South Africa batsman Faf du Plessis has claimed he is pleasantly surprised by the return of Test cricket in Pakistan as his team prepares for the forthcoming two-match series scheduled to commence on January 26.
Du Plessis captained an ICC World XI contingent to Lahore for three T20Is in 2017 with the fateful tour having a positive impact on Pakistan's prospects of welcoming back top-flight cricket in the country.
Deprived of Test cricket on its shores since 2009, the PCB tasted its first dose of red-ball cricket in Pakistan when a full-strength Sri Lanka squad competed in two matches in 2019.
The island nation's trip was followed by Bangladesh playing a Test at Rawalpindi in February 2020 with South Africa set to become the third country to play the traditional format in Pakistan in 12 years.
On the other hand, white-ball cricket has been on song in Pakistan over the last five years with Zimbabwe, West Indies, Sri Lanka, World XI and Bangladesh playing limited-overs series here. The entirety of PSL 5 was also hosted by Pakistan across four venues.
"That is one thing I did not see happening in my time. I knew white-ball cricket was happening here, but I did not know that the red-ball cricket was going to happen this soon,” du Plessis told PCB Digital.
"I am looking forward to it and I hope that it is the same as it was 13 years ago – the wickets are flat so we the batters can score some runs."
The former South Africa skipper felt it was imperative for Pakistan players to experience playing in home conditions as such series would help amplify the interest in the sport in the country.
While the coming series will be staged behind closed doors, du Plessis opined that local fans getting to see their national heroes play in front of them was a huge boost for Pakistan cricket.
The stirring scenes of Pakistan's Test homecoming against Sri Lanka at the Pindi Cricket Stadium illustrate this point as Abid Ali and Babar Azam's centuries were greeted by raucous crowds applauding the home side.
“It’s important for Pakistan to play in home conditions. They have been playing in the UAE for the last 11 years. So, their fans have never seen them play and that’s almost like a generation and that’s missed seeing them play," du Plessis pointed out.
“Pakistan fans are very proud of their team, like any other nation, but it is when you tour the subcontinent, you realise people here are very passionate about cricket. They go to every match and support their team however they can. Singing, chanting, there’s energy the whole day."
Reflecting on the importance of the World XI tour setting the tone for other teams to travel to Pakistan, the 36-year-old admitted getting to witness the state guest level security first-hand shaped his view.
“That tour was the first step to bring any sort of cricket back and I think what they did really well at that stage was to bring players from all around the world to come and play and to see that the security levels were going to be very, very good and it gave players peace of mind," he said.
“I was captaining that team so for me to go back into South Africa, and then speak of my experiences that I felt safe in Pakistan was a huge tip-in where we are today.”