Wednesday Sep 13, 2017
On Tuesday, the stars aligned in the sky, and on the field at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore as international cricket finally made its long-awaited return to Pakistan. The 2017 Independence Cup, featuring three T20 matches between Pakistan and the star-studded World XI team, began as an enthusiastic and cricket-starved crowd watched on.
The event marked a return to action for Pakistan’s cricket team, after their incredible triumph earlier this year at the Champions Trophy. With the likes of Tamim Iqbal, David Miller and Grant Elliott on the World XI side, it promised to be a stern test of Pakistan’s T20 credentials.
World XI skipper Faf du Plessis won the toss and opted to bowl first, in what were humid and muggy conditions. Concerns of dew settling in later in the evening must have played a part in the decision. On the other side, Sohail Khan made a return to the T20 fold, while bowling all-rounder Faheem Ashraf made his T20 debut after his impressive display in the 2017 Champions Trophy.
Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman started with two boundaries off the first two balls but Zaman played one shot too many and was caught at slip in the same over.
Next up was Babar Azam. Now, it was the local lad’s turn to show his prowess in the limited overs format, as he launched an assault that left the World XI bowling attack in disarray. At the other end, Shehzad provided able support. The two racked in a 122-run partnership for the second wicket before the energy-sapping humidity of Lahore took its toll.
Shehzad eventually departed with a 39. Azam followed shortly after, but not before making a dazzling 86 off just 52 deliveries. Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim provided the final flourish at the end, with Sri Lankan all-rounder Thisara Perera bearing the brunt of the assault as he watched three sixes soaring over him in the final over, which propelled Pakistan to a massive score of 197 in 20 overs.
World XI opener Tamim Iqbal partnered with South African great Hashim Amla as the two got off to a flyer in their chase of the formidable target. Amla, in particular, looked in sublime touch right from the get go as the pair took on all comers. It was not until the final over of the bowling power play that Pakistan finally hit back, as left-arm pacer Rumman Raees struck twice to dismiss both Iqbal and Amla in one over, and with that wrestled control of the game.
Aussie wicketkeeper Tim Paine and du Plessis set out to do some damage control and build a partnership, with du Plessis in particular playing some delightful flicks to the fine leg boundary that kept the scoreboard ticking over. The pressure of the required run-rate was beginning to tell though, as du Plessis played one shot too many and was caught at deep midwicket off leg-spin prodigy Shadab Khan.
David Miller struggled to reply to Khan’s deadly googly and was swiftly stumped by Sarfraz as the World XI’s score fell to 123 for 5.
Peshawar Zalmi skipper and firm fan favourite Darren Sammy, then strode out to a raucous welcome, his big-hitting exploits in the PSL final six months earlier clearly not forgotten by those in the stadium. With 74 runs required off the last 5 overs, the task looked Herculean in nature but both Sammy and Perera gave it their all. Sammy smacked three massive sixes in an engaging tussle with his Zalmi teammate Hasan Ali, the latter flooring Sammy with a searing yorker reminiscent of Waqar Younis in his prime.
Plenty of runs were on offer in a keenly contested showdown of power hitting, but the target was beyond their reach as the World XI could only manage 177 for the loss of 7 wickets, falling 20 runs short. In the end it was the final over demolition of Perera by Malik and Imad that proved to be the decisive factor.
With two more matches to go in the Independence Cup, there is plenty still at stake for both sides as Pakistan look to continue their winning streak in the T20 format, while the World XI remains as eager to hit back.