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An unforgettable week in Lahore

Updated September 20, 2017

THE World XI tour to Pakistan is over and I believe we have done what we set out to achieve. We have managed a significant step towards taking big-ticket international cricket back there after an eight-year absence.

Right from the start, when the lads met up in Dubai, we sensed we were doing something special and a bit out of the ordinary. We got together with coach Andy Flower and also had a security meeting that really opened our minds.

We arrived in Pakistan on Sunday night and within 10 minutes were in the hotel! It was so efficient and the extent of the security was incredible. There were two helicopters on each journey, ready to take us away if there were to be any kind of emergency, and the length of our convoy any time we went anywhere was amazing.

In the hotel, it was selfie after selfie and people were constantly thanking us for being there. Social media was going crazy with them just loving us being in their country.

The togetherness amongst the group was pretty immediate. Guys are used to it with all of the T20 leagues around the world. We’d socialise together in the evenings and everyone gelled really quickly.

Faf du Plessis has a natural way of getting the guys together and Grant Elliott is a bit of a character and we had good fun. It was a mixture of us being relaxed, being desperate to win but also seeing the bigger picture for Pakistan.

On Monday, we had a training session and I was like a kid at Christmas. Cricket was the reason we were there and to face the local net bowlers again — really quick lads — brought everything about international cricket back for me and I loved having that preparation time with so much intensity.

I was told I wouldn’t be playing the first game and it was obviously disappointing to lose but it was a great occasion in Lahore. We were taken around the ground in rickshaws and it was an amazing welcome from all of the Pakistan fans. It was almost like they weren’t even bothered who won because they were so happy to have the matches on.

You also got the feeling that the players were really grateful we’d made the trip over and they were buzzing because they were playing in front of their family and friends.

The second game was incredible. I was told in the afternoon I was playing and, to be honest, there were a lot of nerves around, because at 41, I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself!

It all came flooding back, that intensity, playing in a vital game, the atmosphere, the crowds… it was sensational. I was running around in the field like an 18-year-old and it was my first time in the outer ring for about 10 years! It was nice to get a good catch off the last ball of the innings and Perera got us over the line to make it 1-1 going into the deciding game. I started at six but went down the slippery pole to eight and didn’t get to bat.

In the final game, we went for a powerful batting line-up and it was disappointing not to play well enough and to lose the series 2-1 but, again, it’s more about the bigger picture with all of the lads getting a game. I’d say the turn-out from the fans, as good as it was in the first match, got bigger as the week went on and the atmosphere in Lahore really was something special.

It was a week I’ll never forget. Reflecting on it now, it was a short tour — only five days — and the boys felt very safe and relaxed but it’s the start of a process. They’re talking about some Windies’ T20 games in the country and the Pakistan Super League is trying to get more matches there. It’s just about continuing to test the water with it but everyone would have seen the calibre of players who went over to Pakistan and played in a great series.

To maintain that security for a longer period would be very expensive and you also have to consider fans of touring teams but it’s a starting point.

From my point of view, I’ve been part of one or two run-ins with Pakistan players over the years so it was nice to build relationships with them over the course of the week and to feel how much they appreciated us being there. We probably didn’t quite realise the impact it would have on them and that’s something else that I’ll take away from it.

I think we did the job we went there for and the whole experience was nothing but positive.

As I say, it’s a small first step but hopefully we’ve made a difference and when we finally have international cricket back in Pakistan, all of us will be proud to have been part of the revival process.—courtesy www.icc.cricket.com

The writer is a former England all-rounder and T20 captain

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017