Cricket is back in Pakistan. After six long years of wandering the globe playing “home” matches in the Middle East and England, international cricket has returned to Pakistan beginning with Friday’s T20 in Lahore.
Prior to the match, Zimbabwean captain Elton Chigumbura shared some thoughtful remarks about isolation and the honor to be playing in Pakistan. Chigumbura noted that Zimbabwe “have also experienced international isolation. Team [sic] would say we won’t visit Zimbabwe due to security concerns. But we won’t let that happen with our brother. You can’t kill the spirit of cricket.” He went on to add that Zimbabwe “are happy that we are contributing to help the youngsters see their heroes perform for them at home.” A nice gesture to a country filled with pride and rightfully excited to see the return of the sport they love so much.
On a weekend that features England versus New Zealand at Lord’s as well as the playoffs and final of the IPL, it is easy to overlook the Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan, but this is one that deserves publicity and attention. It was great to see Pakistanis filling the stadium in Lahore on Friday to cheer on their countrymen. On the other side, this is a good thing for Zimbabwe cricket which needs more tours and to be able to further develop their players after a disappointing World Cup. For those that did get to tune in on Friday or who were on hand at the Gaddafi Stadium saw an exciting match that was nearly blown by the home side before they capped off a dramatic win in the final over.
It began with Zimbabwe winning the toss in the day-night T20 match and electing to bat first. Hamilton Masakadza got Zimbabwe off to a good start with the opener knocking in 43 runs off 27 balls including 7 fours before being dismissed on the final ball of the 6th over. Charles Coventry was settling in nicely with back to back boundaries before being dismissed after just 14 runs off 7 balls when he was caught by Sarfraz Ahmed. The captain Elton Chigumbura was able to put together a solid day at the crease managing 54 off 35, including 9 boundaries. Sean Williams and Sikander Raza were both caught on 16 and 17 runs respectively. Zimbabwe reached 20 overs having knocked in 172 runs at a run rate of 8.6, while Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz claimed 5 of their 6 wickets.
Needing 173 to win, Mukhtar Ahmed opened the batting alongside Ahmen Shehzad who combined to produce an excellent partnership. Ahmed scored 83 off 45 balls, including twelve 4s and three 6s, while Shehzad reached 55 off 39 before being caught by Richmond Mutumbami. 14.4 overs in with only two wickets gone and 144 runs on the board, Pakistan were cruising towards an easy victory. And then it nearly came completely apart for them on this homecoming match. Mohammad Hafeez was dismissed after 12 runs, Shoaib Malik after 7 and Umar Akmal after only 4. Needing four runs from the final four balls, Shahid Afridi knocked a straight drive to the boundary securing Pakistan’s win on their homecoming in Lahore.
It was a great night for the country and for cricket to see the game return to Pakistan. This will be an interesting tour and hopefully Zimbabwe can put up a good fight in the ODIs and Tests. Here is to more great cricket in Pakistan for years to come.