LAHORE: Babar Azam led an inspired Pakistan side to a 20-run victory in the opening match of the Independence Cup against a star-studded World XI side here on Tuesday.
The batsman lit up the Gaddafi Stadium with a brilliant 86 to help Pakistan amass 197-5 in the Twenty20 International before the hosts restricted World XI to 177-7.
It is hoped the World XI’s tour will spark the full return of international cricket to the country and the first match towards that goal didn’t disappoint.
On a track made for batting and with a 65-yard boundary, the game featured some lusty blows from batsmen of both sides with Pakistan’s bowlers — Rumman Raees Shadab Khan and Sohail Khan all picking up two wickets — eventually helping the hosts take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
World XI captain Faf du Plessis said after winning the toss that he felt his side had a better chance of winning while chasing and it felt it was going according to the script for him when openers Hashim Amla and Tamim Iqbal came out all guns blazing in pursuit of the target.
Until of course they both fell to Rumman in the sixth over.
Bangladesh’s Tamim was hitting the ball superbly but was clean bowled for a run-a-ball 18 featuring three boundaries before Amla was outfoxed by Rumman with a slower delivery with the South African caught at cover by Imad Wasim for 26.
The back-to-back dismissals saw World XI reduced to 48-2 and the pressure on Du Plessis and Tim Paine.
With the run-rate increasing, Du Plessis give his side some hope when he plundered 22 runs in the 12th over bowled by Hasan Ali, hitting one huge six back past the paceman’s head and three fours, to bring up World XI’s 100.
But he fell in the next over, caught by Amir Yamin at deep mid-wicket for 29 off Shadab and Paine (25) soon followed when he was caught at deep long off by Rumman off Sohail.
Shadab well and truly ended World XI hopes when he had David Miller stumped to reduce them to 123-5 with five overs remaining.
Grant Elliott and Thisara Perera added 22 runs before Sohail got rid of the former. It all went down to the final over by Hasan Ali with 34 required for victory.
Darren Sammy managed to hit a six off the first ball but Hasan came back strongly, giving just seven more runs of the next five deliveries with Perera also getting run out off the penultimate delivery of the innings, as Pakistan celebrated the return of international cricket to the country with a deserved victory.
Earlier, man-of-the-match Babar laid the platform for Pakistan’s big total with a fluent 52-ball innings laced with 10 boundaries and a brace of sixes.
Coming in the first over after Fakhar Zaman departed in the third ball of the innings when the opener steered a wide Morne Morkel delivery to Amla at first slip, Babar had a solid 122-run stand with Ahmed Shehzad (39).
Playing fluently and aggressively, he brought up Pakistan’s 50 in the seventh over when he hit Ben Cutting for successive fours while Shehzad was sedate at the other end.
When he completed his half-century, in the 10th over with Pakistan on 85, Babar had already hit eight fours.
By that time, Du Plessis seemed helpless to stop the flow of runs having tried his major spin weapon Imran Tahir and medium-pacer Elliott to force a breakthrough.
It was Tahir who was hit for the first six of the series, Babar hitting it straight over the South African in the 11th over before Shehzad welcomed Sammy with a boundary in the next over.
Babar got a reprieve when he was dropped by Miller off Morkel on 68 and punished that fielding gaffe when he lofted Sammy over mid-wicket and into the stands.
World XI finally got the breakthrough they were looking for in the next over when Shehzad was brilliantly caught by Sammy at mid-wicket off Cutting.
Babar followed in the next over, Miller making no mistake this time in collecting the ball at deep mid-wicket off Tahir.
Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed then added 20 runs before Perera had the Pakistan captain caught behind.
Having started slowly, Malik then put on a show of impressive power-hitting in a 20-ball cameo of 38 featuring four fours and two towering sixes — both of Perera.
Perera got revenge immediately after the second six in the final over, having Malik bowled on a slower delivery, before Imad finished off the innings in style with two well-struck sixes.
Fakhar Zaman c Amla b Morkel 8
Ahmed Shehzad c Sammy b Cutting 39
Babar Azam c Miller b Imran 86
Shoaib Malik b Perera 38
Sarfraz Ahmed c Paine b Perera 4
Imad Wasim not out 15
Fahim Ashraf not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-6) 7
TOTAL (for five wkts, 20 overs) 197
FALL OF WKTS: 1-8, 2-130, 3-142, 4-161, 5-182.
DID NOT BAT: Shadab Khan, Sohail Khan, Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees Khan.
BOWLING: Morkel 4-0-32-1; Perera 4-0-51-2; Cutting 4-0-38-1 (1w); Imran Tahir 4-0-34-1 (1w); Elliott 2-0-17-0; Sammy 2-0-24-0.
Tamim Iqbal b Rumman 18
H.M. Amla c Imad b Rumman 26
T.D. Paine c Rumman b Sohail 25
F. du Plessis c sub b Shadab 29
D.A. Miller st Sarfraz b Shadab 9 G.D. Elliott c Imad b Sohail 14
N.L.T.C. Perera run out 17
D.J.G. Sammy not out 29
B.C.J. Cutting not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-6, W-4) 10
TOTAL (for seven wkts, 20 overs) 177
FALL OF WKTS: 1-43, 2-48, 3-101, 4-108, 5-123, 6-145, 7-173.
DID NOT BAT: M. Morkel, Imran Tahir.
BOWLING: Imad Wasim 4-0-22-0 (1w); Sohail Khan 4-0-28-2 (1w); Hasan Ali 4-0-44-0; Rumman Raees Khan 3-0-37-2 (1w); Fahim Ashraf 1-0-7-0; Shadab Khan 4-0-33-2 (1w).
RESULT: Pakistan won by 20 runs to lead three-match series 1-0.
UMPIRES: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Ahsan Raza (Pakistan).
TV UMPIRE: Shozab Raza (Pakistan).
MATCH REFEREE: R.B. Richardson (West Indies).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Babar Azam.
SECOND MATCH: Wednesday, 7:00pm (PST).
THIRD MATCH: Friday, 7:00pm (PST).
Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017