Fans show gratitude to World XI for coming to Pakistan

 12 Sep 2017 - 17:37

Fans show gratitude to World XI for coming to Pakistan
Pakistani spectators cheer at the start of the first Twenty20 international match between the World XI and Pakistan at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on September 12, 2017. The World XI play their first Twenty20 international match against Pakistan in Lahore on September 12. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI

By Rizwan Ali / AP

LAHORE, Pakistan: Spectators in heavily guarded Gaddafi Stadium showed their appreciation on Tuesday for the World XI, the first major cricket team to visit Pakistan in eight years.

Fans displayed placards with lines such as "World XI whole nation welcome you," ''Faf love you" and "Thanks for coming" to show their excitement on the return of big international cricket in Pakistan.

More than half of the stadium was filled when the World XI players from seven countries were ferried around the stadium in decorated traditional three-wheelers. Captain Faf du Plessis then won the toss for the first of three Twenty20s against Pakistan this week and opted to bowl first.

Fans had to show their national identification cards and go through at least four security checkpoints to enter the 25,000-seat stadium.

Thousands of guards, including army soldiers, patrolled the stadium in Lahore, where a terror attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009 caused major teams to shun touring Pakistan.

The Pakistan Cricket Board, along with the International Cricket Council, regard the T20s on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as a step to winning back the confidence of foreign teams over security concerns.

"It's a huge occasion for world cricket and it's something much bigger than the game," du Plessis said at the toss. "Great to see we can play a small part in bringing cricket back to Pakistan."

The enthusiastic fans were not bothered about the extraordinary security in place as they waited in long queues outside the stadium.

"I simply want to see star players in action and these strict security arrangements do not bother me at all," said Mohammad Sarwar, a local lawyer.

Big pictures of the World XI players were displayed outside the stadium. They included five from South Africa including du Plessis, three from Australia, two from the West Indies and one each from Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

"I am here to support the World XI because they are supporting our cause to revive international cricket," said Ahsan Ali, a school student.

Most of the fans were decked out in the green and white of Pakistan, which has played all of its major home matches in the United Arab Emirates for eight years.

"It's a dream come true for me to watch my favorite batsman Hashim Amla playing right in front of me today," said Imtiaz Gul, who came from Islamabad for the game. "I don't care which team wins because we want to prove to the cricketing world that it's safe to play in Pakistan."