LAHORE: Big time cricket is set to return to Pakistan with the three-match Independence Cup Twenty20 series against a star-studded World XI.
The first match will be played today (Tuesday) with the next two games slated for Wednesday (tomorrow) and Friday. The entire series will be played at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Even though Zimbabwe played three One-Day Internationals and two Twenty20s in 2015, that series did not make an impact as Pakistan’s opponents were not considered strong. However, the visiting World XI comprises a host of current and former stars, including two World Twenty20 championship-winning captains in Darren Sammy (West Indies) and Paul Collingwood (England).
The visitors, led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and coached by former Zimbabwean great Andy Flower, reached Lahore in the wee hours of Monday and had a practice session at the stadium in the evening.
They were brought to the team hotel from the airport under a very tight security cover, which prompted Du Plessis to say, “We felt like we were in a movie.” The team includes five South Africans, three Australians, two West Indians and a player each from England, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
Speaking at a news conference here at a local hotel on Monday, World XI captain Faf du Plessis said it was a huge honour to be in Pakistan. “It’s fair to say that this will be the first time when we actually come in to play cricket for something which is much bigger than the game itself. We look forward to what will be a great week of cricket,” Du Plessis said.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed hoped that the World XI tour would open the doors for more international cricket in the country. Sarfraz said as captain it was a proud moment for him and all the players who have been selected to represent Pakistan in the series.
“We are all very excited to play in front of our own crowd. It is a wonderful feeling,” the Pakistan captain said at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday. Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Najam Sethi said the World XI tour is a “huge leap” as far as resumption of international cricket in the country is concerned.
“We know this is a small step in many ways but a huge leap for Pakistan. In a sense that if the PSL (Pakistan Super League) final in Lahore opened the gateway to the World XI, we now expect more doors to open for Sri Lanka to play here and then followed by West Indies.”
Pakistan has been a no-go area for international sides ever since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in March 2009. It meant that Pakistan played all their ‘home’ series at neutral venues.
The PCB since then had been trying to revive international action in the country but was unable to convince or allay the security concerns of its counterparts to undertake the tour of Pakistan, until holding the Pakistan Super League final in Lahore earlier this year. The ICC also formed a taskforce to revive international cricket in Pakistan and the World XI series is a result of those combined efforts.
Pakistan is providing a head-of-state level security to the visiting team with Pakistan Army, Rangers, Police and other law enforcement agencies ensuring that the tour goes smoothly and without any untoward incident.