KARACHI: Security was tight on Saturday as Pakistan hosted the first match of an international flavour in the country since 2009, when militants attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan team.
A sell-out 32,000 crowd at the well-cordoned National stadium watched an International World XI led by former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya play All Stars Pakistan led by current allrounder Shahid Afridi.
The unofficial match, organised by sports minister of Sindh province Mohammad Ali Shah but backed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is seen as a small step towards reviving international cricket in Pakistan.
The attacks in March 2009, which left eight people dead and seven Sri Lankan players wounded, forced foreign teams to shun tours to Pakistan over security fears.
Around 5,000 policemen and para-military staff cordoned off the stadium in a top-level security arrangement.
“A top-level security plan was devised for the match with around 5,000 policeman in and around the stadium,” said a police official.
“The sweeping of the entire stadium was done 24 hours before the start of the match to eliminate the likelihood of any explosive substance or devices planted by the saboteurs,” the official said.
Around one dozen police vehicles led both the teams to the ground, with anti-explosive equipment and sniffer dogs on guard an hour before the scheduled start at 8:00pm (3:00GMT).
“It is a grand occasion,” Jayasuriya said at the toss.
“All the players are excited to be the part of this match and the enthusiasm of the fans makes it a befitting occasion.
“Judging by the enthusiasm it is unfortunate that Pakistan has not been able to host international matches, but this match will definitely help, maybe in a small way to bring cricket back to Pakistan.” A colourful band welcomed both the teams at the ground, as fans settled in the stands, left vacant and unattended in the wake of Pakistan's cricket exile.
“It's nice to see cricket back in Pakistan,” former Pakistan captain Zaheer Abbas told AFP. “It is a small match but the flavour is there, the interest is there and I am glad that this happened.” Despite the resumption of big-time cricket still a distant dream as bombings and killings are still rampant in the country, fans are hopeful bigger teams will follow suit once the security situation improves.
“We are delighted to see a cricket match finally taking place,” said Suleman Khan. “I hope other teams are also watching and change their minds about Pakistan.”
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