South African skipper Faf du Plessis will lead a World XI team to play three Twenty20 matches in Pakistan, authorities announced on Thursday, a huge coup for a cricket-mad country eager to revive the international game.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Najam Sethi announced the Proteas captain’s participation along with a list of illustrious names from seven Test playing countries. “The World XI will play three Twenty20 Internationals for the Independence Cup against Pakistan in Lahore on Sept. 12, 13, and 15,” Sethi told a press conference in Lahore.
England’s ICC World Twenty20 2010 winning captain Paul Collingwood, West Indies’ Darren Sammy, South African Hashim Amla, Bangladesh’s Tamim Iqbal and Australia’s George Bailey will also be part of the World XI. The matches are aimed at ending Pakistan’s international isolation, triggered after militants attacked the visiting Sri Lankan team’s bus in Lahore in 2009.
Pakistan has hosted all its international matches in the neutral venue of the United Arab Emirates since. But security has improved dramatically in recent years, giving fans hope that international cricket could finally return, a massive boost in a country where the game is far and away its most popular sport.
Other players for the World XI include David Miller (South Africa), Grant Elliott (New Zealand), Samuel Badree (West Indies), Ben Cutting (Australia), Morne Morkel (South Africa), Tim Paine (Australia), Thisara Perera (Sri Lanka), Imran Tahir (South Africa). Former Zimbabwe captain and ex-England coach Andy Flower will coach the side, which is set to arrive in Lahore on Sept. 11 after attending a two-day camp in Dubai, said the PCB.
Du Plessis, who recently led South Africa on the tour of England, said he was “honored” to tour Pakistan. “All the members of the squad have complete faith and trust in the assessment and judgment of the security experts, who have assured us that there will be no comprise on the safety and security of all those involved in the series,” he said, according to a PCB statement.
Du Plessis said he had played “very exciting” matches against Pakistan in the past, but this would be his first match before a home crowd. “[P]laying Pakistan in front of its passionate supporters will be a unique occasion, which I can’t wait to experience,” he said.
Amla, who visited Pakistan with a Graeme Smith-led side in 2007, said he looked forward to returning, and was “confident” of having recovered from a shoulder injury.
If the World XI tour goes off without problems, Pakistan hope Sri Lanka will also play a Twenty20 in Lahore in October—a match which will be hugely symbolic for the return of international cricket—followed by a three-match Twenty20 series against West Indies in November.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed was optimistic: “I am confident that following the success of these matches, Pakistan will host regular international series which we badly need.”