First came the Zimbabweans to Lahore and got cheered like they were playing in Harare. Then came Darren Sammy and celebrated near Liberty Chowk like he was from Peshawar, and had conquered Quetta (he had).
Now an ICC World XI is set to play at the Gaddafi Stadium under towering lights against Pakistan’s best XI in a series that holds international status.
Pakistan’s long and hard roadmap to international cricket has been paved in the same city where the terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan national team and turned the clock back on Pakistan cricket by a decade.
But the vision and persistence of the PCB administration under Najam Sethi has made its biggest headway yet in bringing international cricket back to Pakistan, to his hometown, Lahore.
The UBL Independence Cup 2017 is a heart-warming display of world solidarity with Pakistan cricket. Players from seven nations with a combined total of six World T20 titles under their belt and a cumulative experience of 510 international T20 games will hold centre stage in front of a cricket-mad Pakistani audience.
This is the first time an ICC World XI will play an official T20 international game against a member nation. In the only other international instance, an ICC World XI was put up against a formidable Australian outfit in 2005. Australia won the solitary Test by 201 runs and clean swept the ODI series 3-0 Down Under. It was a team at the peak of its powers, in a time it ruled in, against a generation it bullied.
Yet, it is still difficult for a combined star-studded team to play against a regular national team that has played and practiced together for a longer period. However, in cricket’s shortest format, impact players can change the course of the game in a matter of a few overs, if not balls. And the ICC World XI sent to Pakistan has plenty of them.
The UBL Independence Cup 2017 is a heart-warming display of world solidarity with Pakistan cricket.
The World XI is a formidable batting line up that consists the likes of South African run machine Hashim Amla, Australian George Bailey, Paul Collinwood of England, Tamim Iqbal from Bangladesh, and West Indian star Darren Sammy. Five ex-national captains (and currently active cricketers) of five different countries will be led by current South African Captain Faf du Plessis.
The PCB through a mix package of incentives has reeled in these players. Not only are they aiding the noble cause of reviving international cricket in Pakistan, each squad member is expected to receive in the vicinity of $100,000 for their services.
While Grant Elliott, who is poised to become the first New Zealand cricketer to play an international match in Pakistan for more than 13 years, said "I'm also excited about some opportunities which might open up with the Lahore owners. They've just bought the Durban Qalanders franchise in South Africa, and I will be their assistant coach in November-December [for the inaugural Global League].”
Imran Tahir, who will go in the game as the leading wicket taker with 55 international T20 scalps, will also go through a different kind of emotion. He was born in Lahore, grew up here and is the son of this soil. He too will play his first international game in Pakistan, but against the country of his birth.
After allegedly facing difficulties at the Pakistan consulate in Birmingham recently, it will be interesting to see the backlash he gets from an unforgiving Pakistani crowd, especially if and when he celebrates a wicket in his trademark style.
Some intriguing contests between bat and ball are set to fuel the hi-octane series. Pakistan will rely on its bowling to contain a power-house batting line up of the World XI.
Pakistan’s ace fast bowler Mohammad Amir is likely to miss part, if not all, of the games as he is currently with his wife in England. They wait for their first-born to arrive, potentially this week.
However, his partner-in-crime on the pitch Hasan Ali has his adrenalin pumping and his eyes set. “The World XI is a good team, it has very good players, I will try to bowl well to all of them. Especially I would like to bowl out brother Hashim Amla, it would give me more pleasure," said young Hasan.
Given the track record of Gaddafi Stadium, high-scoring encounters can be expected with teams finding it difficult to stop the flow of runs.
Pakistan is in the phase of rebuilding a new team under the inspirational leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed and this series should help them further gel as a unit. Only three members of Pakistan's squad have played international cricket in Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Sohail Khan.
Giles Clarke, the president of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who heads the ICC’s Pakistan Task Force, hit the nail on the head and said, “the terrorists cannot win and cricket must not give up on Pakistan.”
Believe it or not, international cricket has come back to Pakistan.
Pakistan vs World XI, 1st T20I, Lahore September 12, Tuesday
Pakistan vs World XI, 2nd T20I, Lahore September 13, Wednesday
Pakistan vs World XI, 3rd T20I, Lahore September 15, Friday
Pakistan squad: Sarfraz Ahmed, Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Umar Amin, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Amir, Rumman Raees, Usman Khan, Sohail Khan
World XI squad: Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, George Bailey, Paul Collingwood, Ben Cutting, George Elliott, Tamim Iqbal, David Miller, Tim Paine, Thisara Perera, Darren Sammy, Samuel Badree, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir
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