LAHORE: Pakistan on Tuesday took a giant step towards reviving international cricket at home with a 20-run victory over the World XI in a match played before excited crowds and amid tight security.
The first Twenty20 match of the Azadi Cup, accorded international status by the International Cricket Council, is only the second time Pakistan has hosted an international match since militants attacked the bus of the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009. That attack killed eight people and injured seven players and staff.
Long before the match started at 7:00pm, around 9,000 police and paramilitary personnel had taken positions around the area, cordoning off the teams’ hotels and Gaddafi Stadium.
But the large security presence did little to temper the enthusiasm of fans in the cricket-mad country.
Despite the hot and humid weather, cricket enthusiasts started reaching Gaddafi Stadium, along with their families and friends around noon. Most were hoping to avoid traffic congestion on the roads during peak hours as law enforcement agencies had closed most routes leading to the stadium for security reasons.
“I came here early to watch the teams arrive, but that was not possible due to security. I only watched them in the ground, [but even that] made my day,” said spectator Azfar Ali.
After a complete search and sweep operation, ticket holders were allowed to board shuttle buses at around 4:00pm. The Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMA), on orders from the provincial government, provided 38 buses from its feeder fleet of 200 for use on the free shuttle service between Gaddafi Stadium and designated parking areas.
Pakistan, sent in to bat by World XI skipper Faf du Plessis, notched up 197-5 with Babar Azam slamming 86 off just 52 balls. His career best Twenty20 score featured 10 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 smashing 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 smashed 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.
The second game of the three-match series will be played today (Wednesday) and the third on Friday – both at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Pakistan hopes the series will help end their international isolation, with Sri Lanka due to play a Twenty20 in October, followed by three Twenty20 internationals against the West Indies in November.
Six Pakistani players – Azam, Ashraf, Zaman, Shadab, Raees and Hasan Ali – played their first international match on the home soil.
All cricket lovers were not fortunate enough to get their hands on tickets for the Independence Cup 2017, however they did not let this failure ruin their love for the game. Many of them decided to watch the match at their homes or by gathering at their friends’ places to view the long-awaited encounter between Pakistan and the World XI in Lahore.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Shahzad Ali, a student of the Punjab University said he and some of his friends waited for hours outside different branches of the designated bank to buy tickets, “but I couldn’t get any. The same thing happened to my friends. But we decided that this setback should not stop us from enjoying the game. It is not every day that we get to see an international-level match.”
The friends got together like millions of other sports fans across the country and watched the match on a large-screen television.
DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf said around 8,000 policemen were deployed for a five-layered security plan. Talking to The Express Tribune, he said approximately 2,400 wardens had also been deployed to maintain traffic flow, while snipers and plainclothes police were also on the job.
The Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) had installed more than 200 CCTV cameras for live monitoring of security arrangements at the route and inside the stadium. They had also handed over 4-G wireless handsets to SPs for effective communications. These handsets could also be used for live video streaming to the PSCA operations room. With additional input from AFP