That was Pakistan's first home series after a six-year hiatus. Zimbabwe players were welcomed wholeheartedly and treated like royalty; red carpets were rolled out to express gratitude at Gaddafi Stadium. The security was beefed up but it didn't deter fans from coming in huge numbers. The atmosphere was electric and one could feel how desperately Pakistanis waited for International cricket's return. It was the peak of summer but cricket starved fans didn't care a wee bit about the weather as the passion trumped the heat. Azhar Ali was captaining the side and was under a lot of pressure after suffering defeat to Bangladesh by 3-0 margin but he managed to clean sweep the low ranked Zimbabwe side and scored heaps of runs with back to back centuries. Babar Azam, 20 years old, made his ODI debut in the 3rd ODI and scored a smooth half-century to announce himself in the international arena. He has grown in his stature since then and become the most reliable batsman in current Pakistan's team.
Former President Mamnoon Hussain interacting with the Zimbabwean players
Meher Khalil, the driver who saved the lives of Sri Lankan players amid the ghastly bus attack in 2009, was given the honor of driving the bus to the venue during that crucial tour.
Bangladesh women came in September 2015 for two ODIs and two T20Is. Bisma Maroof from Pakistan started the proceedings with a staggering knock of 92 runs in the first ODI and Anam Amin bowled superbly in the second ODI with match-winning figures of 4-7 that took the wind out Bangladesh's sails. The focus remained on cricket rather than any extraneous factors.
Pakistan Women's team captain Sana Mir shakes hands with Salma Khatun
Bangladesh captain Salma Khatun was happy with the security arrangements and said she toured of her own accord without any pressure from the administrators. The tour proved to be a stepping stone in restoring top-level international cricket.
It was a high-profile affair. Just in the second year, Pakistan Super League (PSL) had quickly established itself in the T20 leagues as a well-known brand. However, the tournament finale was marred by the absence of many overseas players including Luke Wright, Kevin Pietersen, Nathan McCullum, and Tymal Mills who backed out of the final. Nevertheless, the show went on as planned and the crowd's favorite Darren Sammy (Peshawar Zalmi captain) fought his fears and ended up falling in love with Pakistan because of fans' warm hospitality.
Marlon Samuels, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, and Dawid Malan were other overseas signings who were present in the final showdown. Staging the PSL finale in Lahore was a major milestone and a landmark achievement that led to World XI tour later that year. Najam Sethi, the former Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, was the main precursor behind launching PSL and then paving the way for its return to home. Jam-packed roaring crowds rooted for cricket and were truly regaled. It was a major ice-breaking event that propelled a gradual resumption of cricket in Pakistan.
Boisterous fans at the entrance of National Staidum, Karachi
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis led World XI that visited Pakistan for a three-match T20I series. This tour was another huge leap towards normalcy and once again sell-out crowds were seen at Gaddafi stadium. The enthusiasm was unbelievable as several big names from South Africa came to Lahore. Imran Tahir, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel, and David Miller formed the core of the World XI team. Tim Paine, who is now Australia's Test team captain, was the wicket-keeper batsman in that star-studded line-up. George Bailey, Paul Collingwood, Ben Cutting, and Thisara Perera were other international cricket's mainstays who played in the Independence Cup.
Pakistan winning the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 reaffirmed to the world that Pakistan remains a force to reckon with. The entire cricket community endorses this fact which must have played a role in accelerating efforts to bring cricket back to an important member. ICC Chief Executive David Ricardson at the conclusion of the highly successful tour said, "This is a stepping stone in the right direction."
Players were moved by the overwhelming response from the crowd and especially enjoyed Lahore's scrumptious cuisine. Babar Azam and Hasan Ali were in smashing form and dominated in the series.
The tour was another forward stride in cricket's return to Pakistan. Sri Lanka came back to Pakistan after eight years gap and showed courage by warding off all their reservations to play the one-off T20I. Interestingly, it was the first international match for Mohammad Amir in front of the home crowd. The strike bowler rejoiced the occasion and bagged phenomenal figures of 4-13 to help Pakistan register a resounding victory.
PSL was going from strength to strength and Karachi became the epicenter of cricket activity as cricket hungry former capital of Pakistan got the opportunity to host the PSL final. A packed house was enthralled by the action-packed finale between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi. Thousands of policemen were deployed to leave no stone unturned in the security arrangements.
