditions of their playing fields, and the ground here is up to par. From a player’s perspective, this humble pitch would likely be one of the two best cricket grounds in the entire United States, and one of the three best in Canada. (As of 2014, there is only one cricket ground in the entire United States that meets International Cricket Council standards.) For the spectator, well, it gets the job done.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Nothing more than a small snack bar would be appropriate here, but even that is not to be. Food options exist within walking distance, though, and nothing is stopping fans from bringing a picnic. In the event of a large-ish crowd, a few of Lahore's numerous food carts could probably be trusted to set up shop nearby.
With no one around, it's easy to forget that you're watching good cricket. Inzamam-ul-Haq's nephew, Imam, a veteran of Pakistan's national Under-19 team, was playing the day we attended, and the appearance of national team or IPL-hopefuls is not particularly rare. Matches are covered in local newspapers, on ESPN's cricinfo, and occasionally get a mention on TV. Despite that, and free admission, very few turn out.
The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy's Silver League is to Pakistani First Class (4-day) cricket what AHL hockey is to the NHL in North America, or what the Football League Championship is to British soccer. The ground, though, is not unlike what you might find at a school, and the atmosphere is very much what you might find at a park on a Saturday. In a way, we understand this. Four-day matches are grueling, people have to work, and South Asia has never had a history of supporting domestic teams. The result is essentially no atmosphere except for what nature provides. A tranquil day in the park isn't unpleasant. With stadium seats, shade, and an updated scoreboard, the fans' basic needs are indeed met. But there's little to remind you that a match here is worth appreciating.
In late 2012, Lahore's cricket association announced plans to add lights to Lahore City Cricket Association Ground. Considering Lahore's hot weather and late-night culture, evening matches would have the potential to bring in more fans. As of late 2014, though, these have not been built. Still, this might not make much of a difference. Chronic electricity shortages throughout Pakistan mean that the floodlights across the street at Gaddafi Stadium are rarely fired up.
Officially, this is part of the "Nishtar Park Sports Complex," but in practice, Lahoris know this as the Gaddafi stadium area. Three major stadiums and an arts and culture center are the LCCA Ground's immediate neighbors. On those all-too-frequent days when no major events are scheduled, 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, a 1996 Cricket World Cup venue, 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 big event dates. Several of Pakistan's main sports associations also have their offices in this complex.
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. All of these areas are safe and pleasant places to visit.
A dozen or so fans turned out for this Wednesday afternoon match. Several more curious passers-by stopped and watched through the fence for a few minutes. Across the street at Gadaffi Stadium, a slightly higher-level match was being played to an even smaller crowd: gates were locked and guarded by armed security.
All taxi or auto rickshaw drivers in Lahore will be familiar with the neighboring Gaddafi stadium, even if they don't know LCCA Ground by name. The venue is centrally located, but central Lahore's unpredictable traffic adds guesswork to travel time. No events held here are large enough to produce any real traffic. Depending on the time you arrive, parking may be free or may set you back 20 Pakistani rupees, or about 19 US cents.
The entire sports complex, including LCCA Ground, can also be reached from the Gaddafi Stadium stop on Lahore's new Metro Bus BRT system.
There are relatively few entrances to the ground, meaning many curious passers-by simply stop and watch through the fences rather than bothering to find a way inside the gates.
Once inside, fans are more or less free to roam the perimeter of the ground, as they would at a park. A few small sections of proper stadium seats do exist, and most are under cover. Everything is at ground level.
An armed policeman was present at the match. However, we were unable to ascertain whether he was on-duty.
LCCA Ground does not have restroom facilities for fans, as events held here are not truly spectator-oriented events. Depending on who is (or is not) around, fans in need might have luck asking to use the facilities in the locker room pavilion area.
Watching this level of any sport up close and for free is undoubtedly a bargain; however, such a dull atmosphere distracts from the fact that you're actually watching cricket of a notable level. If you want to see high-level cricket in Lahore, this might be your only choice. No international matches have been held in the city since the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team, which occurred about a 10-minute walk from LCCA Ground. High-level matches are also played across the street at the city's main venue, Gadaffi Stadium, but these are frequently closed to the public. Given the lack of other options, LCCA Ground matches should scratch your itch, but not much more.
We can't fault the players or the match organizers for the lack of public interest. We also can't fault the ground for hosting higher-level cricket than its appearance might suggest. While we're tempted to blame cricket fans for their lack of support of the domestic league, we recognize that 4- and 5-day cricket is losing favor to shorter forms of the game. And we also recognize that, until the IPL caught fire a few years ago, attending domestic matches simply didn't occur to many casual cricket fans. We're left wishing these events were a bigger deal, but understanding why they're not. In the end, we have little good or bad to say about the place. Lahore City Cricket Association Ground is sufficient.
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