After the recent successful Pakistan Super League final in Karachi, between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi played in front of a packed house at the National Stadium, the next step in the Pakistan Cricket Board's efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan has seen the West Indies been invited to the City of Lights for a short series of 3 T20Is on 1, 2 and 3 April.
Incredibly, the last time Karachi hosted international cricket was February 2009, when Sri Lanka were the visitors. That particular Test match petered out into a less than memorable high-scoring draw, but with tragic events unfolding in the next Test match in Lahore which saw a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team, international cricket was never seen again in Karachi for over 9 long and agonising years.
The PCB has made it clear that it will take time to resume international cricket in Pakistan and has therefore constructed a clear step-by-step plan. The second edition of the PSL saw the tournament final played in Lahore and the third edition of the PSL had 3 matches played in Pakistan. The next step in this important journey for Pakistan cricket is the ongoing series against West Indies and the 4th PSL next year, according to PCB officials, is expected to see half of the matches played in Pakistan.
The PCB's plan to restore international cricket in Pakistan has also been helped by the vast majority of overseas cricketers who featured in the PSL being willing to travel to Lahore and Karachi recently to take part in the play-off matches and the final. Luke Ronchi, Samit Patel, Darren Sammy, Chris Jordan and Liam Dawson were just some of the foreign players who played in the PSL final and who spoke very highly of the levels of security they were given and the admiration and support from the fans in Pakistan.
The West Indies missing a number of high-profile players such as Darren Sammy, Kieron Pollard, Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine arrived in Karachi for a whistle-stop tour on Saturday night, hours ahead of the first T20I on Sunday. Regular skipper Carlos Brathwaite decided against touring Pakistan and was replaced as skipper by Jason Mohammed. The Cricket West Indies hierarchy made it clear that they would in no terms force players to tour Pakistan and each player's decision would be respected by the board. So a mixture of relatively inexperienced players arrived in Karachi alongside some familiar names such as Samuel Badree and Marlon Samuels.
As the Pakistan national anthem played out ahead of the match, it seemed for a moment that we had gone back in time to an era where international cricket was a regular feature in Pakistan. The players and crowd singing away passionately, the crowd dancing in excitement and big smiles could be seen all around the stadium. These were moments that all those who follow Pakistan cricket had been waiting for patiently for a very long time. These were moments a whole generation of cricket-lovers in Karachi had been eagerly anticipating.
The fact that nine of the Pakistan's eleven were playing an international cricket match in Karachi for the first time brought home just how difficult it has been for Pakistani cricketers without the luxury of matches in their homeland. Whilst cricketers and fans around the world enjoy playing and seeing their heroes in their home stadium, the Pakistani players and fans have had to resort to the option of playing largely in the UAE, which has certainly not been ideal for the players or the fans or for the growth of cricket in Pakistan.
And so with intense security along the streets of Karachi and in front of an expectant crowd the first match of the series commenced at 8 pm local time. The NSK had been spruced up ahead of the series, with facilities at the ground also being improved and the stadium looked a picture in the Karachi night sky. The match itself was a damp squib and certainly not what the neutrals or indeed West Indies fans wanted to see. However, for the Pakistani contingent at the stadium and their followers around the world, it was the perfect return of international cricket in Karachi. A record-breaking win by 143 runs built around the batting performances of Fakhar Zaman who made 39, debutant Hussain Talat's 41, a stylish 38 from skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and a fantastic 37 not-out off only 14 balls from Shoaib Malik saw Pakistan score an impressive 203/5 in their 20 overs. West Indies in response could only muster a feeble 60 all-out from 13.4 overs with Veerasammy Permaul unable to bat due to injury. As expected, it was a very one-sided affair against a team that definitely looked like they had only landed in the country not long before the first match and without doubt looked like a team that had not had much of a chance to practice or get their game-plans ready.
While the first T20I in Karachi against West Indies may not have produced the most earth-shattering, high-quality cricket, it can still be regarded as an important day in the calendar for the return of international cricket in Pakistan. It was another vital baby step in the PCB's dream to see teams from all around the world touring Pakistan and could prove to be another key moment in the hope for future tours to this nation.