Pakistan beat the touring World XI on Friday by 33 runs in the final Twenty20 fixture in Lahore to win the three match series 2-1 and thrill home fans excited by the return of international cricket.
Buoyed by a 102-run second-wicket stand between opener Ahmed Shehzad and batsman Babar Azam, Pakistan reached 183 for four in their 20 overs before restricting the star-studded World XI team led by South African captain Faf du Plessis to 150 for eight.
Pakistan has only hosted one international series since militants attacked a bus transporting the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. Six players were wounded in the attack, in which two civilians and six security officers lost their lives.
Backed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the series has been heralded as the return of international cricket.
“We are over the moon. The people of Pakistan are delirious. We think that we have opened the door for the return of international cricket,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Najam Sethi told Reuters.
Sri Lanka have agreed to visit Pakistan for one match at the end of September and West Indies are planning to send a team later in the year, Sethi said.
Gracious in defeat, Du Plessis praised the Pakistan team and said he would welcome more opportunities to tour the country.
“We were talking about it and saying this needs to happen every year,” he said.
Frenzied fans packed the stands of the 60,000 capacity Gaddafi Stadium, cheering almost equally for both teams. Many members of Pakistan’s young cricket-mad population, 60 percent of which is under 25, have not had a chance to watch live cricket at home.
“We owe all players of the visiting team for helping Pakistan restore international cricket in the country,” Lahore resident Uzma Hussain told Reuters.
Even before the 2009 attack, tours to the country had become infrequent with many teams refusing to visit due to security concerns.
“There was suffocation in the society due to bad news from everywhere. This series has reduced the suffocation as almost every Pakistani enjoyed watching the cricket,” said Mudassir Hussain, a 22-year old cricket lover.
People could be seen dancing to Bhangra music in the streets around the stadium after the match, as joyous fans headed home.
Lahore was on high-alert during the matches, with heightened security measures enforced across the city. Commuters were forced to plan alternate routes and avoid driving in the vicinity of the stadium.
“Since there has been no international cricket in Pakistan for eight years, people are not familiar with the security protocols. They get irritated with the multiple layers of security,” senior police official Haider Ashraf told Reuters.
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