International XI arrives for Twenty20
A team led by former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya and managed by former West Indian batsman Alvin Kallicharan has arrived in Karachi on Thursday afternoon. The international XI team will play two exhibition Twenty20 matches against a Pakistan Stars XI at National Stadium in Karachi this weekend, ending a near four-year drought of international cricket in the country.
Several other players including batsman Ricardo Powell, fast bowlers Jermaine Lawson and Adam Sanford from West Indies, and Andre Nel and Nantie Hayward from South Africa landed earlier in the morning. South Africa allrounder Justin Kemp has withdrawn due to his domestic cricket commitments while two Afghanistan players - Shapoor Zadran and Mohammad Shahzad - will reach Karachi tomorrow from Kabul.
"I am happy to be part of these matches," Jayasuriya said on his arrival. "It depends on country to country [whether teams tour Pakistan] but in my opinion Pakistan is a safe country. The incidents of Lahore [attacks on the Sri Lanka team in 2009] were not the best thing to have happened and the suspension of cricket in Pakistan is very unfortunate because the people love the game here."
The games are unofficial and are arranged by the Sindh sports minister Dr Mohammad Ali Shah. The PCB has issued No Objection Certificates to the contracted players due to participate and has allowed the use of the National Stadium, but all the logistic arrangements, broadcasting deals and security arrangements were made by Shah with the support of the local government in Karachi.
Since the terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus during a Test match in Lahore in March 2009, Pakistan have been forced to hold its international matches away from home and also lost hosting rights of the 2009 Champions Trophy and 2011 World Cup. A move to stage a tournament with international faces might prove a small stepping stone for the revival of international cricket in the country.
Kallicharan was enthusiastic about cricket returning to Pakistan. "I came here way back in 1972 to raise funds for flood victims and this time it's another noble cause: promotion of cricket in Pakistan," he said. "I think they [other countries] will have to have a look. With the success of these matches a good message will go out. Pakistan is a part of world cricket and we are here to show that Pakistan is a place to play cricket."
The plan isn't entirely sanctioned by the PCB and the ICC ,and the organiser was forced to change the name of the teams to remove any association with the two boards as the matches hold no official status.
Powell, who has played 109 ODIs, hoped the series would change perceptions about Pakistan. "Its feel good [to be here in Pakistan]," he said. "Its a great opportunity for the players to come here and really exhibit their skills, I think its about time that world cricket returns to Pakistan.
"Twenty20 is the most exciting form of the game that you have right now and the teams are here to really enjoy themselves. Lots of good players are here, lots of guys from South Africa as well and lots of other players from other parts of the world, and I'm sure it will be a great weekend and we will see some good cricket."
The teams are staying at the Sheraton hotel, with extensive security of around 5000 policemen, claimed the provisional sports minister. The team will have a practice session on Friday at Karachi Gymkhana Ground.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent