Deprived of top-flight cricket for more than six years through the threat of terrorism, Pakistan initiated a fight against status quo in 2015. Zimbabwe undertook a tour of three Twenty20 Internationals and two One-Day Internationals to break a drought which began in 2009 after that fateful attack on the Sri Lankan team bus. That was followed by the Pakistan Super League final in February 2017. Both events, though played under heavy security arrangements, were runaway hits.
The quest for full-fledged resumption of international cricket in Pakistan has further received a solid shot in the arm through the tour of a Faf du Plessis-led World XI to play the home side. The series, which will comprise three T20Is, features several recognisable faces from South Africa, England, Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Windies.
The value of the event in terms of encouraging national teams to tour Pakistan cannot be overstated. From a short-term perspective, the series is already a hit. There is a tangible buzz across the country, particularly in Lahore, where all three games will be played.
“People are very excited. There has been no top-quality cricket played here apart from the Pakistan Super League final and the Zimbabwe series two years back,” Haroon Rashid, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s director of cricket and former head selector, tells Wisden India.
As much as the series is a means of providing starving locals with a dose of cricketing glucose, it is also equally important to view it as a small stepping stone towards restoring elite cricket in the nation on a frequent basis.
The effort to bring a world-class XI to its shores is commendable, but the journey to normalcy remains an arduous one.
Shahid Hashmi, a Pakistan-based reporter of many decades, feels the process would take years. “I remember Giles Clarke once saying that no major teams would come to Pakistan until two years to the last bomb blast.,” he recalls. “Time is a great healer but you need to strive for better things. So, the best course of action would be to start off with the minor teams and then go on to the bigger teams to tour the country.”
Aamir Sohail, a former skipper, pipes in, “This series is just the start, and hopefully if this goes on without any setbacks, Pakistan cricket will come alive again. The wounds heal slowly, but they most definitely will, and these matches in Lahore will send out a message to cricketing nations around the world that we (Pakistan) too will be back to hosting countries and celebrating the much-loved game.”
Ashar Zaidi, a Pakistani journalist and documentary-maker, chooses to reflect on the security issue and its fallouts. “(Security is) such a huge exercise, even the Punjab government won’t be able to give you exact numbers (of personnel deployed and costs involved). When the PSL final was staged earlier this year, there were 25 DSPs from different districts coming to Lahore, so you can imagine.
“The Gadaffi stadium is located in a very commercial, affluent part of Lahore. When we had the PSL final in February, I remember that the shopkeepers said they had to close everything for three days. This is a three-match series, and you can expect almost an entire week’s shutdown,
Despite the inevitable obstacles that Pakistan cricket will face in its attempt for complete revival of the international game in the country, the unanimous view was that this was the time to cast doubts aside.
“This is probably the most fortunate thing to happen to Pakistan cricket in the recent past,” says Rashid. “I’m glad to see that the international cricket fraternity have thought of this, and have agreed to send an international team. It is a very happy moment for Pakistan.”
“Future prospects, one can’t be certain of. But this is a very big milestone and we’re all looking forward to it,” adds Zaidi. “You get onto social media and you can feel that excitement. News channels are going crazy, there is a frenzy out there. From the chai wallah to the paratha maker to the dry fruit vendor, everyone is excited.”
Sohail points out that holding games on home soil can benefit young Pakistani cricketers and help selectors make more informed choices. “Now, they will feel that they have to be out there and perform so that they can make it to the national team,” he offers. “The national side too can gauge its strengths by playing tougher opponents in home conditions.”
It is this reasoning that perhaps partially explains the PCB’s urgency in trying to secure as many home fixtures as possible.
“The focus now for the PCB will be revival. After the World XI series, they will host Sri Lanka for one T20I followed by three more T20s against Windies,” says Hashmi. “If all of these series can go off without a hitch, then we can say that Pakistan is a safe place to play cricket.”
Lahore, a city steepled in history, has seen its fair share of everything, including the World Cup final of 1996. Over the next week, it will oversee a new dawn when the Faf du Plessis-led World XI rubs shoulders with Pakistan. Whether that sets the tone for Pakistan to become a host nation to many major tournaments remains to be seen.