Former South Africa batsman AB de Villiers will play two matches in Lahore for Lahore Qalandars in the upcoming Pakistan Super League on March 9 and 10. De Villiers, who said he had "a role to play in helping international cricket return to Pakistan," will be one of the most high-profile cricketers to play in the country since the terror attack in Lahore in March 2009.
De Villiers, who had retired from international cricket at the end of IPL 2018, was picked by Lahore Qalandars in the draft in November and was originally signed on to play only seven of the side's eight league matches in the UAE leg of the tournament. However, he stated on Monday that he would be available for the side's final two league matches - against Islamabad United and Multan Sultans - in Lahore too, before his return home. De Villiers stated he was available only for the group stage, due to family commitments.
"I am delighted to confirm that I will represent Lahore Qalandars in front of our home crowds on 9 and 10 March, during the HBL PSL 2019," de Villiers said in a press release. "I look forward to revisiting the Gaddafi Stadium and aim to play my part in helping Lahore Qalandars achieve something they have been aspiring for since the inception of this tournament in 2016.
"I am fully aware that cricket is like a second religion in Pakistan. I still remember the support and appreciation we received in 2007. Furthermore, I feel I have a role to play in helping international cricket return to Pakistan. These have been some of the motivating factors for me to return to Lahore.
"I sympathise with the people of Pakistan because they have been cricket-starved for no fault of theirs, but I am optimistic that the days are not too far when international cricket will return to Pakistan and the stadia will once again be packed with crowds."
ESPNcricinfo understands that former Cricket South Africa CEO Haroon Lorgat also played a role to help convince de Villiers to play in Pakistan. Lorgat visited Pakistan several times recently, with the most recent being the Lahore Qalandars player development programme.
De Villiers will be one of the most high-profile South Africa players to play in Pakistan, after Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and David Miller had toured the country with the World XI side for the three T20Is in the Independence Cup in September 2017. Other South African players, like Rilee Rossouw, Colin Ingram and JP Duminy have also played matches in Pakistan for their respective PSL sides.
The Independence Cup in 2017 was the second international tournament in Pakistan, after Zimbabwe's landmark tour of 2015. Zimbabwe were the first Test-playing nation to tour Pakistan since 2009 when an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus resulted in the suspension of international cricket from Pakistan. The Independence Cup was followed by a T20I against Sri Lanka in October 2017, after which West Indies toured Pakistan for three T20Is in April 2018.
PCB chairman Ehsan Mani welcomed de Villiers' decision. "I am confident that de Villiers's decision at the back of his fellow World XI, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and the Windies' cricketers' decisions to play in Lahore will encourage other leading cricketers and international sides to visit this cricket-passionate country," Mani said.
Lahore Qalandars captain Mohammad Hafeez, hoped de Villiers would take home great memories from the matches.
"Not just me but the entire Lahore Qalandars side will wait eagerly for the unique experience of sharing with him a flight to Lahore and then being in the same team kit in front of what I envisage will be a packed house," Hafeez said. "This will again be an opportunity for the Lahore crowds to show their passion, respect, love and hospitality, and I am confident that AB will take home memories which will bring him back again and again to this beautiful piece of land."
The fourth edition of the PSL will begin on February 14 with the final on March 17. The last four league matches and the knock-out stage will be played in Pakistan, starting from March 7 in Karachi and Lahore. Lahore Qalandars, who finished at the bottom of the table last season, will begin their campaign 2019 against defending champions Islamabad United on February 14.