The Pakistan Super League final was never an occasion for anyone else.
It was never Shahid Afridi’s day, a broken finger put paid to his supposed swansong in front of a doting home crowd.
It wasn’t Wahab Riaz’s emotional fairytale, playing his first tournament since the death of his father, whose wish it had apparently been to see his son win the PSL in Pakistan.
It certainly wasn’t Quetta Gladiators’, who could not convince their overseas players to play the final.
It was Darren Sammy’s day. If he won tender fondness for his efforts in the PSL last season, it was love at first sight in Lahore Sunday.
Sammy cannot be explained away as a West Indian stereotype: the fun-loving, flamboyant cricketer, big in stature and massive in firepower. He cajoles his charges to perform to the best of their abilities, not under fear of a reprimand, but because performing for captain Sammy matters that much to them. He puts on the yellow Peshawar Zalmi shirt with a pride and passion many Pakhtuns might struggle to match, born though he may be in St Lucia.
When a starry-eyed fan bypassed security in Dubai, and ran onto the pitch with a smartphone outstretched as Sammy prepared to bowl, Sammy smiled and took a selfie with him to make the lad’s night. There is a real sincerity and kindness to the man, and charm such as his entrances those in the Caribbean and Pakistan alike.
When every single one of Quetta’s overseas players refused to make the trip to Pakistan for the tournament’s biggest game – Kevin Pietersen seemed to be at the airport an hour after the first playoff ended – Sammy put his hand up.
He was the captain of Peshawar. Of course he would be there to lead his boys in the final. So what if it meant coming to Lahore against the advice of FICA, government travel advisories, insurance companies and every single cricket board?
Two hours before the game, Sammy was doing a lap of the Gaddafi Stadium, flanked by heavy security as a capacity crowd yelled his name hoarse. It was already too much affection from him to ignore. He broke away from his entourage, making a beeline for the stands where the noise seemed loudest.
People swarmed around the security railing where Sammy stood, smartphone at arm’s length, capturing another selfie. Never mind that this was Lahore, with its necessary five-tier security, hovering military personnel and lurking snipers. Sammy just stood there, clicking away on his phone, flashing his million-dollar smile as that heart of gold he wore on his sleeve glistened in the Lahore sunset. He wasn’t going to sneak anywhere like a thief in the night, even if that place was Pakistan. He would stand proud and do what he had come to do.
And all this was before the match even began. He came out to bat in the
17th over, with his side losing their way a bit after a lightning start and the innings threatening to peter out. It seemed like only Peshawar’s bowlers could to salvage the final.
But the crowd chanted Sammy’s name every time he came on strike and it stoked the fire in his belly. He smashed an unbeaten 28 off 11 balls to power his side to 148, including three huge sixes to satiate the throng that had come to watch this St Lucian lead Peshawar to glory.
It was never going to be any other way. The bowlers were fired up for the cause: for Peshawar’s cause, for Sammy’s cause, and a depleted Quetta never stood a chance
against an onslaught like the one they faced. Sammy dropped a catch – a rather simple one, mind you. He bowled an over – a fairly ordinary one, let’s be honest. But those won’t be the memories his Peshawar side, or the more than 20,000 who came to watch them, would carry home on their way out of this too-often barren stadium.
They would be of the man who took on this most large-hearted of nations and achieved what seemed impossible: giving back as much love as he had received.
The reason for travelling to Lahore, he had said, was to “bring back the smiles” on the faces of the fans.