Pakistan is preparing to show the cricketing world that it's safe to play international matches in the country by staging a three-match Twenty20 international series against a World XI in Lahore next week. Only Zimbabwe has toured Pakistan — for a short limited-overs series two years ago — since terrorists attacked a Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009.
The World XI tour is a major breakthrough for the Pakistan Cricket Board, which had been working to attract international cricket to the country.
Since 2009 Pakistan has played most of its home matches in the United Arab Emirates and also staged two editions of its premier domestic T20 tournament — the Pakistan Super League — in the UAE.
The successful hosting of the PSL final at Lahore earlier this year gave the PCB enough confidence to schedule a T20 series against the World XI in collaboration with the International Cricket Council.
Led by South Africa's Faf du Plessis, the star-studded World XI includes West Indies' World Twenty20 winning captain Darren Sammy, who also competed in the PSL final for Peshawar Zalmi, New Zealand's Grant Elliott, Australia's Tim Paine, England's Paul Collingwood, Bangladesh's Tamim Iqbal and Sri Lanka's Thisara Perera.
"These might be baby steps before some giant steps are taken. For now, let's back this to the hilt," former Pakistan test cricketer and now television commentator Ramiz Raja said.
"Everyone is here and they realize that they are part of a greater cause, and they have accepted they are part of something more important than just themselves," Sammy added on Saturday in Dubai where the World XI players are assembled before flying to Lahore late Sunday night.
"It is important that the passionate Pakistan fans get to experience international cricket in their country," Sammy said.
The PCB has high hopes for the series. It has already scheduled a Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka in October, subject to security clearance, and a three-match T20 series against the West Indies in November is also in the pipeline.
Both federal and Punjab provincial government have promised foolproof security for the World XI. Several thousand of security officials are expected to be deployed over the next five days and spectators have to stand in long lines at several security checkpoints before entering the Gaddafi Stadium.
"I am not worried about these security checkpoints, I am more excited that on Tuesday doors of international cricket will be opened in Pakistan," said Mohammad Abdullah, a college student.
Hundreds of fans were turned away on Sunday after the cheapest $5 tickets had sold out, leaving only the premium $60 and $80 seats still available for the three games.
Despite playing its home matches abroad, Pakistan rose to the top of the test rankings last year and also won the Champions Trophy.
"This series could not have been better timed," another former test captain and fast bowler Waqar Younis said.
"Pakistan produced a superb performance by winning the ICC Champions Trophy and the players deserve the opportunity to display their class at home venues."
The Pakistan cricket team held a short training camp in Lahore. Fast bowler Mohammad Amir is a doubt for the series as he remains with his wife in England where the couple are expecting the birth of their first child next week.