Pakistan sealed a 20-run win over World XI in the first match of a series of three Twenty20 Internationals, a fixture that marked the return of big-time cricket to Pakistan amid scenes of fans being forced to deal with understandably tight security.

Despite the significance of the occasion and claims by the Pakistan Cricket Board that it was a complete sell-out, chunks of the stands were half-filled at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday (September 12) with fans clearly lacking the intensity to match the occasion. Or, perhaps, they were put off by the endless security checks before reaching the ground.

Apart from hosting Zimbabwe for five limited-overs matches in 2015, this is the first instance of ‘international’ cricket in Pakistan since the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus back in 2009, and the Pakistan team matched the occasion with a clinical performance in what was their first game since beating India to win the Champions Trophy 2017 title in England.

Pakistan, sent into bat by World XI, put up a strong 197 for 5, with Babar Azam scoring a career-best 86 off just 52 balls, before the visiting side was stopped at 177 for 7.

Azam helped Pakistan recover from the early loss of Fakhar Zaman for eight. Zaman, who smashed a match-winning century in the Champions Trophy final, hit two boundaries before edging Morne Morkel to Hashim Amla in the slips.

Azam and Ahmed Shehzad then shaped the innings with their 122-run second-wicket stand with Azam looking in top form. He hit ten fours and two towering sixes. Shehzad also hit three fours in his 34-ball 39 before holing out off Ben Cutting.

Azam carried on, never losing momentum, and once he departed, caught in the deep by David Miller off Imran Tahir, it was left to Shoaib Malik to give impetus to the innings. Malik did well, smashing four fours and two sixes in his 20-ball 38, while Imad Wasim hit two sixes towards the end in an unbeaten 15 in four balls.

In reply, World XI reached 40 by the fifth over with Tamim Iqbal smashing three fours in his run-a-ball 18 and Amla cracking a six and four hits to the fence in scoring 26 in 17 balls, but both fell in the sixth over bowled by Rumman Raees.

Rumman Raees removed Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla in same over to dent World XI's chase. © AFP

Rumman Raees removed Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla in same over to dent World XI’s chase. © AFP

It was left to Faf du Plessis, the World XI captain, to anchor the chase, and he shaped well early on, dealing in boundaries before he played one shot too many off Shadab Khan. His 29 in 18 balls included four boundaries and a six. Shadab followed up with the wicket of Miller to finish with 2 for 33.

Darren Sammy did try his best towards the end, but the asking rate was too high. He finished with 29 not out in 16 balls, his innings studded with three sixes and a four, as World XI finished 20 runs short.

Du Plessis felt that he should have batted on, saying after the match, “It was a good game, I thought Pakistan played exceptionally well. I thought it was a 180 wicket, so maybe we gave away 20 runs too many. Our bowling was possibly one-dimensional. They had a lot of variety, spinners, left-arm, right-arm. It was a great occasion to play here, and as soon as we walked into the field, it was just a normal game. I needed to get a 50 or 60 for us to win.”

Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, hailed his side’s win and hoped that there would be a full house for the next game, to be played without a day’s gap on Wednesday at the same venue. “Great to play in front of the Pakistani fans, hopefully next two games we can get a full house,” he said. “It was a very important match. No praise is too high for our players, especially Babar Azam, and the way Ahmed Shehzad played, and the way Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim finished the innings.

“We’ve got some very good players, which is why the selection committee is giving them a lot of opportunities. Our fitness is getting better day after day, and the humidity today was a test of it, and we passed it.”