Azam's 86 leads Pakistan to 20-run win against World XI
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) A brisk half-century by Babar Azam helped Pakistan to a 20-run victory over a World XI on Tuesday, the first match of a Twenty20 series which the hosts hope will lead to international cricket returning to their country.
Azam entertained the near-capacity crowd of 25,000 at the Gaddafi Stadium by smashing 86 off 52 balls, hitting 10 fours and two sixes in Pakistan's total of 197-5.
The World XI's star-studded batting lineup was then restricted to 177-7 as Pakistan took the lead in a three-match series.
''I want to dedicate this innings to the people of Pakistan because it's always nice to play in front of home fans,'' Azam said of his man-of-the-match winning knock.
Eight years after a terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore caused major teams to shun Pakistan, the country's cricket board is hoping the series will help to win back the confidence of test-playing nations.
The second game will be played on Wednesday, followed by the last match on Friday.
''It was a good game, I thought Pakistan played exceptionally well,'' World XI captain South Africa's Faf du Plessis said. ''I thought it was a 180 wicket, so maybe we gave away 20 runs too many. Our bowling was possibly one-dimensional - they had a lot of variety, spinners, left-arm, right-arm.
''It was a great occasion to play here, and as soon as we walked into the field, it was just a normal game.''
Morne Morkel, one of five South African players in the World XI, made an early breakthrough when Fakhar Zaman (8) was caught in the lone slip in the first over after Du Plessis won the toss and opted to field.
But Azam, playing his only second international match at home, then blunted the World XI's attack with a 122-run partnership off 81 balls with Ahmed Shehzad (39).
With sharper fielding, though, both batsmen could have been removed earlier. Ben Cutting couldn't hold onto a low one-handed catch off his own bowling which could have dismissed Shehzad on 7. Azam survived on 64 when David Miller misjudged an overhead catch at long-off in Morkel's return spell.
Darren Sammy, the West Indies' world Twenty20 winning captain, broke the stand with a brilliant low catch at fine leg off Cutting in the 15th over.
Azam followed in the next over as he fell to Lahore-born South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir, when Miller didn't miss a second opportunity in the deep.
Shoaib Malik (38 off 20 balls) lifted the total with a little cameo and Imad Wasim (15 not out) hoisted Thisara Perera for two sixes in the last over which went for 21.
Hashim Amla (26) and Bangladesh's Tamim Iqbal (18) gave the World XI a promising start to its run-chase with a 43-run stand. But left-arm seamer Rumman Raees dismissed both batsmen in the last over of batting powerplay.
Du Plessis (29) briefly threatened the Pakistan total, hitting four boundaries and a six. But the hosts struck back with leg-spinner Shadab Khan (2-33) removing Du Plessis and Miller (9).
Sammy (29 not out) reduced the margin of defeat by hitting three sixes.