LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan hosted the first of three T20 games on Tuesday against a touring World XI, winning by 20 runs in a packed stadium in the eastern city of Lahore.
The home side rode on the back of a rapid-fire 86 by opener Babar Azam, raking up a formidable 197 before their bowlers held off a star-studded World XI batting line-up led by South African captain Faf du Plessis.
The series has been billed as a precursor to international cricket’s return to Pakistan.
The country has hosted only one foreign team since militants attacked a bus transporting the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009, wounding six players and killing two civilians and six security officials.
“I saw international players for the first time in my life... It was fascinating watching quality cricket,” student Omar Khan said.
Umpire Ahsan Raza, who received two gunshot wounds in the 2009 attack, was one of the two on-field officials for Tuesday’s match.
More than 6,000 police officials and paramilitary officers were deployed around Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, according to provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan.
“It was fun seeing national and international cricketers playing in Lahore. Pakistan’s victory is a bonus to me,” Malika Ali, who came to the ground with her family, told Reuters.
Lahore streets were gridlocked from two p.m. onwards as cheering fans arrived at the six designated car parks from where they were transported to the stadium by a shuttle service.
Attacks in Lahore have become less frequent in recent years but security remains high as Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups remain active. A Taliban suicide bomber killed 25 people in July in an attack that appeared to target Lahore’s police force.
“It’s great to play in front of the Pakistan crowd,” World XI captain du Plessis said after the match, showering praise on Pakistan’s young players, many of whom were playing their first match at home in national colours.
In March, calls for the return of international cricket picked up steam after the final of the domestic T20 Pakistan Super League, featuring high-profile foreign players such as West Indies World Cup winner Darren Sammy, was held in Lahore.
Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Clare Fallon