Amid tight security and fanfare, cricket-lovers around the world waited with baited breath for the Independence Cup series to start in Lahore. Like great days gone by, thousands packed the Gaddafi Stadium, generating a wonderful and party-like atmosphere in the historic venue. Music, dancing, cheering for both teams was the order of the day and security worries seemed a million miles away to players, officials and fans alike.
It was a festival, one that brought smiles to the faces of the well-wishers of Pakistan cricket and an occasion that will provide encouragement to the Pakistan Cricket Board and those in the corridors of power in Pakistan cricket.
Apart from a couple of hairy moments, Pakistan largely dominated the historic opening T20 match in Lahore on Tuesday. The margin of victory was somewhat reduced by a few lusty blows from Darren Sammy and Thisara Perera late in the day, but the gulf in the performance of the two teams must have been quite alarming for Faf du Plessis and his international stars.
The result was a perfect one for fans who would have felt rather short-changed if their team had lost an encounter that marked the return of international cricket to Pakistan.
Pakistan, without too much cricket of late, went into the first match as slight underdogs against an assortment of the world’s best, but the youthful home side came out on top after some fine performances by Babar Azam and Shadab Khan combined with cameos from Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim, and some able support in the bowling department from the wily and ever-improving Rumman Raees.
Encouraging signs were clearly evident from a team that has quite often underachieved in the twenty over format and consistency in this format is now apparent from Pakistan. However, the World XI must have been encouraged by some of the individual performances from a team assembled at such short notice, and who will undoubtedly have some unfamiliarity within the group.
There is absolutely no doubt that the World XI would have learnt a lot from their first encounter, especially regarding the conditions and team composition, and will come back stronger in Wednesday's match in Lahore. The nature of the pitch is not likely to change so in that regard, the World XI will know what to expect from the surface. Also, some of the World XI players may not be too familiar with the opposition, but now with the first match out of the way, that is not a valid excuse.
In addition, World XI head coach Andy Flower would have had a good chance to look at the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.
Selection matters for Pakistan should be a simple affair with the philosophy of not changing a winning side being implemented. While Pakistan’s late batting order flourished, coach Mickey Arthur will probably want more impetus and urgency at the top of the order from the likes of Ahmed Shehzad, who seemed somewhat laboured at the crease in the opening encounter.
Pakistan’s spinners will once again hold the sway with both Shadab Khan and the consistent Imad Wasim should try to contain the opposition and take wickets at key moments. Sarfaraz Ahmed with Shadab and Wasim has eight overs of pure gold at his disposal. Pakistan’s pace-bowlers will be expected to shake-off the rust of the first match where they lacked consistency at times and their length suffered as a result.
Sarfaraz could be heard on the stump microphones scolding his pace bowlers for a lack of variety and this is something that can be expected to be changed in the second match. After the first match, Faf du Plessis was complimentary of Pakistan’s bowling resources saying they had a lot of variety and that is something that the World XI need to implement also, especially with the excellent Imran Tahir being available.
For the World XI, now they are accustomed to the Gaddafi Stadium surroundings and pitch, they will expect their top order to show more urgency and ensure they make the most of their starts. Tamim and others were guilty of throwing away good starts and that is an area they will definitely look to eradicate.
Looking at the team composition, a couple of changes with Samuel Badree and Paul Collingwood coming into the team could benefit the World XI’s bowling resources. Imran Tahir could be the ace in the pack for the World XI as he showed in the opening encounter and can bowl well in tandem with Samuel Badree, while Collingwood’s cutters could cause problems for the opponents.
Pakistan will want more of the same from their team and will hope to continue their good recent form in limited overs cricket and the World XI will be looking for a better all-round show in what is expected to be another full-house in the cricket crazy city of Lahore.