Written By: Omair Alavi
Cricket may not be the national sport of Pakistan but it is celebrated as one, considering it is one of those sports where Pakistan has excelled in all formats. During the last few months, Pakistan has emerged as one of the leading cricket teams – Misbah-ul-Haq held the Test Mace last year while Sarfraz lifted the ICC Champions Trophy by defeating arch-rival India a few months back. Naturally, the followers of Pakistan cricket team were anxious to see their players in action at home, and the issue was resolved by the Pakistan Cricket Board in general and Najam Sethi in particular who convinced the best players in the world to visit Pakistan and set an example for others to follow. Let’s analyze the World XI tour and find out how it will help Pakistan cricket in coming days.
The security was excellent and the players and the officials felt at home in Lahore. Had there been a lapse in security, things would have gone haywire but thanks to the Pakistan Army and Law Enforcement Agencies, everything happened according to their plan.
First Match: The World XI won the toss and elected to field in the first match of the series; Pakistan had a shaky start as they lost their swashbuckling opening batsman Fakhar Zaman for 8. However, Ahmed Shehzad and Babar Azam took the score forward and when the former was dismissed for a 34-ball 39, the team total was 130 for 2 in 14.1 overs. Hard hitting from the experienced Shoaib Malik and an entertaining 52-ball 86 by Babar Azam saw Pakistan post 197 runs on the board for the loss of 5 wickets. The World XI started well but with Rumman Raees, Sohail Khan and Shadab Khan in the form of their lives, the visitors could only score 177 runs for the loss of seven wickets in 20 overs. Captain Faf du Plessis and Darren Sammy managed to top score with 29 runs each and although Sammy was there until the end, he couldn't save his team from going one-down in the three-match series.
Second Match: Then there was the second match where the World XI looked better prepared than the hosts. Pakistan Captain Sarfraz Ahmed elected to bat first and thanks to Babar Azam's 45, Ahmed Shehzad's 43 and Shoaib Malik's 39, the hosts posted a healthy score of 174 for the loss of six wickets. The visitors managed to reach the target on the penultimate delivery of the match, thanks to a quick-fire 19-ball 47 not-out by Thishara Perera; although Hashim Amla scored 72 runs off 55 deliveries and remained not-out, Perera's innings changed the momentum and helped the World XI level the series with a 7-wicket win. Pakistani fielders couldn't take the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd and dropped many catches, resulting in a loss that could have been a victory.
Third Match: Pakistan outclassed World XI in the grand finale of the Independence Cup; the visitors managed to win the toss and elected to field but the decision cost them the series as Ahmed Shehzad struck 8 fours and 3 sixes in his 55-ball 89. Babar Azam ably supported him and continued his golden run with the bat with a 31-ball 48. Chasing 184 to win the match and the series, the World XI faltered in front of the much-improved bowling and fielding display from the hosts. David Miller and Thishara Perera were the only ones to show some resistance with 32 runs each; due to the failure of the rest of the team, the World XI managed 150 runs for the loss of eight wickets, losing the match by 33 runs. Hasan Ali was the pick of the bowlers with two wickets for 28 runs.
Breaking the Barrier for Good!
For more than 8 years, Pakistan’s Cricket team has been playing its home series away from home because international teams didn’t think it was a safe place to visit and play. There were a few instances where international teams such as Zimbabwe visited Pakistan for T20 and ODIs but that wasn’t enough to convince the best in the world. That’s one of the reasons why the ICC was approached with the idea for the Independence Cup – independence from being ignored, independence from being isolated and independence from being dictated to play away from home. The best players in the world agreed to visit Pakistan led by South African captain Faf du Plessis and the rest is history. The Sri Lankans currently playing Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates also have agreed to visit Pakistan for the T20 Internationals and their tour is subject to security clearance. The West Indians might also visit Pakistan later in the year and if that happens, cricket will turn out to be the eventual winner.
International Level Coverage and Security
The grand finale of the Pakistan Super League was a disappointing affair as international broadcasters refused to travel to Pakistan and the host nation had to rely on local broadcasters who couldn’t take the pressure of international level coverage. However, in the matches between Pakistan and the World XI, the coverage was at par with any international sports channel. The greenery of the stadium was televised as green (pun intended) while the players really looked like international cricketers donning the Pakistan jersey. The security was excellent and the players and the officials felt at home in Lahore. Had there been a lapse in security, things would have gone haywire but thanks to the Pakistan Army and Law Enforcement Agencies, everything happened according to their plan.
Dream Come True for Most Players
UAE may be Pakistan’s home away from home but playing in front of the local crowd has a different feeling. From the current team only Sarfraz Ahmed, Sohail Khan and Shoaib Malik had played in front of local crowds in Pakistan before the World XI series. The rest of players who made their debut after 2009 felt proud as well since the cheering of the local crowd, their involvement, their appreciation is what cricketers around the world long for. Add to this the outstanding performance of youngsters making their debut at home and you get to see a fancy picture of Pakistan Cricket where everyone is a match-winning individual with the potential to give tough time to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Youngsters Who Perform, Get Praised
The Independence Cup helped Pakistanis know what the whole world knows and that’s the fact that Babar Azam is a world-class cricketer. He may have missed scoring a century in the series but his consistency helped Pakistan coming out as the better team. Thanks to his 89 runs in the grand finale, Ahmed Shehzad ended the series as the second highest scorer – 171 runs to Babar Azam's 179. Shoaib Malik strengthened the middle-order with his gutsy innings and scored 94 runs in the series at a strike rate of 188. That was the best from the entire Pakistan side.
As for the bowlers, Rumman Raees emerged as one of the leading The top T20 bowler in the world, Imad Wasim took two wickets, the same number of wickets were taken by Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan. The crowd appreciated Hasan Ali’s celebration style and loved watching young sensation Shadab at home, something they termed priceless after the series.
Multiple matches, Multiple Venues
As a top cricket nation, Pakistan went into seclusion after the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The Board’s decision to restrict international cricket to Lahore for logistics purposes was understandable but then it should have hosted just one match instead of three. There are many cricket crazy cities in Pakistan including Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad etc. and hosting matches in those cities would have been like giving importance to their residents. The Multan stadium is outside the city and would have been ideal to host the match(es) as would have been Karachi’s National Stadium where the last complete Test hosted in Pakistan was held. The more the venues, the better the message would have been to the international community.
Pakistan Cricket Board blundered by pricing the tickets high and they had to admit to the fiasco as the series progressed. Even the visiting team’s captain was surprised to see that the stadium wasn’t full in the first match and the Board’s overconfidence is to be blamed for that. Many of the tickets were not available at the designated banks but that’s something that has been part and parcel of Pakistan Cricket, be it in the 1980s or 2010s. One hopes that the next time when an international team visits Pakistan, such issues would not arise due to better handling.
Overall, the PCB deserves full appreciation for making this mega event a success. Pakistan won, Cricket won; and Peace won!