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Sell out crowd for first T20I at Gaddafi as Pakistan win against spirited Zimbabwe

LAHORE - May 22, 2015: Pakistan welcomed international cricket back to its backyard with unprecedented public response and fool proof security and with a five-wicket win against courageous Zimbabwe in the opening Twenty20 international match of the two-match rubber here at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore. 

Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura's 54 off 34 balls helped the visitors post a decent 172-6. But an opening wicket stand of 142 runs between Pakistan openers Mukhtar Ahmed and Ahmed Shahzad laid the foundation of win made difficult by nervous seniors.

Former captains Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Umer Akmal lost their wickets in a span of just 25 runs to throw the match on a knives edge. But Pakistan captain joined Sarfraz Ahmed when Pakistan needed four runs off five ball and smacked a boundary on his very first ball, scripting a win.

In reply, opener Mukhtar Ahmed, playing in only his second T20 international, bludgeoned 83 off 45 balls as Pakistan reached 173-5 in the last over with captain Shahid Afridi hitting a boundary off the first ball he faced.

A capacity crowd of 22,000 packed the Gaddafi Stadium for the first international match in Pakistan in six years, and was entertained by Ahmed, who hit 12 fours and three sixes.

The home side did wobble slightly towards the end, losing five wickets for 27 runs but managed to edge over the finish line in the final over.

Mukhtar and Shahzad’s opening wicket stand also came at par with Pakistan’s highest opening stand achieved by Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal against Bangladesh on May 1, 2010 at St Licis.

Mukhtar’s three sixes and 12 fours were enough to bring the crowd to their toes. He took 45 balls to reach 83 runs and was the victim of Cremer. Shahzad after reaching 55 runs, faced Williams who nipped the ball away which nicked to point and the Pakistan opener was back. Seeing the back of Pakistan openers, hope developed in Zimbabwean ranks which further took height with the hosts nervousness. With Cremer having two wickets including the one of Hafeez, Panyangara, Vitori and Williams shared one wicket each.

Elected to bat, Zimbabwe’s opener Hamilton Masakadza with his quick scores and later in the middle Elton Chicumbara cracking half century knitted their teams innings together with their big hits, otherwise comeback veteran Mohammad Sami, took two back to back wickets in his second over to soften their approach.

Hamilton and Vusimuzi Sibanda opened the Zimbabwean innings with aggression and in just 35 balls, Zimbabwe raced to 50 runs in 5.5 overs. At that point in time, Hamilton was at 42 and Sibanda 9 but when the score reached 68, Sami made the latter edge the ball to Sarfraz Ahmed for 13 runs. On the very next ball he uprooted their main run-scorer Hamilton at 43, he got in 27 balls. 

Zimbabwe, however, kept getting gradual runs after their openers were off the field Chigumbura kept the score flowing and with eight fours and a six reached his half century. Four runs later at his personal 54, Chigumbura was clean bowled by Wahab Riaz, his second after he took an earlier wicket of Charles Conventry, who made 14.

Shoaib Malik, who was back in the team after one year, had Sean Williams (16) and Sami went for his third wicket of Sikandar Raza to have a very fruitful return in the national team. Richmond Mutumbani and Graeme Cremer remained not out in Zimbabwe’s first T20 international at the Gaddafi Stadium.

This T20I match may not be of great significance for the cricket world but for Pakistan it is seen as an opening for many more international matches in Pakistan. Forced into exile since March 3, 2009, the day Seri Lanka team was attacked by terrorists, Pakistan went into $ 120 million losses for holding matches away from home.

The series itself almost went into darkness with the attack on a bus in Karachi that claimed the lives of around 45 people. But Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) finally gave the green light with a week to go, and since then the two sides have exchanged expressions of mutual brotherhood.

Zimbabwe agreed to tour Pakistan only after being promised top-level security reserved for heads of state, with 4,000 policemen guarding the Gaddafi Stadium and surrounding areas.

Earlier, Pakistan included batsman Shoaib Malik and paceman Mohammad Sami, called in after three years.

The second T20I of the two match rubber will be played on May 24 and three one-day internationals on May 26, 29 and 31.

Zimbabwe included Charles Coventry after four years out, while Christopher Mpofu, Brian Vitori, Richmond Mutumbami, Vusi Sibanda and Graeme Cremer also return after being left out of the Cricket World Cup.