The two playoffs were scheduled in Gaddafi Stadium Lahore before the spotlight moved to the city of lights. You could feel the buzz in the metropolises as PSL fever got exceedingly high and raucous crowds thronged the stadiums!
A 13 member West Indies (WI) squad traveled to Pakistan for a 3T20Is series in which Pakistan handed a 3-0 drubbing to the depleted WI team. The touring party was led by Jason Mohammad and they were given extra money by Cricket West Indies to partake in this out of Future Tours Programme (FTP) schedule series. Shaheen Afridi debuted in the third T20I and never looked back. West Indies head coach, Stuart Law was pretty excited on coming back to Pakistan and relished the zest displayed by Karachites.
That tour was quite taxing for West Indies as there was little time to relax between the games. There was a massive gulf between the two sides as the West Indies folded on a paltry 60 runs while chasing a mammoth total of 204 in the series opener. West Indies couldn't challenge the top-ranked Pakistan team as they came with an inexperienced line-up barring few regulars such as Denesh Ramdin. Spectators were ecstatic despite the mismatch and had a ball at National Stadium Karachi and savored every moment of International cricket's homecoming.
Earlier this year, former WorldCup champions came to Karachi for a three-match T20Is series. Former West Indies Captain Merissa Aguilleira led the touring side and spearheaded the bunch to 2-1 victory. The second T20I went down to the wire and was decided on Super Over in which West Indies came through with flying colors courtesy of Deandra Dottin all-round performance.
The tour was yet another significant step not only towards bringing cricket back to Pakistan but for popularizing the sport among female fans? who might have sought inspiration to become the next Sana Mir or Marina Iqbal.
39 foreign players landed in Karachi this year during PSL 4 to offer a memorable cricket extravaganza to Karachi natives. AB de Villiers, one of the most prolific batsman the game has ever seen, dazzled cricket starved fans in Karachi. This isn't a distant memory as you might recall Shane Watson's heroics in the final, the top scorer batsman amassed 430 runs and hauled Quetta Gladiators to its maiden PSL title.
A spectacular finish to an epic encounter. Trophy belongs to the Gladiators! #PSL4 ????— Quetta Gladiators (@TeamQuetta) March 17, 2019
Pakistan Zindabaad!#QuettaGladiators #KaiKaiQuetta #PurpleForce #ShaanePakistan #PSL2019 pic.twitter.com/OW5v4afj9h
Lahore's fixtures were moved to Karachi amidst tensions with India that resulted in disruption of the flight schedule. Karachi's iconic National Stadium underwent renovation and facilities were scaled up to maintain the bar set in the United Arab Emirates.
More than 200,000 fervent fans turned up at National Stadium Karachi for the eight matches. ICC Chief Executive Officer David Richardson took notice of the progress made in bringing international cricket back to Pakistan. The perception of cricket fraternity has changed and players comfort levels have risen since the Zimbabwe tour. Every overseas player among the six PSL franchises came to Pakistan and the edition was a remarkable feat. It convinced Ehsan Mani, the current PCB chairman, to announce the hosting of PSL 2020 entirely in Pakistan. That does not seem a distant dream considering the long arduous journey of restoring cricket in Pakistan.
Fans cheer on for Quetta Gladiators player Shane Watson
Sri Lanka arrived in Pakistan to play three ODIs and three T20Is in September-October 2019. After noticeable headways in cricket's resumption, Sri Lanka tour was expected to go without any turbulence but prominent Sri Lankan stars including Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, and Thisara Perera decision to back out didn't sit well with the stakeholders and played a bit of a spoilsport. Nonetheless, PCB avoided a bigger calamity of tour cancellation and the series went smoothly in Karachi and Lahore.
Sri Lanka has agreed to visit for two Tests in Pakistan starting from December 11 - which will mark the return of International Test Cricket in Pakistan after a 10-year-gap.
“This is fabulous news for Pakistan cricket and its reputation of being as safe and secure as any other country in the world,” said PCB’s Director International cricket, Zakir Khan.
“Now that the itinerary has been confirmed, we will shift our focus on series preparations to ensure we deliver arrangements as per our very high standards. This series is part of our cricket celebrations and we will leave no stone unturned in putting up a show which is a memorable one for the players, officials, fans and media.”