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Sep 13, 2017 05:23 PM IST | Source:

Pakistan a winner both on the field and off it as international cricket returns to country

Before Tuesday’s victory against World XI, it had been eight years since the last high-profile international fixture was played in Pakistan.

Pakistan on Tuesday celebrated the return of international cricket to their country after eight years with a comprehensive 20-run victory over the visiting World XI team in the first of three T20 internationals.

Playing at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan put up 197 runs on the board batting first largely thanks to a breezy 52-ball 86 by Babar Azam. The World XI team, led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis, could only muster 177 in reply, bogged down by a regular fall of wickets and batsmen getting starts but not making the most of them.

While the Pakistani cricket team won on the field, the bigger victory was arguably for the country as a whole.

Before Tuesday’s fixture, it had been eight years since the last high-profile international fixture was played in Pakistan. In 2009, a dastardly militant attack on the Sri Lankan team resulted in Sri Lankan batsman Thilan Samaraweera taking a bullet to the hip. In all, seven players were injured, and six policemen and two civilians were killed.

The incident is hard to forget, both for fans and for the players. After all, a cricketer taking the field against another international side would ideally want to worry about the match at hand and not about catching a random bullet.

So when players from most cricket playing nations decided to come together as the World XI team and come to Pakistan to play three T20 matches, the citizens of the cricket-mad country finally got a reason to hope that international cricket might return in its full capacity.

Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium was decked up up gloriously for the opening match. Security was tight, given the high-profile nature of the fixture and the backdrop against which it had been organised. The bus that carried the players to the stadium was bomb-proof and accompanied by a host of police vehicles.

Groundsmen were seen repairing the barbed-wire fence around the ground and workers were seen giving the whole stadium a new coat of paint.

The night of the match saw around 20,000 spectators filling the stadium, with thousands of others forced to stay outside because they couldn’t get tickets. The passes were expensive, around USD 80 for the three-match series, and the cheaper USD 5 tickets were sold out almost immediately.

So much was the excitement around the match that taxi service provider Uber announced that it would ferry anyone and everyone to the stadium at a flat fare of 111 rupees (Pakistani rupee).

“Two years ago, the situation wasn’t so good and we didn’t want to risk anything that might endanger the guests even if they were prepared to come,” Najam Sethi, the Pakistan Cricket Board and PSL chairman, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

“Now we can say with assurance that the war against terrorism has been taken to its logical conclusion and that 90-95 percent of terrorism has abated in this country. A sufficient condition was to convince the international community in general and the ICC in particular that the situation was safe to play cricket,” Sethi added.
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