World class cricket returns to Pakistan


LAHORE: Pakistan eventually won Tuesday’s entertaining encounter by 20 runs, but it was a night where the result or the final score card was largely superfluous. But you probably wouldn’t have guessed it from Shadab Khan’s reaction after he dismissed David Miller, who was stumped by an equally upbeat Sarfraz Ahmed.

A lot of that stems from the fact that the ongoing Independence Cup isn’t an exhibition series, but international matches recognised by the ICC – and would count as such in the stats as well. But it’s also because the younger Pakistani lot hasn’t played any cricket in front of their own fans. So for them, it was the chance to prove how good they are, against world class athletes, in front of their own crowd.

It is the same crowd that absolutely adores the likes of Grant Elliot – who conjured the now cult bat-drop display for Lahore Qalandars in PSL 2 – and most of all, Darren Sammy.

The number of times Sammy’s name was chanted by the Gaddafi Stadium crowd was more than the rest of the players combined – Pakistani players included. And when the two-time World T20 winning captain stepped out to bat in the 17th over, he was the recipient of the loudest cheer.

It is hard to think of a foreign cricketer who has ever been as popular as Sammy is in Pakistan. There definitely isn’t one right now.

His participation in the PSL 2 final in Lahore, and the lifting of the winners’ trophy is what made this series possible, and has made the return of international cricket to Pakistan possible.

His name will forever be etched in Pakistan cricket’s history. Now he is joined by the rest of the World XI as well.

While the competitive nature of the game might’ve sprung up as the game drew to its conclusion, it started in festive mood with Fakhar Zaman hitting two boundaries to Morne Morkel in the first over, before being dismissed by the lanky South African.

What followed was a strong partnership between Ahmed Shehzad (39 off 34) and Babar Azam (86 off 52), with the latter doing the bulk of the scoring for Pakistan, displaying his wide repertoire of strokes.

A late flurry by Imad Wasim, coupled with some big hits early on by Shoaib Malik meant that Pakistan posted a dominating 197/5.

In reply, Hashim Amla and Tamim Iqbal gave the World XI a solid start, which was carried forward by Tim Paine and Faf Du Plessis. It was the skipper with 29 off 18 balls that threatened to bring the chase to within the reach of the World XI. But eventually the guests ran out of deliveries, despite Elliot, Thisara Perrera and Sammy striking a few blows lower down the order.

For World XI, Morkel, Ben Cutting and Imran Tahir took a wicket apiece, while Perrera took two and also ended up being the most expensive bowler on display with 51 conceded off his four overs. Babar Azam top scored in the match with 86, and deservedly received the Man of the Match Award. For Pakistan, Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan and Sohail Khan – the pick of the bowlers on either side – took two wickets each. Du Plessis and Sammy were joint top-scorers for World XI with 29 apiece, with the West Indian remaining unbeaten.

But Tuesday night was all about the bigger picture – something that would dominate the series till Friday, and beyond. Maybe the next two matches would incorporate more critique of the action as well. After these are international matches against a world-class all-star side.