The World XI side, led by coach Andy Flower along with head of the ICC's Pakistan Task Team (PTT) Giles Clarke, arrived at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore in the small hours of Monday morning. World XI's three-T20I series against Pakistan, which gets underway on Tuesday, will be the third attempt in the last two years to revive international cricket in the country.
The side was escorted in a bomb-proof bus amid high security with the entire route from the airport to the team hotel at Mall Road lined with armed policemen. The squad contains five players from South Africa, three from Australia, two from West Indies and one player each from England, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. West Indies' Samuel Badree was the only player in the 14-man squad yet to arrive due to his commitment with the CPL; he will join the squad by Monday evening. The entire group was received by PCB officials, led by chairman Najam Sethi, and was driven straight from the runway through a private departure area.
"For Pakistan, it's a big day," Sethi said at a press conference alongside Clarke. "If this didn't happen, I don't know how many more years we would still have to wait for cricket to return. I want to start by thanking all those people who made this possible for international cricket to come back to Pakistan. Top of my list is my friend and colleague Mr. Giles Clarke who is the head of Pakistan ICC task force on Pakistan. He has gone out of his way to organise this series and he is working at it for over a year now. Giles has been a great friend and the amount of conviction he has in the return of international cricket to Pakistan is unsurpassed."
Since the attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009, Pakistan has been deprived of regular international cricket in the country. In the last few years, the PCB had made several attempts to convince teams to tour Pakistan, but was only able to convince Zimbabwe, Kenya and Afghanistan to tour. A major breakthrough came with the hosting of the PSL final earlier this year in Lahore, an event that included international players like Darren Sammy, Chris Jordan and Dawid Malan. The World XI tour was subsequently planned to showcase another attempt as a part of confidence building and to change the 'negative' perception about Pakistan.
The ICC, however, had distanced itself from the Zimbabwe series in 2015, not even sending its own officials, but has now thrown its weight behind the World XI trip by hiring independent experts to oversee the security arrangements.
Flower was among the driving forces in assembling a diverse and robust squad from around the world with each player offered USD 100,000 to play a limited-overs series within five days at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The series has been earmarked as a key step, as a part of the PCB's intentions, to convince the world that Pakistan is ready to host top-flight international cricket.
"A lot of courage was needed on other side to put it all together," Sethi said. "We are very very happy to host the World XI and we know this is a small step in many ways but a huge leap for Pakistan. In a sense that if the PSL final in Lahore actually opened the gates to the World XI. The players, of course, you have seen in pictures are relaxed, each one of them knows that this trip is not just about cricket. I am grateful to them for this trip, and we look forward to great performance on the field."
Clarke echoed Sethi's comments and outlined how his team prepared for World XI's visit. "We met in January when we had a short conference on how to make this possible," Clarke said. "We were looking to take small steps on a long journey, and those steps have been taken by Pakistani people and Pakistani government on a daily basis, more than by anyone else apart from the team that I've brought with me, which I have greatest admiration for.
"After I came here in January, we agreed that we should invest in training and preparation. We needed to behave as if there are going to be FTP tours in Pakistan. We have half the nations' players registered as members of FICA. So we needed to ensure that FICA was happy. For that to happen, we had to have a structure that was approved by FICA and the other countries. So I was very pleased that FICA sent their representatives to watch the PSL final which was a great achievement.
"ICC have paid for and invested a significant sum of money in security and training of Pakistani security agencies. In the end, we need Pakistani companies to provide those services, and that's what's going to happen in future. We're building a serious house, and we're building it with bricks, not straw."