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Niaz Stadium looks to the future

The first international match in ten years at Hyderabad's Niaz Stadium heralds a potential return for a venue that, though not often used, is a significant one in Pakistan.

The stadium has hosted only five Tests and six ODIs before Zimbabwe became the first international team to play here since 1997-98. But the venue is associated with some key moments in Pakistan's cricket history.

This was the venue, for instance, when two Pakistan teams turned up to play a Test against New Zealand in October 1976. The senior team was then embroiled with the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) in a pay dispute and the chairman, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, had selected and sent an entirely separate XI to play the Test. The issue was eventually resolved just before the Test started and Pakistan went on to win by ten wickets, sealing a first series win at home since 1964-65.

Niaz Stadium is also remembered for what was then a world-record equalling partnership between Javed Miandad and Mudassar Nazar, against India in January 1983. The pair scored double hundreds and put on 451 runs for the third wicket equalling the stand set by Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford in 1934. Miandad was famously left stranded on 280, after Imran Khan, the captain, declared Pakistan's innings on the third day. Imran later rattled India with a celebrated spell of five for 8 in 23 balls, leading his side to an innings triumph.

The ground hosted what turned out to be Test cricket's 1000th Test, against New Zealand in November 1984. That remains the last Test to be played here, though it later staged the opening match of the 1987 World Cup, between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But since 1997, the ground has fallen into disrepair and at one stage, it was being used to host weddings. It also hosted the first hat-trick - Jalal-ud-Din against Australia in 1982.

The current PCB administration has taken back control of the ground, however, and the successful hosting of the second ODI against Zimbabwe, said Nasim Ashraf, chairman PCB, is a sign that more international cricket may be played here in the future. "We're extremely proud that the stadium has been restored to international status. We've put in a fantastic new pitch and we've got this ground ready to host a game in four months. The facilities in the city and in the stadium are very good.

"We want to develop a regional academy in the city and build more grounds to enable club cricket. Our policy now is to host matches on a rotational basis and we need to develop grounds in places like Sahiwal and Sialkot to give them more exposure."

The ground's capacity is currently limited to only 7500 and it was expectedly full - and raucously so - for the match. But plans are underway to increase that. There are also plans to build a five-star hotel, a key ICC requirement for any city hoping to stage international matches.

"Crime is lower in Hyderabad than any other city in Sindh," said Kanwar Naveed Jamil, the city's mayor. "The district government is planning to build a five-star hotel right next to the ground and that should attract more matches in the future."

It may be hard to dispute that claim: despite worries before the match about whether the stadium - and the city - would be able to cope, the second ODI passed off without incident, in front of a healthy, appreciative crowd.

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