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Pakistan's home T20I series against a World XI presents a chance for the country - all but starved of international cricket since the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka in Lahore - to show it can host the world's best once again, writes Saj in his article for Sky Sports.
By Saj Sadiq (11th September, 2017)
Picture the scene. The roar of over 20,000 people as an ODI heads towards its final stages and Mohammad Amir picks up speed in his run-up to the bowling crease at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
What follows next is an explosion of sound as the stumps go flying and the crowd erupts in an uncontrollable display of joy, with the forlorn figure of an opposition batsman walking back to the pavilion.
The avid Pakistan fans, some of whom have bought tickets for this game weeks ago and some who have queued for hours on the morning of the game, want more of the same, so the chant of 'Pakistan Zindabad' goes up and reverberates through the very structure of one of Pakistan's most iconic cricketing venues.
The hard-fought match goes into its final over and Pakistan emerge victorious against one of many world-class visiting teams that have toured the country in recent times. As the Pakistan team goes on a lap of honour, thousands of spectators take photographs and young and old chant their heroes' names in the background.
Memories are made and shared with friends around the world, and will be passed on for generations with captions such as 'we were there'. Television pictures go around the globe as commentators wax lyrical about Pakistan's record at home, the beauty of the game and the wonders of visiting this beautiful country.
At the end of the match, the ecstatic Pakistan players walk out of the ground and mingle with their families and fans and excitedly discuss the game with each other. For the younger players, playing in front of home fans is something they have dreamt about and for the older ones, it's another job done with the right result delivered.
In most of the cricket playing countries, descriptions such as above would elicit no special reactions. The fact that a home series creates so much excitement is not considered newsworthy as is the fact that foreign teams visit home shores as prescribed in ICC's detailed tour programmes.
This was the case for Pakistan as well until the tragic events of March 3 2009 when the Sri Lankan cricketers were the target of a terrorist attack on the third day of the second Test in Lahore.
International tours to Pakistan ended from that day onward. For a country of millions of cricket fans which prided itself on hospitality shown to its visitors, the suspension of international cricket was a nightmare scenario.
The lapses in security in 2009 that could easily have been avoided resulted in Pakistan's exclusion as a venue for international cricket. The PCB had no option but to look for an alternate neutral venue to host its home series and thus the UAE became its reluctant 'home' for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan's cricketers to their credit, took all of this in their stride. It would have been easy to have blamed this disruption for their lapses but in Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan found a leader who was able to lead his team to success through testing times and a lack of a home base.
There was no lack of goodwill toward Pakistan cricket but the fact was that despite Pakistan's pleas for a second chance, other nations were unwilling to send in their teams to a country which they considered unstable and risky in terms of security.
Apart from a tour by Zimbabwe in 2015 to play a limited-overs series, the chances of a restoration of international cricket in Pakistan were to take a backseat despite the best efforts of the PCB.
The equation changed in Pakistan's favour with the advent of the Pakistan Super League. The second edition of this Twenty20 League saw the final of the tournament being held successfully in Lahore. The momentum generated from holding this event was further enhanced by Pakistan's victory in the ICC Champions Trophy tournament in England earlier this year.
With the improving security situation in Pakistan and favourable assessments by security experts, it is now deemed an injustice to keep Pakistan off the international tour destination list.
The tour by a World XI to Pakistan, which is led by South Africa's Faf du Plessis and consists of big names like Darren Sammy, Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir, represents a major milestone towards the possible restoration of international cricket in Pakistan.
The ICC consider this an important series and have bestowed international status to the three T20I games to be played in Lahore on September 12, 13 and 15. For Pakistan, this represents a unique and crucial opportunity to show the world that they are ready to host international teams in the future.
So important is the success of the World XI series that the proposed visits by Sri Lanka and West Indies will depend on how well the World XI's visit goes in the coming days.
For the people of Pakistan, the wait is finally over. Lahore is alive with talk of the upcoming Independence Cup and from the queues outside ticket booths and messages from the PCB regarding sold out stands, to the mad rush to book flights to Lahore, clearly something special is in the air.
To the younger players, such as teenage leg-spinner Shadab Khan or the fast bowler Hasan Ali, this will be a first opportunity to showcase their talents in front of their home fans, on their home soil.
A whole generation of Pakistani cricketers have missed out on the opportunity, something that the rest of the world's cricketers take for granted. But now the current crop of Pakistan's finest players finally have the chance to perform in front of packed houses, something they will cherish for the rest of their careers.
For the World XI players, this will be an opportunity to help Pakistan cricket and put Pakistan back on track. The Pakistan crowds will want a competitive series between their heroes and their distinguished opposition, but the fact that they are seeing international cricket in their own country will be a huge boost.
Cricket-lovers in Pakistan and around the world will hope that the Independence Cup will be a success and open the door for more international tours to Pakistan in the future.