Fans show gratitude to World XI for coming to Pakistan
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) Cricket fans forgot about the security around a heavily-guarded Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday as they enjoyed a 20-run victory for Pakistan against a World XI, the first visit to the country by some of the game’s top players in eight years.
Babar Azam, one of the five Pakistan cricketers playing an international match for the first time at home, entertained the crowd with a scintillating knock of 86 off 52 balls. He was duly applauded with loud cheers by a crowd of 25,000 at the stadium.
Pakistan reached 197-5 before restricting a star-studded World XI led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis to 177-7 at the start of the three-match series.
Fans displayed placards that read ”World XI whole nation welcome you in Pakistan,” ”Faf love you” and ”Thanks for coming.”
Earlier, more than half the stadium was filled when the World XI players from seven countries were ferried around it in decorated traditional three-wheelers.
Fans had to show their national identification cards and go through at least four security checkpoints to enter the stadium.
Thousands of guards, including army soldiers, patrolled the stadium area in Lahore, where a terror attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009 caused major teams to shun touring Pakistan.
The Pakistan Cricket Board, along with the International Cricket Council, regards the three-match T20s series as a step to winning back the confidence of foreign teams over security concerns.
”It’s a huge occasion for world cricket and it’s something much bigger than the game,” Du Plessis said after winning the toss and opting to field. ”Great to see we can play a small part in bringing cricket back to Pakistan.”
The enthusiastic fans were not bothered about the extraordinary security in place as they waited in long queues outside the stadium.
”I simply want to see star players in action and these strict security arrangements do not bother me at all,” said Mohammad Sarwar, a local lawyer.
Big pictures of the World XI players were displayed outside the stadium. They included five from South Africa including du Plessis, three from Australia, two from the West Indies and one each from Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
”I am here to support the World XI because they are supporting our cause to revive international cricket,” said Ahsan Ali, a school student.
Most of the fans were decked out in the green and white of Pakistan, which has played all of its major home matches in the United Arab Emirates for the past eight years.
”It’s a dream come true for me to watch my favorite batsman Hashim Amla playing right in front of me today,” said Imtiaz Gul, who came from Islamabad for the game. ”I don’t care which team wins because we want to prove to the cricketing world that it’s safe to play in Pakistan.”