Thousands of cricket fans watched happily at Karachi’s National Stadium as the last leg of the Pakistan Super League started in the country’s biggest city on Saturday.
Shane Watson of Australia, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy of the West Indies will be the star attractions during the last eight matches in Pakistan’s premier domestic Twenty20 competition over the next nine days.
Sammy has been an unofficial ambassador of the PSL around the world since it began in 2016. Sammy, who leads Peshawar Zalmi, won the second edition of the PSL at Lahore in 2017 as the PCB gradually started organizing more league games at home.
New Zealand’s Luke Ronchi, playing for defending champions Islamabad United, disappointed his fans in Pakistan as he got out first ball. But South African Cameron Delport blazed a half-century and propelled Islamabad to 103-2 in 10 overs.
Over half of the 32,000-capacity stadium was full well ahead of the 7 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) start. Fans stood in long queues and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the stadium.
Watson will be playing in Pakistan 14 years after being a member of the Australia “A″ team in 2005, while it’s the first time for Pollard.
“It’s been 14 years since I last visited Pakistan, a place with some of the most passionate fans in world cricket. Can’t wait to give it our best shot in winning the trophy,” Watson said in a video message tweeted by his team Quetta Gladiators.
Lahore, which organized the PSL final two years ago, was unable to host three of the remaining eight PSL matches after the recent political tensions between Pakistan and India forced a delay in the opening of the international air space in Lahore.
That led the Pakistan Cricket Board to contemplate rescheduling the remaining eight games in Pakistan after organizing 26 PSL league matches in the United Arab Emirates. Karachi, which hosted last year’s PSL final, was chosen as the PCB was intent on showing the cricketing world that it’s safe to again host international teams in Pakistan.
“The perception that foreigners have about the safety situation in Pakistan will change and they will be satisfied with the security arrangements,” PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said in Karachi.
“I am delighted to welcome the foreign players who have come here for the PSL and I am sure it will help us in bringing more international matches to the country.”
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Mani said that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were the two teams which could tour Pakistan later this year if the PCB successfully organizes PSL games in Pakistan.
It’s been 10 years since Pakistan hosted a fully-fledged bilateral cricketing series after the Sri Lanka cricket team bus was attacked at Lahore in 2009.
Several key cricketing delegates from around the world will monitor security arrangements during the matches in Karachi.
Tight security will be provided for the six franchise teams, including more than 13,000 policemen and 2,500 paramilitary personnel in place from the team hotel to the stadium and in the surroundings of the National Stadium.
Hundreds of CCTV cameras have been installed in and around the stadium to monitor the movement of spectators, with identity cards having to be shown at entry points.
The main roads of the city have been decorated with lights and cardboard cutouts of players on the roadside. There are also giant billboards showing several foreign players representing the six teams named after Pakistan cities — Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi, Quetta Gladiators and Multan Sultans.
“I am a big fan of Karachi Kings, but I will try to watch all matches at the stadium because there are so many international stars playing here,” said Mumtaz Ahmed, a college student.
More AP Cricket: www.apnews.com/Cricket and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports