International cricket returns to Pakistan

International cricket returned to Pakistan after a six-year absence on Friday amidst exhilarating scenes at a sold-out Gaddafi Stadium for the first Twenty20 international between the hosts and Zimbabwe.

The match, taking place with a huge security presence of 4,000 policemen, was the first in Pakistan since gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore on March 3, 2009, killing eight people and injuring seven visiting players.

Pakistan president Mamnoon Hussain opened proceedings by shaking hands with both sets of players as the crowd rose to a glittering firework display.

Cast into sporting exile following the 2009 attack, Pakistan incurred financial losses amounting to $US120 million ($A150m) by having to play their “home” games at neutral venues like the UAE, according to an official estimate.

Beyond the finance, Pakistan’s younger crop of players — including established batsmen Umar Akmal, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, all of whom have played 50 or more internationals — have never experienced the inspiring effect of a hometown audience or pitch.

Pakistan officials are desperate to revive sporting fixtures at home and must ensure this is the first of several incident-free tours to restore confidence.

The series, comprising two Twenty20s and three one-dayers, was almost scuppered earlier this month after militants killed 45 minority Shiites in an attack on their bus in Karachi.

But Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) finally gave the green light with a week to go, and since then the two sides have exchanged expressions of brotherhood.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan said that the revival of international activity in the country was “a matter of great delight”

He added: “The whole nation is celebrating the return and we hope that this series against Zimbabwe will pave way for more countries to come to Pakistan.”

Former captain Wasim Akram said: “It’s exciting.”

“Cricket has suffered badly in Pakistan with no international activity, fans were deprived and grounds were left deserted but I am sure with this small step more cricket will come to our country.”

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