May 212015

Await of six agonising years is over as Pakistan and Zimbabwe take the field today in Lahore — the city where the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in broad daylight, bringing the game in the country to its knees. The excitement among the cricket-watching public is palpable and a full house is expected at the Gaddafi Stadium. The continued spate of terror that the country has had to deal within the last few years has meant that the Twenty20 International being played today is only the second international game of this format ever held in the country. The tour will consist of two Twenty20 Internationals and three One-Day Internationals. The Pakistan Cricket Board deserves a lot of credit for its efforts in persuading Zimbabwe to tour Lahore despite the harrowing bus attack in Karachi merely days ago. Law-enforcement personnel have done a commendable job to date and one hopes that the water-tight security will not be compromised at any stage. One must laud the local public too as it has cooperated with the authorities and ignored the inconvenience that establishing the security cordon in Lahore has entailed. One hopes that the Zimbabwe trip eventually leads to more established teams visiting the country. For this to happen, it is very important that the tour goes off without a hitch.

Meanwhile, focusing on the action on the field, the series is of vital importance for Pakistan. The Shahid Afridi-led team cannot afford a hiccup in the two Twenty20 games, since a defeat in either one would push Pakistan to as low as the seventh spot in the ICC Twenty20 rankings. The likes of Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Sami, Umar Akmal and Hammad Azam are making comebacks to international cricket and have a lot to prove if they harbour hopes of getting an extended run in the team. At the other end of the spectrum are youngsters like Nauman Anwar, Mukhtar Ahmed, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Rizwan, who have the opportunity to establish their credentials at the highest level. While Zimbabwe might not be a heavyweight opposition, given the poor run that the national side has endured in recent times, a well-matched contest can be expected.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd,  2015.

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