Pakistan take a huge step towards reviving international cricket at home after years of isolation when they host a three-match Twenty20 series amid tight security against a star-studded World XI, starting Tuesday.
The series will be the most high-profile in the cricket-mad country since a 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore left eight dead and drove away international cricket and most other sports.
The Pakistan cricket Board (PCB) have high hopes that the series will close that dark chapter for good – and allow a new generation of players to experience the thrill of playing before a home crowd for the first time.
Just five members of the current squad have done that before – skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Sohail Khan and Ahmed Shehzad.
“I can assure all Pakistan cricket fans that we have missed playing in front of them,” Ahmed said.
“Everybody involved in the series will realise there are bigger issues at stake than winning at cricket,” said World XI coach and former Zimbabwe batsman Andy Flower.
“However, I think when these excellent players get together as a team, their competitive juices will undoubtedly flow and they will come together and be doing everything in their power to win those games.
“I’m pretty certain about that,” added the former England coach.
Security has dramatically improved in Pakistan in recent years, but militant groups retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks and officials are taking no chances.
Some 8,000 police and paramilitary forces will guard teams as they travel back and forth from Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.
Roads and shops will be closed around the 27,000-capacity venue, while spectators will have to pass through multiple security checkpoints.
While some vendors around the stadium have complained about the security, fans seemed unfazed.
“I had to stand in a queue for seven hours before getting my ticket,” said local college student Mohammad Farooq proudly.
Since the 2009 attack Pakistan have been forced to play most of their “home” games in the United Arab Emirates – with the PCB complaining they have incurred losses of around $120 million.
On the field, Pakistan will start favourites in their first outing since their shock victory at the 50-over Champions Trophy in England in June.
The World XI are led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and feature his countrymen Hashim Amla and David Miller, plus Bangladesh’s Tamim Iqbal and Australia’s George Bailey in strong batting line-up.
They have also tempted out of retirement at the age of 41 the captain of England’s 2010 World T20-winning side, Paul Collingwood.
A potent bowling attack comprises South Africa’s Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir, with Australian Ben Cutting and West Indies’ Samuel Badree and Darren Sammy.
“I am positive that this series will serve to open the doors of international cricket in Pakistan,” said PCB chairman Najam Sethi.
Support from the International cricket Council (ICC) has been crucial.
The ICC have accorded international status on the matches, which will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and are sending former West Indian great Richie Richardson as referee.
“The ICC wants to see regular international cricket being played safely in all its member countries and the World XI playing in Lahore is a step towards that for the PCB,” said ICC chief executive David Richardson.
“We are optimistic that this will be the next step in a steady and safe return of international cricket to Pakistan.”
Whatever the result, if it passes without incident it will pave the way for a further, hugely symbolic step: the return of Sri Lanka next month.
On Saturday, Pakistan announced the itinerary for a full Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka – mainly in neutral venues but, if the World XI passes without incident, the finale is planned for Gaddafi Stadium.
If it comes to pass, it will be eight and a half years since the deadly attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus outside the same Lahore venue, which left six police and two civilians dead, six players wounded.
Provided by AFP Sport
Abu Dhabi Cricket’s (ADC) international season at the new-look Zayed Cricket Stadium facility will kick off with the much-anticipated opening Test match of the Pakistan v Sri Lanka series on September 28 to October 2.
Organised by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and hosted by ADC, this will be followed by four further matches, including the second and third One Day Internationals on October 16 to 18, and the first and second Twenty20s (of a three-part series) on October 26 and 27. The final game of the ‘T20’ series is slated to return to Lahore, Pakistan.
This constitutes a big draw for Abu Dhabi Cricket, whose showpiece 18,000-capacity Zayed Cricket Stadium and surrounding cricketing facilities have recently undergone an extensive upgrade, and is now primed to play host to the international cricket community.
Both the Pakistan and Sri Lankan teams will have access to its newly-constructed world-class cricket nets during the series, as well as eight immaculately renovated wickets in a brand new international section.
With the full support of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, ADC will host five of the eleven Pakistan v Sri Lanka games and is the only facility in the UAE to host any Twenty20 games in this series, demonstrating Abu Dhabi’s wider drive to grow cricket in the capital from grass-roots level all the way to international competition.
“We are thrilled the Pakistan Cricket Board has chosen Abu Dhabi to host international competition of this calibre,” says His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary, Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
“With our full support, Abu Dhabi Cricket is helping to revive this incredible sport to its famously fanatical audience amid world-class facilities in Abu Dhabi, while helping to nurture the next generation of UAE sportsmen and women and promote a healthier lifestyle.”
Najam Sethi, Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board commented, “We are pleased to play in Abu Dhabi and expect that this arrangement will be mutually beneficial for future tours as well.”
“This series of fixtures continues Abu Dhabi Cricket’s excellent working partnership with the Pakistan Cricket Board” says Matthew Boucher, Acting CEO, Abu Dhabi Cricket. “We are particularly pleased to be hosting all three formats of the game and to have been selected for the marquee Twenty20 ‘double-header’ on 26th and 27th October, where we expect to see a packed-out capacity crowd.
“Our thanks go to the Pakistan Cricket Board for their confidence in Abu Dhabi and to Abu Dhabi Sports Council for their unwavering support in executing our vision of developing and showcasing world-class cricket here in the capital.”
The wheels were set in motion last month with the launch of the new-look Zayed Cricket Academy, which, with the major upgrading of facilities at Zayed Cricket Stadium, is now the UAE’s most prestigious junior cricket coaching programme.
Open to both girls and boys of all abilities from age four up to 18, it will now operate a ‘Junior Academy’ for beginners aged 11 and under, as well as an ‘Senior Academy’ for those aged 12 and over who have played cricket for three years or more.
Tickets will be available soon and information will be posted on www.abudhabicricket.ae.
Shahid Afridi will not participate in this year’s edition of the Afghan Shpageeza Cricket League, the Pakistan cult hero confirmed on Friday.
Afridi, who recently featured for English county side Hampshire during last weekend’s NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day, was due to play in the Afghanistan-based tournament between September 11-21.
However, the veteran all-rounder, 37, tweeted that personal reasons meant that this now would not be the case.
Very thankful to AFG gvt, @ACBofficials &MuslimYar sb. Speenghar Tigers to invite me. But I have some vry urgent family issue comeup 1/2
— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) September 8, 2017
I look fwd to come in future & support the great iniative. I support bridging realtions via cricket for peace to unite nations. 2/2
— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) September 8, 2017
Afridi retired from international cricket earlier this year and is therefore allowed to continue his career as a freelance T20 cricketer, since he does not require a no-objection certificate to play in overseas tournaments from the Pakistan Cricket Board.