Karachi: Pakistan today took a significant step towards the resumption of international cricket in the country following the successful organisation of an exhibition match between International World XI and Pakistan XI here.
An International World XI captained by former Sri Lankan skipper Sanath Jayasuriya and featuring several former South African and West Indian Test players locked horns against a Pakistan All Stars side led by Shahid Afridi in first of the two Twenty 20s at the packed National Stadium.
Around 32,000 cricket enthusiasts turned up for the high-profile match and celebrated the opportunity of watching the international players in action for the first time since the Sri Lanka team were attacked in 2009.
"It is a great occasion for Pakistan cricket. All our players are relaxed and we are happy to be part of this match which is a ray of hope for Pakistani cricket fans," Jayasuriya said before the match.
"From the enthusiasm and joy we have seen among the people, it is really unfortunate they haven`t been able to watch full international sides play here for the last three years," Jayasuriya added.
After militants attacked the Sri Lankan team and killed six Pakistani policemen and a van driver apart from wounding some of the visiting players, Test playing nations have refused to play in Pakistan.
The closest to international cricket returning to Pakistan came this year in April when Bangladesh agreed to play a one-day international and a T20 match in Lahore after much persuasion by the Pakistan cricket Board.
But even that tour petered out after the Dhaka high court issued a restraining order against the Bangladeshi cricketer touring Pakistan because of security fears.
In between a Afghanistan A squad has also played in Punjab.
"The response of the people has been beyond our expectation and I think today we have shown the world that we should be given international matches on our own soil," said Sindh minister for sports, Dr Mohammad Ali Shah.
The response for the match was overwhelming as the fans started pouring into the stadium several hours before the start of the match.
Dressed for the occasion, the crowd kept on cheering every shot played by the batsmen and the valiant fielding efforts of the visiting players, most of whom have past their prime.
DIG police, Shahid Hayat said around 5000 policemen and paramilitary rangers were on duty to ensure foolproof security for the match.
"We had drawn a proper security plan for the teams and even their routes were kept a secret," he said.
"We know how important these matches are to convince the international cricket community that Pakistan is still a safe place for visiting teams," the Governor of the Sindh province, Dr Eshratul Ebad told reporters after meeting with the teams in their dressing rooms.