International cricket returns to Pakistan on Tuesday for only the second time since 2009. Eight years ago, a terrorist attack against the visiting Sri Lankan team sent shock-waves around the cricketing world, and sent Pakistan into exile. Apart from Zimbabwe, who visited two years ago for a limited overs series, no team has been keen to visit due to security concerns, and Pakistan have been forced to play their home games in the United Arab Emirates for eight long years.
This week’s Independence Cup series marks a hopeful beginning of the end to that exile. The ICC, much to its credit, has arranged a three-match T20 International series between Pakistan and a World XI comprising players from seven countries. All three games are to played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
The ICC team, led by ex-England head coach Andy Flower, contains a number of current internationals of the highest quality, and the matches have been granted official T20 International status, so the games have an added gravitas beyond their symbolic nature.
The 14-man ICC World XI squad is captained by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and comprises the following players:
Faf du Plessis (South Africa, Captain), Hashim Amla (South Africa), Samuel Badree (West Indies), George Bailey (Australia), Paul Collingwood (England), Ben Cutting (Australia), Grant Elliot (New Zealand), Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh), David Miller (South Africa), Morne Morkel (South Africa), Tim Paine (Australia, Wicketkeeper), Thisara Perera (Sri Lanka), Darren Sammy (West Indies) and Imran Tahir (South Africa)
The matches are seen as the first baby steps towards Pakistan regularly hosting other nations again on home soil, a progression given a further boost with the news today that Sri Lanka will play one game of their T20 series against Pakistan in Lahore rather than the UAE later this year. Given it was Sri Lanka that were attacked back in 2009, this is a remarkable gesture from the islanders, and will be greeted with glee in Pakistan.
The ICC World XI as a team will be playing its first official T20 Internationals and first games in any format since 2005, when a previous incarnation played three ODIs and one “Super Test” against Australia – a series which unlike this one was ill thought out and poorly attended by the locals in Australia.
You suspect that poor attendances are not going to be an issue in Lahore, where the series has brought unbounded joy to local fans, so long starved of the chance to see their national side in the flesh rather than beamed in from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Pakistan have named a full strength squad, and are treating the series seriously. These are their first games in any format since they sensationally won the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June, so it will be a triumphant homecoming for a team regarded as heroes in their homeland. They are in form in the shortest format too with their last outing in T20s in April this year seeing them beat world T20 champions West Indies 3-1 in an unusually long four games series held in Trinidad and Barbados.
With the games having official ICC T20I status, players’ statistics will count to their overall career records and rankings. Personal milestones will of course take a back seat, given the larger significance of the games being held, but nonetheless there are a few players to keep an eye on:
Morne Morkel (ICC World XI, South Africa)
With 46 T20I wickets in his column, Morkel he’ll be out for four more to notch up 50.
The big South African quick will also play for his third official international side if selected – having also represented his country and the Africa XI side in an official ODI series against an Asia XI in 2007.
(Incidentally, he won’t be the first player to be able to claim this honour surprisingly, as a number of players in that Africa XI v Asia XI series also played in the ICC World XI Super Series in 2005, such as Shahid Afridi, Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock.)
David Miller (ICC World XI, South Africa)
BIg hitting middle-order batsman Miller currently has 846 runs in the shortest format of the game, so will be looking for 154 across the three games to reach 1,000.
Shoaib Malik (Pakistan)
All rounder Shoaib currently has 1,625 T20 International runs to his name, enough for ninth place in the world all-time. He’ll be confident of moving a few places up the top ten list with South Africa’s JP Duminy (1,683), Australia’s David Warner (1,686) and countryman Umar Akmal (1690) well within his sights.
Imran Tahir (ICC World XI, South Africa)
Currently ranked second in the world in the ICC T20I bowler rankings, exuberant spinner Imran Tahir has taken 55 wickets in the twenty over game, enough for 12th place in the world all-time. Afghanistan’s Mohammed Nabi sits in ninth on 59, with New Zealand’s Nathan McCullum and Tahir’s fellow South African Dale Steyn in joint tenth place on 58. Tahir will be confident he can overhaul all three in this series.