AB de Villiers has confirmed that he will turn out for Lahore Qalandars' home matches against Islamabad United and Multan Sultans at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. This will be the first time the former captain will tour Pakistan after South Africa's tour of Pakistan in 2007.
"I am delighted to confirm that I will represent Lahore Qalandars in front of our home crowds on 9 and 10 March, during the HBL PSL 2019," said de Villiers, who played a Test and three ODIs at the venue during the 2007 tour. "I look forward to revisiting the Gaddafi Stadium and aim to play my part in helping Lahore Qalandars achieve something they have been aspiring for since the inception of this tournament in 2016."
De Villiers' will be the sixth South Africa cricketer to tour Lahore in less than last 18 months. In September 2017, a Faf du Plessis-led ICC World XI side - including Hashim Amla, David Miller, Morne Morkel, and Imran Tahir - toured Lahore for a three-match T20I series. This was followed by Sri Lankan team's return to the city, almost eight years after the gruesome attack on them, for a T20I.
Since the Sri Lankan team bus came under a gunmen attack in Lahore in May 2009, Zimbabwe (2015) and Windies (2018) have been the other nations to tour Pakistan. The successful staging of the PSL final in 2017 and two eliminators and final in 2018 played an integral role in convincing the international sides that Pakistan now remained a safe country to tour. This year, the PCB has scheduled to host as many as eight PSL matches across Lahore and Karachi.
De Villiers, who will be available to Lahore Qalandars for group stage matches, said that he felt he has a role to play in helping international cricket return to Pakistan. "I am fully aware that cricket is like a second religion in Pakistan," he said. "I still remember the support and appreciation we received in 2007. Furthermore, I feel I have a role to play in helping international cricket return to Pakistan. These have been some of the motivating factors for me to return to Lahore.
"I sympathise with the people of Pakistan because they have been cricket-starved for no fault of theirs, but I am optimistic that the days are not too far when international cricket will return to Pakistan and the stadia will once again be packed with crowds.
"Due to prior family commitments, I will only be available till the last group stage game. I want to thank Lahore Qalandars for giving me an opportunity to represent them and I look forward to not only enjoying my time in the HBL PSL 2019 but also contributing in making it a stronger brand."
The PCB expects that the visit of one of the most sought after batsmen in modern-day cricket will give credence to their stance that Pakistan can now host top-flight cricket and it remains "as safe and secure a country to play in as any other place in the world".
Ehsan Mani, the PCB chairman, said: "We appreciate the decision of AB de Villiers and look forward to welcoming him to the home of Pakistan cricket. I am sure de Villiers's appearance will attract new fans, and more eyeballs will follow the PSL than ever before.
"I am confident that de Villiers's decision at the back of his fellow World XI, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and the Windies' cricketers' decisions to play in Lahore will encourage other leading cricketers and international sides to visit this cricket-passionate country.
"For the Lahore crowds, it will be a great opportunity to watch this generation's cricket genius live in action. I am sure they will turn up in great numbers to support de Villiers as well as Lahore Qalandars and their opponents."
The fourth edition of PSL kicks off in Dubai on February 14 with a match between defending champions Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars. This edition will be played across five cities as Abu Dhabi will be hosting the league matches for the first time.
The tournament will move to Pakistan on March 7 and will see Lahore and Karachi host three and five matches, including the final, respectively.
By Ahsan Iftikhar Nagi