LAHORE: The brightest place in all of Lahore on Tuesday evening was the Gaddafi Stadium. No, not because of the floodlights but because of the presence of a galaxy of cricket stars. International cricket returned to the country and the occasion could not get any better as it was not Pakistan versus another country. It was Pakistan versus the World XI.
The visiting team is made up of players from as many as seven top cricket-playing countries.The successful organisation of this three-match Twenty20 series, named the Independence Cup, is expected to lead to the full revival of international cricket in Pakistan.
The World XI stars, including captain Faf du Plessis, and coach Andy Flower have acknowledged the fact that this is more than just a cricket series for Pakistan. The Pakistani crowd has been waiting for such a day for a long, long time. Barring Zimbabwe in 2015, all teams have stayed away from the country since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009 in Lahore.
Providing foolproof security to the World XI players and officials has been the top priority of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Around 6,000 officials have been deployed around the stadium to provide security. Areas around the stadium have been cordoned off and the only way to get inside the stadium is by a shuttle bus service. There were long queues of men, women and children to get into the buses. Each person was thoroughly checked before boarding the bus and then at the entry gates.
At the toss, one could still see a lot of empty seats but the stadium gradually filled up and was almost full halfway through Pakistan’s innings.People coming to the stadium seemed to be in a happy mood and not too perturbed by the security measures. They knew the importance of the occasion and fully cooperated with the security officials even if that meant standing in long queues in the hot weather.
“It’s a very important series for Pakistan and we have to cooperate fully,” Adnan Sadiq, a local businessman, said. Azhar Hussain, who flew in from London specially for the series, said he had longed to see live international cricket in Pakistan. “It is a very happy moment for me and I hope the trend of teams coming to our country will continue,” he said.
Khizer Hayat, another spectator, said the matches should not be confined to Lahore. “People in other cities also deserve to watch their stars in action,” he added. There were a lot of youngsters among the crowd; some carried hand-written banners while others had their faces painted in the national flag colours.
Mohammad Arsalan, an 18-year-old student, said the Pakistanis should thank the World XI players for coming to their country. “They are helping Pakistan in reviving international cricket, which is a great thing,” he said.