International team led by Jayasuriya to play in Karachi

After nearly three-and-a-half years, Pakistan will get a bit of international cricket at home over the weekend when the International World Eleven – led by the former Sri Lankan skipper Sanath Jayasuriya — will take on Pakistan Star Eleven in Karachi in two T-20 matches.

This is the first time international cricketers – even if mostly retired from the game — will be playing in the country after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009 in which seven members of the visiting squad were also injured.

Since then the ‘cricket-crazy’ nation fell off the cricket map and has had to settle for either watching the game on television or travel elsewhere for live action including home series matches hosted on neutral grounds. The Bangladesh cricket team was to tour Pakistan earlier this year for a one-day and a T-20 match in Lahore but it was stopped from doing so by the Dhaka High Court at the eleventh hour.

Since the international team has already arrived in Karachi, a last-minute cancellation is unlikely this time round. The event is the personal initiative of the Sindh Sports Minister Mohammad Ali Shah and the Pakistan Cricket Board has only provided the venue and made players available for the matches.

Upon arrival on Thursday, Jayasuriya was upbeat and hoped that the two matches would encourage other teams to come and play in Pakistan. “In my opinion, Pakistan is a safe country,” he told reporters at the Karachi International Airport. His team – being coached by West Indian batsman Alvin Kallicharran – includes South African Test players Andre Nel and Nantie Hayward besides Ricardo Powell and Jermaine Lawson from the Caribbean.

The Pakistan team will be led by Shahid Afridi and will have some players from the national squad including Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz and Umar Akmal. Also playing for Pakistan will be former captains Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik. Though most of the players on both sides are past their prime, reports about ticket sales from Karachi suggest that this by no means has dampened the enthusiasm for the contest among the nation’s cricket lovers.