Pakistan Tuesday took a giant step towards reviving international cricket at home with a 20-run victory over the World XI in a match before excited crowds amid tight security.
The Twenty20 match, accorded international status by the International CricketCouncil, is only the second time Pakistan has hosted an international match since militants attacked the bus of the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009, killing eight people and injuring seven players and staff.
Long before the match started at 7:00PM (1400GMT), around 9,000 police officers and paramilitary forces were deployed to the area, cordoning off the team’s hotels and stadium.
But the large security presence did little to temper the enthusiasm of fans in the cricket-mad country.
“I came here early to watch the teams come but that was not possible due to security so I only watched them in the ground and it made my day,” said spectator Azfar Ali.
Pakistan, sent into bat by World XI skipper Faf du Plessis, notched 197-5 with Babar Azam hitting a rapid 52-ball 86. His career best Twenty20 score had ten boundaries and two sixes.
Azam added 122 for the second wicket with Ahmed Shehzad (39) as Pakistan built on the loss of opener Fakhar Zaman for eight.
Shoaib Malik smashed a 20-ball 38 with two sixes and four boundaries to give the final touches to the innings.
The World XI started off well with Tamim Iqbal hitting 18 with three boundaries and Hashim Amla smashing three boundaries and a six in his 17-ball 26 but left-arm pacer Rumman Raees dismissed both in the same over to put the brakes on their innings.
Skipper Faf du Plessis hit four boundaries and a six while Darren Sammy smashed three sixes — both scoring 29 — but were unable to see their team through.
For Pakistan, paceman Sohail Khan and leg-spinner Shadab Khan finished with two wickets apiece.
The second game is on Wednesday and the third on Friday — both in Lahore.
Pakistan hopes the series will help end their international isolation, with Sri Lanka due to play a Twenty20 in October followed by three Twenty20 internationals against the West Indies in November.
Six Pakistani players — Azam, Ashraf, Zaman, Shadab, Raees and Hasan Ali — played their first international match on the home soil.