ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistan Super League final is more than a mere game of cricket. For the Pakistan Cricket Board it's a challenge to showcase that it can once again safely host international teams.
With just three days to go before Sunday's Twenty20 final in Lahore, nobody is entirely sure which eight foreign players will shrug off safety concerns and participate in the tournament's deciding match at the Gaddafi Stadium.
PSL chairman Najam Sethi says that at least four players from each team will be picked from a pool of around 60 foreign cricketers. The two finalists will be determined once the last knockout match — featuring the Karachi Kings and Peshawar Zalmi — is played Friday in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan cricket's home away from home.
Quetta Gladiators, which has already qualified for the final, will be without its contracted foreign players after England's Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright and Tymal Mills along with South African Rilee Rossouw flew home from Sharjah and declined to play in the Lahore final because of security concerns.
"It matters a lot when you lose all your key players," Sarfraz Ahmed, who is captain of the Quetta team and the Pakistan National T20 team, said after arriving in Karachi on Thursday.
Sarfraz didn't reveal which foreign cricketers will now represent Quetta in the final, but said he was confident or recruiting talent from the list of available playres.
Pakistan has not hosted any of cricket's leading teams since a terrorist attack on Sri Lanka's team bus at Lahore in 2009.
And so the PCB views the PSL final as an opportunity to regain the confidence of foreign teams and bring back international cricket.
Officials from other national cricket boards and the International Cricket Council have been invited for Sunday's final to witness the security first hand.
Doubts were raised over Lahore hosting the final when a wave of new terrorist attacks hit Pakistan last month. At least 13 people were killed in Lahore when a bomber targeted police escorting a rally by pharmacists.
But the provincial government, federal government and the army extended full support in terms of security for the cricket.
The provincial government has promised at least 7,000 police officers to guard the surroundings of Gaddafi Stadium, and encouraged spectators to travel to the venue well ahead of the final to avoid long delays at security checkpoints.
"This final is for all the Pakistanis and I hope after we organize it peacefully international cricket will also return to Pakistan," said Quetta coach Moin Khan, who was part of Pakistan's 1992 World Cup winning squad.
Local cricket fans have ensured high demand for the $5 tickets for Sunday's final. Long queues were witnessed in front of local banks in Lahore on Thursday, but fans were told there were no tickets left in that category.
PSL organizers said they put 10,000 tickets on sale for $5 each, while tickets in other categories were selling for $38, $76 and $114.
Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan is among a few former cricketers who have criticized the decision to hold the PSL final in Lahore.
In a Twitter post, he said nobody wanted international cricket to return to Pakistan more than him, "but staging the PSL final in Lahore carries huge risks with no benefit at all."
"A match played under a tight security ring around the stadium will exaggerate Pak's security issue."
Any security lapses would be a massive setback, he added, saying "we can say goodbye to int cricket in Pak for the next decade."