The World XI’s tour of militancy-racked Pakistan is more than just a game, captain Faf du Plessis and coach Andy Flower said Monday, amid high hopes it will revive international cricket in the country.
South Africa’s du Plessis told reporters in Lahore it was a “huge honour” to be playing the highest-profile event in cricket-mad Pakistan since a militant attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009.
Pakistan has not hosted top-level international cricket — barring five limited-over matches against minnows Zimbabwe in 2015 — since that attack, which killed eight people and injured seven players and staff.
“It’s not every day you get an opportunity to play in something that is much more than just about yourself and your own team or your own country,” du Plessis said.
World XI coach Andy Flower, who toured Pakistan in 1993, 1996 and 1998 with Zimbabwe, said he and his team were “privileged” to be there.
“We, as the World XI, would also like to offer our sympathy and condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones in terrorist acts in Pakistan,” he said.
“These cricketers are here to play their part in the safe and steady return of international cricket in Pakistan, so that the enthusiastic and diehard fans and followers of Pakistan cricket can once again start watching their stars in their own backyard.”
Officials have said there will be “foolproof” security for the three-match Twenty20 series starting Tuesday in Lahore.
Both the hotel and stadium will be cordoned off, with 9,000 police and paramilitary staff deployed.
Shops and restaurants around the venue will be shut while spectators will have to pass through multiple security checkpoints.
Du Plessis said he was confident in the security arrangements.
“You do think about that sort of thing, but as soon as we spoke to the people who were in control of the security… as a player all you want was that peace of mind and they gave it to us.”
Once the players boarded the plane, he said, their fears vanished as they began to look forward to taking part in what he described as a “huge turnaround in world cricket”.
– Still far to go –
Since the 2009 attack Pakistan have been forced to play most of their “home” games overseas.
But security has dramatically improved in the last two years, signalling hopes for the slow revival of international sport.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Najam Sethi said the World XI’s arrival was a great day for Pakistan, though he admitted there was still a long way to go.
International Cricket Council head Giles Clarke said it was “still a long road and a lot of work”.
But he said events such as the final of the popular Pakistan Super League in Lahore earlier this year had made the World XI tour possible.
“Everybody had the courage and the confidence to play here (after that) and that was essential for this series,” he said.
Sethi thanked the World XI players for agreeing to the tour, and said the PCB now expects “more doors to open”.
Sri Lanka are set to make a hugely symbolic return to Lahore as part of a full series against Pakistan in October. Pakistan also hope West Indies will play three T20s in the city in November.