Pakistan wins

The three matches against the World XI were a decisive turning point for Pakistan. K Shahid reports from Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore

Pakistan wins
Even the vilest skeptics amongst us – the author included – would now be expecting and not merely hoping that international cricket teams would start touring Pakistan. Such has been the impact of the Independence Cup, whose reverberations have been sent across continents.

What is crucial right now, is to understand the difference between international cricketers – that have now toured Pakistan for the PSL final and the Independence Cup – and international teams that entail foreign cricket boards sending their national sides to Pakistan.

It is this crucial difference that was reiterated in virtually every press conference last week, with foreign stars reaffirming that their decision to tour Pakistan, was just that – their decision – and hence it wouldn’t automatically translate into international cricket boards saying ‘Yes’ to Pakistan based on one series.

However, what is unquestionable – especially since the ICC itself had backed both the tour and its billing as the opening for international cricket to return to Pakistan – is that international teams will now start coming thick and fast.

It might start with a solitary T20 that Sri Lanka might play in Lahore next month as the final leg of its tour, most of which will be played in the UAE – and it might take another small step with a quick three-match T20 series against the West Indies in November. But a detailed tour of a foreign team, spread across Pakistan, is now tangibly in sight.

What further made this possible is the international status that ICC gave to the Independence Cup, meaning that it was a series of three T2OIs, which Pakistan narrowly bagged 2-1. In fact, the current World XI – arguably a couple of shades lower than what an ICC all-star side sans any handicaps would have looked like – is the first World XI to win any match in history.

How much the actual action meant to both sides could be witnessed by the reaction of the players. This was further established by Darren Sammy – by far the crowd’s favourite on either side – saying in an interview that “These are international matches, that go in the stats” of every cricketer who participated.

For the World XI, Thisara Perera might have added a few figures to his auction price with his explosive batting and wickets as well. Perara’s three sixes and a boundary off four consecutive Shadab Khan deliveries in the decider, might have included the longest hit inside Gaddafi Stadium since the resumption of international cricket.

For Pakistan, Babar Azam continued to stamp himself as the batting future – and present – in all formats, resulting in a surge to number 6 in the T20 rankings, despite his continued intermittent delay in getting things going. Meanwhile, Ahmed Shehzad, whose back-to-back 34-ball innings were being trolled by the fans, produced the innings of the tournament to win the decider for Pakistan.

Young left-arm pacers Rumman Raees and Usman Shinwari gave a decent account of themselves, while Imad Wasim and Hasan Ali continued to underline their importance as frontline bowlers for Pakistan in limited-overs cricket.

Meanwhile, Shoaib Malik and Imad appear to have established themselves as the go-to players lower down the order – where Pakistan has recently lacked in fire power – when asked to up the ante in the final overs.

As far as on-field matters were concerned, it was perhaps a series to forget for Fakhar Zaman, who now carries the much desired burden of being the match-winner for Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final against India.

Elsewhere, especially in the field and with the ball, Pakistan looked every bit as good as the side that had won the second most prestigious ODI trophy three months ago.

Now the attention turns to Sri Lanka, both the Test, ODI and T20 matches that would be played in the UAE over the next month or so, and the T20 scheduled in Lahore.

While all focus would be on beating a depleted Sri Lankan side under a new Test regime, the T20 match in Lahore – the sight where we lost it all, involving the same side – would be as pivotal an occasion as it would be emotional.

And it is the Independence Cup and the World XI, that itself gave Pakistan a massive supply of emotions, that would have helped make it possible.