The return of international cricket to Pakistan has been celebrated in style by the players and fans following the first Test victory against Zimbabwe in Lahore.
After six years of hosting no international games, the future is finally bright for Pakistan cricket and it is hoped that the Zimbabwe series can attract more top teams in the future.
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While the nation and the world watch on TV, the thousands of fans who attended the Gaddafi Stadium have built a special relationship with the players.
As he waited to play in his first Test in front of a home crowd, ODI captain Azhar Ali said those special last moments were extremely anxious.
“I was really nervous in the hours before the game as the excitement of playing at home got the better of me. I just couldn’t stop thinking about my first international outing in Pakistan and thankfully it finished with a win for me,” Azhar told Sport360.
“I fulfilled my boyhood dream because I always targeted playing for Pakistan, but when I achieved this, all the games were played outside our country. However, the dream materialised late but I’m thankful that it has and hopefully the revival does not stop here.”
So far Pakistan have won the T20 series against Zimbabwe, while the first ODI was all about high scores – a total of 709 runs were scored – which is the highest aggregate involving Pakistan in ODI history.
Aside from this, Pakistan made 375 for three, which is their highest ODI score at home. Azhar and Hafeez put up a 70-run opening association which spurred Pakistan to an impressive total.
What’s been great about the series is the fact that Zimbabwe have received almost equal support, something which has never been witnessed in past in Pakistan.
This has even been acknowledged by the Zimbabwean players.
“Apart from playing at home, we’ve received such support and the crowd has been just fantastic,” Zimbabwe skipper Elton Chigumbura said.
“They have really backed us and it has been amazing to play in Pakistan. The only thing missing is the victory for us. We’ve been close in all three matches but we haven’t been able to finish off with a win.”
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Chigumbura praised the security put in place for the safety of the Zimbabwe team and stressed that it has allowed them to feel at home and concentrate on their game.
The security mechanism is unprecedented and Lahore comes to a halt when the teams move back and forth from hotel to stadium.
Around 6000 policemen guard Gaddafi Stadium when the match is taking place, while the PCB has also deployed commandos for the Zimbabwean journalists who have come to cover the series.
Zimbabwean all-rounder Sean Williams too has been moved by the whole situation: “It’s such a perfect situation for us playing in front of such a loving crowd. Everything has been excellent so far, may it be security, fans, atmosphere, pitch and the cricket. It has been a pleasure to be part of this historic series,” William remarked.
Earlier in the series, Pakistan head coach Waqar Younis stated that it was very hard to control the players’ emotions when the team walked out for the first T20I.
Waqar had to organise a special meeting before the first T20I to control the nerves of the players, however, he admitted that emotions got the better of the team when they were welcomed by the large crowd in Lahore.
Meanwhile, PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan showed delight that the board had been able to pull-off such an important tour which will put Pakistan cricket on the right track going forward.
“We’ve now officially taken that first step to show the world that international cricket can be hosted successfully. It hasn’t been an easy journey though as several other tours were suspended due to security issues in last 12 months,” Shaharyar said.
“We just can’t thank Zimbabwe enough for coming here despite reservation from their sports ministry. Though we’re paying them a healthy amount of money, it’s ultimately Pakistan cricket which will be the winner. You can offer money but they can still refuse because nothing is bigger than a life. This is why we all need to appreciate the courage shown by the Zimbabwe team to help us come out of this darkness.”
To date, it has been a promising series and the 20 million people of Pakistan would hope that the tour concludes successfully, in order for the PCB to attract bigger teams in the future.
England Captain Alastair Cook and New Zealand Captain Brendon McCullum talked on Thursday ahead of the second Test at Headingley in Leeds.
Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali has admitted that the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 qualification is playing on minds of the players as defeat in any match against Zimbabwe or the following tour of Sri Lanka could jeopardise their place in the tournament.
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Azhar’s charges are in danger of missing out on the Champions Trophy as they currently languish at ninth place, which is one below where they need to be by September 30, 2015.
The whitewash at the hands of Bangladesh came as a body blow for the team as it was Pakistan witched places in the rankings with Bangladesh, who leapfrogged them into eighth. Only a very healthy winning streak will give Pakistan any hope of getting on the plane to England for the Champions Trophy in two years time.
The West Indies are seventh place with 88 points — the same as Bangladesh — but they Caribbean side are vunerable as they do not play any more ODI matches before the cut-off date.
“Every match against Zimbabwe is a do-or-die for us because Champions Trophy qualification is important. This remains in back of our minds so we can’t afford to lose any match,” Azhar said on the eve of second ODI against Zimbabwe.
“There is pressure on us but we have to cope with it and keep in a positive frame of mind. We must try our best to win against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. We’re targeting to win the Sri Lanka series and hopefully by then Mohammad Irfan will be fit because the world fears his ability as he will provide that cutting edge.”
Ali also played down concerns of playing too much cricket this year as Bangladesh followed by Zimbabwe and a series against Sri Lanka, England and India is a lot for any team to handle let alone one rebuilding.
The skipper admitted that Pakistan is missing a bowler of Saeed Ajmal’s capability and that it would not be easy to fill the gap left by his departure.
Speaking about the second match, Azhar stated that skipper Elton Chigumbura, who has been suspended for two matches due to slow over-rate charges, would be missed by Zimbabwe as he has been in fine form of late and Pakistan would try to capitalize the situation.
“Chigumbura has been in fine form and he was the main player for Zimbabwe so Pakistan will have that advantage,” Azhar added.