The much anticipated return of international cricket to Pakistan is almost upon us as the hosts get ready to welcome the ICC World XI for a three-match T20I series.
The World XI led by South African skipper Faf du Plessis arrived in Lahore on Monday after their two-day training camp in Dubai.
The two teams will play all the three T20 clashes at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, starting on Tuesday.
Preparations for the historic series has been underway for some time now with the ICC throwing its complete support behind the matches in a bid to progress the resumption of international cricket to the South Asian country.
The series, which has been renamed as the Independence Cup, is the first time since 2009 that an international match will take place in Pakistan under the supervision of ICC officials.
Former West Indies skipper Sir Richie Richardson has been appointed as the match referee for the three ties by the ICC. Despite their international isolation, Pakistan had welcomed Zimbabwe for a visit in 2015 but the matches had been supervised by local Pakistan officials.
The visit of the World XI, who are being coached by Andy Flower, could be the first of many in what might well prove to be a watershed year for Pakistan cricket. Sri Lanka have confirmed that they will be playing one of the three T20Is scheduled with Pakistan in the UAE later this month at the Lahore venue instead.
Similarly, West Indies have agreed to visit the country for a three-match T20I series later this November.
— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) September 11, 2017
The PCB will be hoping that a successful organisation of the Independence Cup could open the floodgates for other international sides to visit the country in the future.
As of now, the excitement continues to build up for the three T20 clashes which sees Safraz Ahmed’s men take on a star-laden 14-man World XI squad.
Sarfraz Ahmed (C), Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Umar Amin, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf , Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Amir, Rumman Raees, Usman Khan, Sohail Khan.
Faf du Plessis (C), Hashim Amla, George Bailey, Paul Collingwood, Ben Cutting, George Elliott, Tamim Iqbal, David Miller, Tim Paine, Thisara Perera, Darren Sammy, Samuel Badree, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
A World XI squad comprising 13 players from seven top cricket-playing nations landed in Lahore early Monday amid massive security, with Pakistan hoping the tour will end years of international isolation.
The World XI, which will play three Twenty20 internationals from Tuesday, arrived around 2:00am Pakistan time (2100 GMT) with air surveillance and dozens of police vans in attendance as the team was whisked to their hotel.
— Siasat.pk (@siasatpk) September 10, 2017
Ticket sales for the event went live on September 1 and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are anticipating a near sell-out crowd for the three matches.
The World XI is led by South Africa batsman Faf du Plessis, as well as Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir, Darren Sammy and George Bailey.
The ICC had earlier contracted an international security firm on a three-year deal to review the arrangements in Pakistan on a yearly basis.
— Raza Mehdi (@SyedRezaMehdi) September 10, 2017
The security team has already conducted a visit of the facilities in Lahore on September 5 and there is expected to be another review on Monday before the first T20I takes place the following day.
All the matches have been scheduled to take place at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore with the final encounter to be played on September 15.
Pakistan’s star pacer Mohammad Amir is set to miss the blockbuster series as the 25-year-old and his wife are expecting their first child.
The World XI, who had a two-day training camp in Dubai prior to landing in Pakistan, are to hold a three-hour practice-session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday.
Final preparations are underway for tomorrow’s first clash between Pakistan and the World XI in Lahore.
— ICC (@ICC) September 11, 2017
West Indies all-rounder Darren Sammy has already visited the country earlier this year for the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore amidst tight security.
The Independence Cup continues to generate excitement around the South Asian country which has been avoided by touring international teams ever since terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009.
But security has dramatically improved across Pakistan in the last two years, signalling hopes for the slow revival of international sport in the country.
Grant Elliott says the World XI side have a job to entertain the home crowd by playing their part in putting on a great spectacle against Pakistan in the Independence Cup.
The Pakistani fans will get a chance to see high-profile cricket for the first time on home soil since 2009 when the World XI meet the Champions Trophy winners Pakistan in Lahore in a three-match T20 series.
Elliott, who will become the first New Zealand cricketer to play in Pakistan since 2003, says it’s a vibrant atmosphere within the dressing room and hopes the team can put on a show in all the games.
“I think it’s exciting,” said the 38-year-old all-rounder, who won 104 international caps. “It adds up to the whole excitement of the event. I’ve seen social media posts of fans going to the game and they can’t wait. They are counting down the hours. I’ve spoken to Darren Sammy and he’s spoken about the Gaddafi Stadium in the PSL final and the guys have a little bit experience of what it would feel like.
“I think we have a very exciting team and our job will be to go out there and entertain the crowd and make it a spectacle and try and win the games.”
Despite having not played a T20I against Pakistan, Elliott knows a few of the national team players having been part of the Pakistan Super League with Lahore Qalanders.
With Mickey Arthur’s men playing for the first time since stunning India in the Champions Trophy in London, Elliott is fully aware that his side face a stern task.
“I saw them in the Champions Trophy and on their day they are a very exciting team,” he said. “They are building something exciting. There are a lot of fantastic players like Fakhar Zaman, who scored a century in the final. Pakistan have always had an exciting team and it’s just great they will be able to play in front of their home crowd.”