KARACHI: Pakistan have been deprived of international cricket at home since the attack on the Sri Lankan team back in March, 2009.
The team was on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore when they were ambushed by terrorists which resulted in six members of the visiting team being injured, while six policemen and two civilians lost their lives in the tragic incident.
Scenes of the team leaving the country in an army helicopter haunted cricket lovers as all of them realised that it would take a long time, probably even never, for international cricket to return to Pakistan.
Since that fateful day, the Green Caps have been forced to play all their home matches —26 Tests, 53 ODIs and 35 T20Is — on neutral venues which not only damaged the morale of the team but also incurred heavy losses to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with many estimating it to be more than $100 million.
But since the arrival of the World XI in Pakistan, all that is in the past as the whole country braces, with fingers crossed, for a new era where Pakistan would play their home matches in Pakistan.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis leads this team for the three match T20I series and consists of players from seven Test playing nations — a great win for Pakistan.
It truly is a commendable step by these players who had to withstand a lot of pressure from their families and friends alike to travel to Pakistan but the security arrangements made by the government of Pakistan and the PCB convinced these players to come to Lahore.
The series, which is named Independence Cup, was a much-awaited one but it did not materialize overnight as it took a lot of effort from all parties to make it possible.
It all started back in September 2009, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) formed a special task force for the revival of international cricket in Pakistan under the leadership of former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Giles Clarke.
The task force’s primary objective was to stay in touch with the PCB and local authorities in the country and to have a close look on the law-and-order situation in Pakistan.
It took four more years for the first team to visit the country, as it was neighboring Afghanistan who travelled to Pakistan for two one-day and one T20 match against Pakistan A in 2013, all of whom were won by the hosts.
Then in June 2014, PCB received a major setback as Cricket Ireland refused to tour Pakistan for a three-match ODI series after a terrorist attack at the Karachi airport.
But that didn’t break the PCB’s resolve as the board intensified their efforts to get teams to come and tour Pakistan and managed to convince Kenya to tour the country in December later that year.
As the security condition improved in the country, a real breakthrough came for the cricket lovers in May 2015 when Zimbabwe became the first ICC Test playing nation to visit Pakistan for three ODIs and two T20I.
And while that series was won by Pakistan, it was Zimbabwe who won hearts in the cricket-mad country.
The tour went rather successfully, but it was marred by an incident during the second ODI, when a suicide blast near the stadium killed one civilian and a police officer.
One year later, in another unprecedented move, PCB bought four bulletproof buses to convince international teams to visit the country in the future.
Later in the same year, then Pakistan Super League (PSL) chairman Najam Sethi announced that the tournament’s final will be held in Lahore — a promise which he delivered as many international stars graced the Gaddafi Stadium in February earlier this year.
That final paved the way for this World XI team to visit Pakistan as the ICC task force found the country’s situation and security arrangements to be more than satisfactory for international players to visit Pakistan.
It has been a long journey for the cricket fans and the all stakeholders alike to see their team in action in their own backyard, but while the journey has had many ups and downs, it certainly has brought the nation to a point where we can safely say that Pakistan is now a safe country to host international matches — something we all have been dying to hear since 2009.