Babar Azam was at his fluent best at Lahore    AFP
Babar Azam was at his fluent best at Lahore AFP

International cricket finally returned on Pakistan soil with the series opener of the T20I series between the hosts and World XI at Lahore. Sarfraz Ahmed stated at the toss that 8 out of his 11 players were playing their first game at home. This included Babar Azam, and the promising youngster made an instant mark with a fitting 86 to take Pakistan to 197 for 5 in 20 overs. The late impetus was provided by senior man Shoaib Malik. The core batsmen of the World XI captain Faf du Plessis, Tamim Iqbal, Hashim Amla, David Miller, Grant Elliott and Thisara Perera now have to step up if they have to chase down the total. Else there will be more noise among the home crowds.

Opting to bowl, World XI got off to a mixed start. Morne Morkel conceded two back-to-back boundaries to Fakhar Zaman. For a while it seemed like Zaman had taken off from where he left in the Champions Trophy final. However, he edged one to Amla at first slip to depart for 8 in the opening over itself.

From thereon, it was a long wait for the bowlers. They bowled on the pads and looked for some swing in unfriendly conditions. Their fielding also let them down, as Ahmed Shahzad and Babar wrecked havoc in the middle. Shahzad wasn’t at his fluent best, but applied himself to support Babar.

Babar, on the other hand, remained was class apart. He timed everything from the middle of the blade, anticipated the short balls, ran swiftly between the wickets and handled Imran Tahir with care. He smacked two sixes and registered his highest individual score in T20 international cricket. He was on verge of a century when Tahir got the better of him. World XI were looking to curb the run-rate with two new batsmen, Sarfraz and Malik, but the latter kept them at bay.

Malik’s 15-ball 38, coupled with Imad Wasim’s last-over strikes, have posted a healthy score for Pakistan. Will they win their maiden home game after a long gap?

Brief scores:

Pakistan 197 for 5 in 20 overs (Babar Azam 86, Ahmed Shahzad 39, Shoaib Malik 38; Thisara Perera 2 for 51, Ben Cutting 1 for 38) vs World XI.