Cricket-mad Karachiites are welcoming a host of foreign stars who will feature in the last eight matches of the Pakistan Super League's (PSL) 2019 edition, starting in the city on Saturday.
The first 26 matches of the premier domestic Twenty20 league were played in the United Arab Emirates, and of the eight to be played in Pakistan, three that had been planned for Lahore will now be held in Karachi.
Many of the 40 foreign players to play the upcoming matches — led by former Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, current New Zealand opener Colin Munro and West Indian stars Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Kieron Pollard — arrived in Karachi on Friday to join the six-team competition.
In a special video message for fans, Wayne Madsen of "yellow storm" Peshawar Zalmi said: "I am really excited to head to Karachi and in particular looking forward to the Karachi biryani. Looking forward to playing in front of a packed house at the National Stadium in Karachi and bringing home the trophy for the yellow storm."
Tymal Mills from the same side also expressed his excitement to be coming to Karachi, in a video message shot a week prior.
"I am looking forward to playing in front of a packed crowd. Last year I experienced Lahore. This year, I'm sure Karachi will be even better. And whilst I'm there I might even try some of the famous Karachi biryani. Cheers guys. See you there," he said.
England's Liam Dawson, part of the Peshawar team, said he looks forward to playing before passionate crowds.
“I toured Pakistan last year and the atmosphere was unbelievable. We played three games and the crowd was electric,” he recalled.
“It will be the same this time as well and I am happy to be part of that cricket revival.”
Watson, who plays for Quetta Gladiators but declined to visit Pakistan for the PSL final and three play-off matches in 2017, said he consulted his family before taking the trip.
“It was a tough decision to make,” said Watson, who played 59 Tests, 190 one-day and 58 Twenty20 internationals for Australia before retiring in 2016.
“It's been 14 years since I last visited Pakistan, a place with some of the most passionate fans in world cricket. Can't wait to give it our best shot in winning the trophy,” Watson said in a video message released by the Gladiators.
He was part of the last Australian “A” team that toured Pakistan in 2005.
The chief executive of the International Cricket Council David Richardson and Cricket Australia head of security Sean Carroll are among the foreign officials who are also set to visit.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani said the matches will help improve the country's chances of reviving international cricket.
“I am delighted to welcome the foreign players who have come here for the PSL and I am sure it will help us in bringing more international matches to the country,” said Mani.
International cricket has gradually been revived in the country since it was suspended following an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore ten years ago.
It was six years before Pakistan hosted any international cricket when minnows Zimbabwe toured in 2015, while the Gaddafi Stadium hosted the PSL final in March 2017, and a World XI also played three Twenty20 internationals in Lahore.
But the biggest event was Sri Lanka's return for a one-off Twenty20 international in October 2017.
Mani said holding the remainder of the PSL this year, including the March 17 final, and a possible 16 PSL matches next year will add to the momentum.
“The perception that foreigners have about the safety situation in Pakistan will change and they will be satisfied with the security arrangements,” he said.
Some 13,000 policemen and 2,500 paramilitary personnel will be on duty in Karachi, and police said fans will be required to show their tickets and national identity cards.