Pakistan has been deprived of international cricket for so long that its youth no longer remembers the taste of a home victory. Stadiums are seldom lit up anymore and stands that once brimmed with fans and flags now remain empty. Our players have to travel to foreign lands all year, longing for that cheerful noise of a home crowd.
From time to time, news of a possible home series floats around but doesn't materialise. Now, after eight long years, Pakistan is set to host the Independence Cup 2017 – a series that may well mark the homecoming of international cricket.
Pakistan will face the ICC World XI for a series of three T20 internationals. The matches will be staged at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore on 12th, 13th and 15th September, 2017.
How the two teams shape up
The visiting team comes with an exciting variety of T20 specialists. Led by Faf du Plessis, the team is loaded with star names like Hashim Amla, George Bailey, Darren Sammy, Imran Tahir, Tamim Iqbal, Paul Collingwood, Ben Cutting, Grant Elliott, Samuel Badree, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Thisara Perera and Tim Paine.
The side looks heavier on the batting department, with six specialist batsmen and five all-rounders. Hashim Amla, David Miller and Tamim Iqbal are just some names who in all probability will be putting Lahore's batting wicket to good use.
Playing for the first time in the city of his birth, Imran Tahir is inarguably the most destructive bowler in the side. The team however lacks a genuine fast bowler, sparing South Africa's Morne Morkel.
Pakistan's T20 side looks equally fierce with the batting talents of Fakhar Zaman, Sarfraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, and Shoaib Malik. Young guns Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees will have key roles to play, alongside Ahmed Shehzad who has lately been unimpressive.
Pakistan will be relying on Mohammad Amir and Hassan Ali to create that good old magic with the ball. All-rounders Imad Wasim, Aamer Yamin and Mohammad Nawaz are relatively younger in experience but promising nonetheless. Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz have been left out of the T20 squad, making way for Umar Amin and Sohail Khan.
It is regrettable that political instability and possible security threats have kept cricket suspended for a long period. Although this dry spell was partly broken by Zimbabwe in 2015, the tour failed to create much ripple effect.
This time around, prospects seem favorable as the ICC is more involved than ever. 14 cricketers from seven test-playing nations will be a part of the series, along with an ICC official Richie Richardson as match referee.
Although the series has international status, for a Pakistani fan the significance of this series extends beyond the realms of winning or losing. For the first time in eight years, Pakistan is hosting an international series of high eminence which in itself is a notable triumph.
What we have here is a historic coming together of the global cricket community in support of a nation that has contributed mountains to the game.
In this series the PCB have an opportunity of making an impact with the visitors – an impact that could transform our promised future into a tangible future. If all goes well, we have a few probable home games against Sri Lanka and West Indies in the coming months. All eyes are on this series, as are our hopes.
This series could also pave way for more PSL matches being staged at home. Last season, we saw some key players missing the league's final in Lahore owing to their unwillingness to travel to Pakistan. It is hoped that the upcoming season will grace Pakistan with more fixtures, and a greater number of foreign stars can be a part of the spectacle.
Besides expediting return of regular international cricket, this series will also be a glowing opportunity for local players to experience competitive home cricket. These young boys deserve to bask in the splendour that is the home crowd; an experience that would elevate their confidence markedly.
Having recently won a major ICC title, the Pakistan team is more motivated than ever to put up a fantastic show for the crowd. It is important that Pakistan play spirited cricket in order to send a message of fearlessness and resilience to the world.
Having been a robust part of the recent league season, the players are expected to be well in form for the big series. We must make it be known that our dominance on this turf has not gone rusty, and that we as a team and as a nation are hungry for more cricket.
But above all, Pakistan must play cricket of a kind they have never played before – the kind that presents a reflection of our glorious past and a vision of our promising future.
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