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In an article for FirstPost Sports, Saj analyses Pakistan's victory in the landmark first T20I against the World XI side in the Independence Cup.

By Saj Sadiq (13th September, 2017)

If one had asked anyone in Lahore in April 2009 if they expected to see international cricket of the highest quality in their city any time in the future, the response would have been a shrugged shoulder or a sarcastic laugh at the most.

As things stood after the tragic events of March 2009, it would have required a miracle for any foreign team or even a player to step into the country. Playing a cricket match at the Gaddafi Stadium, the scene of the abandoned 2nd Test against Sri Lanka, appeared out of the question. Or so it seemed.

The advent of the final of the 2017 edition of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore, which included overseas players, had set the ball rolling in Pakistan’s favour. Whilst the ICC had made plans to send an XI consisting of top players, it was Pakistan’s historic victory in the Champions Trophy which provided the necessary final impetus for the World XI’s tour to become a reality.

And so, on 12 September, 2017 eight years after international cricket came to an abrupt stop in Lahore, a team of top international cricketers took on a Pakistan team in the first of three T20Is as part of the Independence Cup.

A Pakistan squad, consisting incredibly of 10 players who had never played in front of their home crowds, was pitted against a World XI which boasted a veritable who’s who of international cricket. The resulting encounter did not disappoint the fans in the packed stadium who had waited for years to see this moment happen.

Before the event, the World XI had experienced some gracious Pakistani hospitality on arrival in the city the day before and they were then treated to a ride around the stadium in a fleet of colourfully decorated rickshaws much to the amusement of players and the audience.

Unfortunately for the World XI, the hospitality ended once the toss took place and Pakistan were put into bat by Faf du Plessis.

Pakistan’s new batting hero from the Champions Trophy, Fakhar Zaman, came out with a license to thrill the capacity crowd. However, Morne Morkel had the last laugh as he sent the young batsman back to the pavilion for just eight runs. This brought in Babar Azam and along with a rather struggling Ahmed Shehzad, he put on a 122-run partnership before Shehzad's sorry sojourn came to an end.

Babar then went on to record his highest T20I score before departing for a fantastic and free-flowing 86 off 52 balls. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed failed to entertain the expectant crowds but the disappointment with his innings was soon replaced by absolute delight for the Pakistan supporters as Shoaib Malik launched his own counter-attack at the World XI bowlers with 38 off just 20 deliveries including four fours and two sixes before Imad Wasim threw in the kitchen sink with 15 off four deliveries to end the innings. Pakistan thus ended up on a strong 197/5 at the end of their 20 overs after plundering 48 runs off the last three overs.

The Gaddafi Stadium pitch had been forecast to be a belter and the presence of dew would have put some question marks in Pakistani bowlers’ minds. And if the manner in which the opening partnership between Hashim Amla and Tamim Iqbal was proceeding through the initial overs was any indication, there could have been trouble ahead for Pakistan. As if he started where he left off against England in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy, Rumman Raees came into the attack and calmly removed the openers with ease to put the World XI on 48/2 after six action-packed overs.

With his appointment as South Africa’s captain in all three formats seeming having given him an extra spring in his step, the World XI skipper Su Plessis walked to the crease, and along with his partner Tim Paine, he treated the audience to a display of some power-hitting in a 53-run partnership. Shadab Khan, fresh from his heroics at the CPL, then stepped into gear and removed the dangerous looking du Plessis to practically end any real hopes of resistance. Paine departed shortly after as overs started running out. Apart from a fighting 17 by Thisara Perera and a gallant 29* by Darren Sammy, the World XI’s challenge eventually fizzled out on 177/7 to give a 20-run victory to the home-side.

Whilst the talk before the series had been about building bridges and trust with the international cricket community, what was heartening to see was that the two sides approached the game with enthusiasm and a firm desire to win. This was what the spectators were yearning for and this is exactly the spirit that will make this a series to remember.

Pakistan did not really put a foot wrong in this game and all the players performed their roles admirably considering several did not have a lot of cricket behind them. The World XI line-up consists of a number of match-winners who will now be used to the local conditions and it would be expected that Imran Tahir will come into the starting eleven. It would be a folly for Pakistan to underestimate their ability to mount a comeback in this series based on one bad day at the office. This fact alone will make the remaining two games a must watch for all followers of cricket.

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