Starting on Tuesday, Pakistan will host three international T20 matches against a World XI, marking the return of international cricket to the country.
The Independence Cup will take place under extreme security measures and will be monitored by other cricket boards.
According to Pakistan’s Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, Najam Sethi, if there are no problems during the series, Pakistan expects to host Sri Lanka and West Indies later this year.
No international cricket since 2009
On 3 March 2009, a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers was attacked by 12 gunmen near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Six members of the team were injured and six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed.
The Sri Lankan team was on its way to play the third day of a second Test against Pakistan.
Even before this event, the safety of touring cricket teams in Pakistan had been an issue. In May 2002, the New Zealand cricket team abandoned a Test series after a suicide bomb attack occurred outside the hotel where they were staying.
Since 2009, only Zimbabwe has toured Pakistan. The tour, that happened from 19 to 31 May 2015, consisted of three ODIs and two T20s.
Currently, Pakistan’s home matches are played in Dubai, something that costs considerable revenue in fees and other expenses.
In March, the final of the domestic T20 Pakistan Super League, featuring several high profile foreign players, was a success.
The fruitful hosting of this match, gave the PCB enough confidence to schedule the Independence Cup series.
Huge expectation in Pakistan
The upcoming series will be the first time for young cricket fans to experience a high-profile match in their country. Local television shows pre-match footage on a constant loop, showing the player’s arrival at Lahore and their practices at the Gaddafi Stadium.
ICC’s Chairman, Shashank Manohar, said in a statement: “This is a good day for world cricket as the PCB hosts a World XI in Lahore. It has been a long and tough journey as the PCB, Pakistan players and fans have been starved of the opportunity to stage, play and watch international cricket in their own country.”
“The ability of Pakistan to play international cricket at home is crucial to the long-term health of the game in Pakistan and one of the main reasons why the ICC established the Pakistan Task Force under the leadership of Giles Clarke, to explore, in partnership with the PCB, how we can get international cricket back to Pakistan safely and on a regular basis.”
South Africa’s captain, Faf du Plessis, said that this historic tour presents a rare opportunity for the players to be part of something bigger than just cricket.
“When I sit down with my family some day and we talk about this... it’s something I would be glad to have been a part of,” said du Plessis.
Andy Flower, who is coaching the World XI team, said that he is happy to be part of this event.
“We are celebrating the return of international cricket to Pakistan. This brave nation had to suffer the absence of international cricket for a very long time,” said Flower.
Both the federal and the Punjab provincial government have promised foolproof security for the series.
Over six thousand security officials have been deployed over the past days.
Sarfraz Ahmed (captain and Wicket-keeper), 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 and Sohail Khan.
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Samuel Badree, George Bailey, Paul Collingwood, Ben Cutting, Grant Elliott, Tamim Iqbal, David Miller, Morné Morkel, Tim Paine (Wicket-keeper, Thisara Perera, Imran Tahir and Darren Sammy.
Aleem Dar, Ahsan Raza, Ahmed Shahab and Shozab Raza.