Let the games begin

K Shahid looks ahead to the series against ICC World XI and how it might pan out, on and off the field

If the Zimbabwe series was the knock on the door, and the PSL final the first opening, the three-match series against the ICC World XI might just throw the gates wide open. That’s the hope that every single one of the cricket fans inside Gaddafi Stadium would be carrying as the series kicks off this Tuesday, with matches on Wednesday and Friday to follow.

As discussed in this space last week, the profile of those forming the ICC World XI show that Pakistan is merely a successful three-match series away from formally and warmly welcoming international cricket again.

Darren Sammy setting the stage on fire during the PSL final

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka confirmed that they would be playing their first day-and-night Test match against Pakistan in the two-match series starting in Dubai from the 28th of September. The two Test matches would be followed by five ODIs in the UAE and then two T20s in the Emirates as well.

Subject to security confirmations – which roughly translates into successfully hosting the Independence Cup in the coming week – Sri Lanka would play the third T20 of that tour in Lahore at the end of October. In November, West Indies is scheduled to land in Pakistan for three T20s, if all goes according to plan, and a couple of months after that – following the tour to Zealand – the third edition of the Pakistan Super League would kick off with guaranteed matches in both Karachi and Lahore, as clearly stated in contracts that would be offered to all foreign athletes.

The World XI squad

So all Pakistan cricket needs right now is the successful hosting of the Independence Cup, and hopefully the train of cricket at home would kick-start after that, going into spring next year. And once Pakistan has this six-month window of international cricket under the belt, it is only going to get bigger and better at home in 2018.

Furthermore, another positive aspect of the series is that the three match series would count as international matches, just like the three ODIs in the tour of the ‘Rest of the World’ to Australia in 1971-72 or more recently the ICC Super Series against Australia in 2005 or 2007’s Afro-Asia Cup.

This means that someone like Paul Collingwood who has actually retired from international cricket would be playing T20Is. Perhaps the PCB should have considered using these matches to bid a proper farewell, in front of home crowds, to the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. While the former two have deservedly received many an accolade since their retirement from Tests in May this year, the varying bittersweet exits of the latter two might have been addressed here.

Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore

Even so, there isn’t, and cannot be, any bigger purpose for this great show that is bringing the likes of Faf Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Grant Elliot, George Bailey and Tamim Iqbal to Lahore, other than setting an example for other international cricketers to follow.

None of this could have been possible without two major achievements of Pakistan cricket, fulfilled against all possible odds imaginable and those that cannot be conceived.

The first is the PSL, which helped initiate the circle that would hopefully be completed by hosting the entire league at home in the near future. The second, an offshoot of the first, is Pakistan’s dramatic Champions Trophy win that put them back on the map in the limited-overs format after the Test side had brought home the ICC Mace last year as well.

These on-field successes, exclamation-marked by the Champions Trophy win, prove – if such a reiteration was needed – that you cannot keep Pakistan out of cricket. What these triumphs will now further reestablish, is that nothing, simply nothing can keep cricket out of Pakistan for too long either.

Let the games begin…