KARACHI, Oct 20: Cricket-starved fans braved top-notch security arrangements and all other hassles on Saturday to lap up the first opportunity in over three years to see international action.
More than 5,000 policemen and paramilitary personnel were on duty when Karachi’s National Stadium saw an almost forgotten sight of foreign players batting and bowling to the cheers of a big crowd.
The country has been a no-go area for international sportsmen since March 2009 when militants attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, leaving six Pakistani policemen and a van driver dead.
The administration and security agencies came up with an elaborate security arrangement for the first of two Twenty20 exhibition matches between a Pakistan All Star XI and an International XI.
“We had drawn up a proper security plan for the teams and even their routes were kept a secret,” DIG police Shahid Hayat, who supervised the security operation, told Reuters.
According to the news agency, a convoy of 12 police vans, with an ambulance in tow, drove the teams into the stadium.
“We know how important these matches are to convince the international cricket community that Pakistan is still a safe place for visiting teams,” Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad told reporters.
Sanath Jayasuriya, the former Lankan star who led a team mostly consisting of former internationals, added: “It is a grand occasion for Pakistan cricket and we are happy to be part of these matches.”
The match got underway at 8pm instead of the designated 7pm due to a dispute over television rights. The delay enabled the people waiting outside to come inside after begging for tickets from those who were leaving. Still many of them had left after giving up.
But at one point it was announced that there were 32,000 spectators on the ground and some 35,000 waiting outside to get in.
There is a limit to everyone’s patience. But seeing the love for the game of cricket here, captain Sanath Jayasuriya’s words a day earlier seemed to have struck a chord with the crowds. He had said: “We have come hoping to revive intentional cricket here, but the people of Pakistan, too, should try to to make this attempt a success by showing enthusiasm.” The crowd did not let him down.
FUN AND GAMES: With one boundary after another and dropped catches left, right and centre by the visitors, it was pure entertainment the moment the match between the International World XI, in red kits with yellow stripes, and the Pakistan All Stars XI, in their traditional dark green, got underway after a long wait. And it was a joy to see the All Stars win the match by 84 runs.
Winning the toss, Shahid Afridi, the skipper of the Pakistani XI, elected to bat first. The home side put on 222 runs for the loss of seven wickets in the 20 designated overs.
Openers Imran Nazir and Shahzaib Hasan quickly thrashed the bowling with an 86-run partnership to give All Stars a flying start. Shahzaib scored a breezy 54 off 21 balls with the help of six fours and four sixes.
Umar Akmal top-scored with a punishing 67 not out off 37 balls with the help of seven fours and three sixes.
For the International World XI, Tshabalala picked up three wickets, dismissing Shahzaib, Nasir Jamshed and Shoaib Malik.
Facing a mountain of a target, International World XI wilted under pressure right away when their captain Sanath Jayasuriya was caught by Afridi off Anwar Ali in the very first over after slamming a sixer and a four.
A steady fall of wickets from there on tied down the visitors to 52 for six by the seventh over.
But then Shapoor Zadran and Andre Nell brought some stability to the score by staying at the crease for some time. But they were unable to force the pace, taking the game beyond the visitors’ reach.
At this moment, with the fate of the match as good as sealed, the almost packed-to-capacity crowd started leaving as it had got pretty late in the night.
None of the International World XI’s batsmen were able to impress as the visitors could only put on 138 runs for eight wickets at the end of the 20 overs.
Umar Akmal was declared the Man of the Match.