LAHORE: Pakistan, for the first time after winning the Champions Trophy, will face a star-studded World XI team for the first of three T20 matches at the Gaddafi Stadium tonight, in a history-making event which sees the return of high-profile international cricket to the country after a wait of eight years.
The World XI, led by South African skipper Faf du Plessis, reached Lahore on Monday morning amid tight security, with West Indian spinner Samuel Badree joining the team earlier today and completing the stellar line-up of 14 players from seven Test-playing countries.
The other notable players of the World XI are South Africa great Hashim Amla, West Indies? twice-T20 World Cup winning captain Darren Sammy, Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal, former England captain Paul Collingwood, New Zealand?s Grant Elliott and George Bailey from Australia.
The historic series will be closely monitored by other cricket boards and Pakistan expects it will pave the way for the country to host Sri Lanka and West Indies later this year.
In March, calls for the return of international cricket picked up steam after the final of the domestic T20 Pakistan Super League, featuring high-profile foreign players such as World Cup winner Darren Sammy, was held in Lahore.
"It´s a great opportunity to showcase Pakistan," Sethi said, adding that these matches could revive cricket in the country. "This is a momentous occasion."
Over 6,000 police officials and paramilitary officers have been deployed around the stadium, according to provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan.
"A foolproof security plan has been devised for the protection of the teams and spectators," he said.
The streets of Lahore were swathed in posters of the visiting players and advertisements for the matches.
Long queues formed at vendors across the city and many fans were turned away as tickets sold out.
"I am very excited," Lahore resident Qasim Ali Shah told Reuters.
"I have bought a ticket, an expensive one, and will go to watch the match tomorrow.
Local television channels had pre-match footage on a constant loop, showing players arriving for practice at Lahore´s Gaddafi Stadium.
For young fans and many players on the team itself, it is one of the first times they can experience a high-profile match on home turf.
Pakistan´s cricket board has shouldered the expense of hosting matches in Dubai since the 2009 attack and lost considerable revenue in fees and other expenses.
"Dubai has proven to be a very expensive venue and my sense is we will cut our costs by 50 percent when it comes back to Pakistan," Sethi said.
For Sarfraz Ahmed?s side, 10 players have the opportunity to represent their country for the first time on home turf. Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Rumman Raees, Fakhar Zaman, Usman Khan Shinwari, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Aamer Yamin and Umar Amin will be playing for the first time on Pakistani soil.
Sarfraz has accepted that the occasion is overwhelming for the players, but they are now thinking of building on the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 success. "This is our first event after the Champions Trophy so we are ready for it. We have prepared well and will do our best to win the series. The opponents are formidable with some good Twenty20 players so the task is tough," he said.
Mohammad Amir, however, is expected to miss the opening few matches of the series.
"Amir has been the lynchpin in our attack," said Sarfraz. "He so ruthlessly rocked the Indian top order so we will miss him but we announced a squad of 16 players for the matches and hopefully Sohail Khan will do the job."
World XI captain Faf du Plessis told reporters in Lahore it was a "huge honour" to be playing the highest-profile event in cricket-mad Pakistan.
"It´s not every day you get an opportunity to play in something that is much more than just about yourself and your own team or your own country," du Plessis said.
World XI coach Andy Flower, who toured Pakistan in 1993, 1996 and 1998 with Zimbabwe, said he and his team were "privileged" to be there.
"We, as the World XI, would also like to offer our sympathy and condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones in terrorist acts in Pakistan," he said.
"These cricketers are here to play their part in the safe and steady return of international cricket in Pakistan, so that the enthusiastic and diehard fans and followers of Pakistan cricket can once again start watching their stars in their own backyard."
Much like the Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan, this series looks set to be a contest between Pakistan's bowling versus World XI's batting in the end.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmad (captain, wicketkeeper), Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Umar Amin, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Amir, Rumman Raees, Usman Khan Shinwari and Sohail Khan.
World XI: Faf du Plessis (captain), David Miller, Morne Morkel, Tim Paine, Thisara Perera, Imran Tahir, Darren Sammy, Hashim Amla, Grant Elliott, Samuel Badree, George Bailey, Tamim Iqbal, Paul Collingwood and Ben Cutting.
For special coverage of the Independence Cup, click here: https://www.geo.tv/worldXI