Pakistan Tuesday (12) took a giant step towards reviving international cricket at home with a 20-run victory over the World XI in a match before excited crowds amid tight security.
The Twenty20 match, accorded international status by the International Cricket Council, is the first game of only the second series Pakistan has hosted since militants attacked the bus of the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009, killing eight people and injuring seven players and staff.
Long before it began at 7:00pm (14:00 GMT), around 9,000 police officers and paramilitary forces were deployed to the area, cordoning off the team’s hotels and stadium.
But the large security presence did little to temper the enthusiasm of fans in the cricket-mad country.
“I came here early to watch the teams come but that was not possible due to security so I only watched them in the ground and it made my day,” said spectator Azfar Ali.
Pakistan, sent into bat by World XI skipper Faf du Plessis, notched 197-5 with Babar Azam hitting a rapid 52-ball 86. His career best Twenty20 score had ten boundaries and two sixes.
Azam added 122 for the second wicket with Ahmed Shehzad (39) as Pakistan built on the loss of opener Fakhar Zaman for eight.
Shoaib Malik smashed a 20-ball 38 with two sixes and four boundaries to give the final touches to the innings.
The World XI started off well with Tamim Iqbal hitting 18 with three boundaries and Hashim Amla hit three boundaries and a six in his 17-ball 26 but left-arm pacer Rumman Raees dismissed both in the same over to put the brakes on their innings.
Skipper Faf du Plessis hit four boundaries and a six while Darren Sammy thumped three sixes – both scoring 29 – but were unable to see their team through.
For Pakistan, paceman Sohail Khan and leg-spinner Shadab Khan finished with two wickets apiece.
World XI skipper du Plessis blamed his dismissal for the team’s loss.
“I needed to get a 50 or 60 for us to win,” he said, adding that it was “great to play in front of the Pakistani fans”.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed thanked the crowd.
“It was a historic occasion and I thank the crowd for coming in good numbers,” said Ahmed.
“It was a very important match and I think no praise is too high for our players, especially Azam.”
The second game is on Wednesday (13) and the third on Friday (15)- both in Lahore.
Du Plessis said it would be a “quick turnaround, I don’t think I’ve ever played two T20s in two days”.
Pakistan hopes the series will showcase an improved security situation as it seeks to entice other foreign opponents. Sri Lanka are due to play a Twenty20 in October, and will be followed by the West Indies who are due to play a mini-series of three Twenty20s in November.
Tuesday marked the first time that five of the Pakistan players – Ashraf, Zaman, Shadab, Raees and Hasan Ali – played an international match on home soil.