Cricket’s revival: Lahore’s hospitality, World-XI hitters and Pakistan’s bowlers

The moment Najam Sethi announced that the much trumpeted arrival of the ICC World Eleven to Lahore in September is a reality, I couldn’t help myself from harking back to 2000, when, as a seven-year-old cricket fan, I watched a star-studded Asia Eleven vs the Rest of the World encounter held at Dhaka. Notwithstanding being blessed to watch a surreal sight of Sachin, Wasim, Saqlain, Dravid, Razzaq and Moeen Khan in the same team, and them winning even after World Eleven player Michael Bevan’s unforgettable, unbeatable knock of 185, we took such matches at best for granted.

Not anymore. This time around, the match involving an ICC World Eleven will be the match Pakistanis will be looking forward to with utmost fervour and eagerness. Why? Because Pakistan’s future prospects of hosting international matches depend almost entirely on the success of these three T20 matches, which will be held on September 12, 13 and 15, respectively. Should this series pass by without any mishap, Sri Lankan team will surely tour Pakistan for a couple of T20 internationals in the same month, followed by a full-fledged West Indies tour for a three-match T-20 series in November. Thus, the equation, which was never simple before, even after Zimbabweans’ tour of 2015, is now simple for Pakistan: protect the World-IX and resume home cricket.

Much of the credit ought to be assigned to the PSL 2017 final in Lahore which helped create buzz about the World-XI tour. Inevitably, one has to give it to the men who have been at the heart of Pakistan’s cricketing affairs for quite some time: Shahryar Khan and Najam Sethi. Many termed organising PSL final in Lahore a blunder, and some even said that it was a step back at a time when Pakistan needed a giant leap further. One must now realise how sound the incremental strategy was to restore international cricket in our hollow stadiums. The PCB bosses were being bashed simply because their plan required tenaciousness, a trait alien to Pakistanis. Indeed, from a humble beginning of Zimbabwe’s tour to PSL final, down to hosting a potent World-XI side, the road to salvation remained bumpy.

Since we anticipate the landing of World XI on our soil wearing the lens of international cricket’s revival, there is one area where Pakistan still lack very much and where PCB hasn’t paid much attention for a long time: the quality of our stadiums. Ever since the doors of world cricket closed on Pakistan, our stadiums have been wearing out rapidly. Meanwhile, we saw dozens of world class stadiums popping up in India, including a picturesque one located in the city of Dharamsala District Kangra in Himachal Pradesh. Similarly, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka too worked on ameliorating the conditions of their erstwhile deformed cricket grounds.

Although it must have been unfeasible for a cash-starved PCB to build new stadiums during years after 2009, it is still an untenable fact that the current state of Qaddafi stadium, where international cricket is supposed to be resumed, reflects primitive standards when compared to modern facilities. Anticipated as PSL 2017 was, the fans’ spirits quickly plummeted when the match commenced, as ancient flood lights sent vibes of a cricket match from 1980’s and pavilions were completely blacked out, certainly not what modern stadiums offer today. Now that PCB has finally begun to amass profits especially after back to back successful PSL auditions, it should immediately start investing where the top-tier cricket is actually going to happen: stadiums.

Keeping the prospect of an unhospitable Qaddafi stadium aside, we are positive that Lahore would break all the records of hospitality for the incoming men, led by South Africa stalwart Faf du Plessis, who recently revealed the reason behind his decision to come to Pakistan. “Jinne Lahore ni vekhya o jammya e nai” (If you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t even been born), said Pakistan-born Imran Tahir to Faf, thus instantly convincing his skipper to visit Pakistan. The stylish right-handed batter recently said that he was honoured to tour Pakistan. “Playing Pakistan in front of its passionate supporters will be a unique occasion, which I can’t wait to experience,” Faf said.

The 15-member squad comprising world eleven features several other prominent names from seven different test playing nations such as Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel, David Miller, George Bailey, Darren Sammy and Tamim Iqbal. From this international cohort, only Hashim Amla, Tamim Iqbal and Paul Collingwood have played international cricket in Pakistan before. Pakistan’s squad, on the other hand, seems a fine blend of youth and experienced blokes, with Junaid Khan and Muhammad Hafeez being glaring omissions from Champions Trophy winning squad. Certainly, there will be rotations in both squads in three matches embedded in a tight schedule; however, it would still be satiating to pick best possible eleven players from each squad, so as to poise one against the other and obtain, in advance, a vivid picture of what is going to transpire in Lahore on September 12. Here is how I would want to see two playing elevens:

 

Pakistan

World IX

Fakhar Zaman

Hashim Amla

Ahmad Shehzad

Tamim Iqbal

Babar Azam

Faf du Plessis ©

Umar Amin

George Bailey

Shoaib Malik

David Miller

Sarfraz Ahmad © (wk)

Grant Elliot

Faheem Ashraf

Darren Sammy

Imad Wasim

Tim Paine (wk)

Muhammad Amir

Ben Cutting

Shadab Khan

Imran Tahir

Hassan Ali

Morne Morkel

 

 

Pakistan would still have a formidable bench in Rumman Raees, Sohail Khan, Usman Shinwari and Aamer Yamin. World Eleven’s bench will be stronger in terms of batting options such as Paul Collingwood, Thisara Perera and Samuel Badree. Overall, team Pakistan looks unassailable in the fast bowling department while presence of the likes of Tamim, Miller, Sammy and Amla makes World-XI an explosive unit vis-a-vis batting firepower. The two sides are thus poised perfectly against one another.

Cricket in Pakistan is not just a game, it’s a world within. Pitch curators, ball boys, grounds men, young aspiring cricketers, food stalls and spectators are all entwined in a web that is called cricketing world. May the incoming world of eleven ends up resuscitating the lost world of thousands.

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