For the first time in nearly nine years fans in Pakistan may have a season of cricket in their country to look forward to, after the PCB confirmed that the Punjab government had approved a T20 series with a World XI to take place in Lahore. And to the talk of Sri Lanka potentially playing a single T20 from their tour to the UAE in Lahore can be added to the possibility of a three-match T20 series against West Indies in November, also in Lahore.
The developments, announced by the new PCB chairman Najam Sethi, in a press conference in Lahore amount to a bumper season of home cricket for a country that has seen only a short visit by Zimbabwe and the final of the Pakistan Super League, featuring a number of foreign players, since March 2009.
The Punjab government has promised presidential-level security for the week-long tour by a World XI which will be a 15-man squad comprising players from all top Test-playing countries. The team will be led by Andy Flower as coach and will undergo a seven-day camp in Dubai before travelling to Lahore for three T20s, starting from September 10. An ICC security team is expected to visit Lahore on August 26 and 27.
"This is a very big thing," Sethi said. "September, October and November are big months. It's a big agenda, we need your prayers and we will open the doors and international teams will come. Pray that we keep our security solid. The Punjab government has given us the signal and preparations are in full swing."
The World XI series has been in discussions ever since the PSL final was held in Lahore in March this year, a result of the efforts of the PCB, including Shaharyar Khan who stepped down as chairman recently, and the ECB president and chairman of the ICC's Pakistan Task Force Giles Clarke.
"Within the next 72 hours I will announce the names of the players [in the World XI]," Sethi said. "I have the names with me but at the moment I can say that all top players from top cricketing nations will tour Pakistan.
The World XI team was chosen by the ECB's director Flower, and the matches will have international status. Though it is not yet clear which players will come, decisions will be taken based on the security report. It is understood that FICA will leave it to players to make individual decisions. The ICC has thrown its support behind the tour, and has been closely involved with the PCB, helping it assemble the security apparatus to FICA's satisfaction as well as its own, according to PCB chairman Najam Sethi. All the expenses of the tour will be borne by the PCB.
The key to Pakistan's future as a viable host will lie in those three games. If they go off without incident, Sethi said that it will pave the way for more countries to tour. Last week the Sri Lanka Cricket chairman Thilanga Sumathipala revealed that he was eager for Sri Lanka to play a T20 in Lahore as part of their tour.
Sethi also said that the PCB was in advanced discussions with Cricket West Indies (CWI) about a series of T20 games in late November in Lahore. This proposed series is the one that was originally supposed to happen earlier this year in March, but the security situation did not allow both boards to move forward at the time.
"That tour will be subject to the safe conclusion of ICC World XI team's three-match series in Lahore in September, and affirmation of manageable security by the ICC-sponsored international security company overseeing the security arrangements of the World XI," Sethi read out from a statement from CWI.
For now, the matches will be confined only to Lahore, the scene incidentally of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 that moved international cricket away from the country. "I wish we could shift it to Karachi, but so far it's only in Lahore," Sethi said. "Those who are coming let them come. I am planning to go to Karachi and will meet with security personnel."
Several countries have refused to tour Pakistan due to security concerns. Zimbabwe and Afghanistan are the only international teams to play in Pakistan since the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus by gunmen in March 2009. That dealt a severe blow to Pakistan's status as a host nation, with the country losing their share of games in the 2011 World Cup, which was scheduled to be jointly hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Zimbabwe series in 2015 finally revived international cricket in the country, but was marred by a bomb blast during the second ODI, 800 metres from the Gaddafi Stadium, which killed two people. Since then, however, the PCB has hosted the 2017 PSL final - which featured a contingent of overseas players including former West Indies captain Darren Sammy - in Lahore on March 5 without major incident.