Sarfraz Ahmed and co. won the first T20I by 20 runs    AFP
Sarfraz Ahmed and co. won the first T20I by 20 runs AFP

Once upon a time, Sachin Tendulkar walked out to open the batting with Saeed Anwar against Chaminda Vaas. A day before the start of the 1996 World Cup, the Wills XI consisting of Indian and Pakistani players joined hands to play a game in Colombo to ensure the world that the Sri Lankan capital was a safe place to play cricket. Mohammad Azharuddin, at helm, discussed strategies with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to get the better of the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana.

Four years later, a few months post the Kargil war, the likes of Tendulkar, Jayasuriya and Sourav Ganguly played under Wasim Akram for Asia XI at Dhaka, against a World XI side. Michael Bevan played one of finest knocks in 50-over cricket (185 not out off 132). It’s a shame that the game did not have an ODI status. His efforts were a run short of a win.

It was a proud moment for the fraternity and stakeholders when cricket tried and diffused the lethal political tick-tocks. Unfortunately that has not been the case now.

The atmosphere was grander at Lahore, than that of Colombo or Dhaka. All streets and lanes on Tuesday led to the Gadaffi Stadium. World XI captain Faf du Plessis felt he was a part of a movie. The cricket world had its glare transfixed in Pakistan that was witnessing its rare brush with international arena in its soil. For over 8 years, terrorism ensured ‘fear’ triumphed over our beautiful game. Younis Khan’s mastery with the willow or Mohammad Aamer’s skills with the ball were feared less by opponents than Lashkar’s AK-56s or Taliban’s grenades.

Pakistan was cricket on September 12, its breadwinner India gave it a miss. A parallel universe would have the Kohlis enthralling Lahoris and the world. The words ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Independence’ have seldom gone together without another word ‘India’. This, however, is a rare case. Here’s an Indian writer’s plight as he sits to write the preview for the second T20I of the ‘Independence Cup‘…

Yes, there was cricket. Elated Pakistani fans went home happier. Babar Azam’s 52-ball 86 ensured Pakistan finished with 197 for 5 against the unfamiliar visitor. The World XI consists of players, who agreed to tour Pakistan, rather than a team out there on merit. However, Pakistan still had to ensure they toppled the hurdles called Morne Morkel and Lahore’s own Imran Tahir. Both were plundered over 8 RPO.

While Babar showed why Pakistan fans call him the ‘next Kohli’, Ajmal Shehzad, his predecessor as ‘next Kohli’ shut his critics up with a fine 34-ball 39. Shoaib Malik showed the value of experience. He painted the perfect finishing touch with a 20-ball 38.

Imad Wasim, one of the finest limited-overs cricketers at the moment, had made his debut at Lahore against Zimbabwe. He finally played his second game on home soil and scaled his worth as an all-rounder. He struck 14 not out off just 5, and later opened the bowling to register 4 wicket-less overs for only 22.

Here was the platform that Pakistan wanted. Replacing Mohammad Aamer in the XI is quite a task, but Rumman Raees seems to always be prepared. In a feat, matching his Champions Trophy excellence in the semi-final against England, Raees dismissed the World XI openers Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla. Sohail Khan was brilliant (4-0-28-2), and young Shadab Khan impressed with the wickets of South African duo, du Plessis and David Miller.

While others in the squad will be itching to set a foot on their home soil and play a rare international, Pakistan have no reason to tinker with the XI as they eye a series win on Wednesday night itself. Their perennial strength has been their bowling. Despite Hasan Ali leaking runs and Aamer not playing, the others stepped up. Tonight may just be Hasan’s day out.

Pakistan’s Likely XI: Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Sohail Khan, Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees

This World XI is not merit-based, but they deserve every iota of applause for braving fears and stepping into this ‘no-entry’ land for a good cause. From purely a cricketing point of view, the Flower brothers Grant and Andy are trying to outwit each other. While Grant has his settled Pakistan, it would be interesting to step into Andy’s shoes and figure out how he goes ahead with the job of training a squad, who have hardly known each other or have played together.

It does help when almost 50 per cent of your squad is South African (or in this context any country). It would be interesting to know how would a Tamim communicated with Amla when they stepped out to open.

The obvious action that World XI can take is to find a way to get in Samuel Badree, who is one of the best T20I bowlers. Thisara Perera may have to sit out of the World XI. In recent times, he has even struggled to make it to the Sri Lankan XI. He was pounded for 51 from 4 overs.

The age and the recentness factor goes against Paul Collingwood. Grant Eliott may be a big name in the PSL, but the think tank could try to get in George Bailey. But in that case, they are left with no extra bowler and our adopted-Pakistani Darren Sammy will have to bowl his quota of 4 overs.

World XI (likely): Hashim Amla, Tamim Iqbal, Tim Paine (wk), Faf du Plessis (c), David Miller, Grant Eliott/Thisara Perera/George Bailey, Darren Sammy, Ben Cutting, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Samuel Badree

It is another carnivalesque day at Lahore. The hope remains that the game will triumph and at the same time, it will be another exciting run-fest.