For a cricket fan, Pakistan does not evoke images of violence, terror, sectarian clashes and a country in turmoil.
If by any chance you happen to have visited the country when India toured it in 1997, 2004 and 2005-06, it is very likely that you will be longing to go there again.
On my visit to that country on these tours, the on-field action paled into the background in comparison with the kind of reception and hospitality Pakistanis — especially the ordinary citizens on the streets — bestowed on an Indian guest.
The partition and the terrible violence that followed the exodus of people from one land to another has scarred the history of the two nations, and they have never been at peace with each other.
Cricket has been one bridge of peace that from time to time has been exploited by politicians of the two countries whenever they have felt the need to mend fences. Cricket diplomacy today may have outlived its utility, but be sure that when the need arises, it will be used again as a tool for re-establishing friendly links.
Whatever the politics of the region, and the demerits of a society living in a perpetual state of uncertainty and violence may be, there can be no disagreement on the fact that when the Sri Lankan cricket team was waylaid on the streets of Lahore by a terror outfit in 2009, the sport suffered a grievous blow. Not just in Pakistan, but in the cricket world as well.
In a sport which does not seem to be expanding and has a very limited number of countries, losing a nation as a venue was bound to have a regressive impact on the overall health of the game.
It is to the credit of Pakistan and the popularity of the game that despite having remained in isolation with no international cricket at home, the nation still managed to become the No 1 Test team last year.
The cricket-starved nation was forced to make the United Arab Emirates its home and play most international matches in front of vacant seats, which does not make for a pleasant television-viewing experience.
That is the reason why the cricketing world is welcoming the ICC's initiative to organise a World XI tour of Pakistan.
The significance of the visit — where the two teams have already played two T20s — does not lie in the quality of cricket on display or its competitiveness, but in the fact that it may make countries change their mind regarding not visiting Pakistan.
Though Zimbabwe was the first to break Pakistan’s isolation this year, the strength and diversity of the Faf du Plessis-led team and could encourage individual countries to follow their example.
The ICC needs to be applauded for persuading players from different nations to come together and play in a country whose passion and intensity for the sport has few comparisons. Cricket requires more and more nations to play and grow in strength, and not see the existing ones fall by the wayside.
The survival of Pakistan as a strong team is in the interest of all playing nations, which — needless to say — includes India as well.