Sri Lanka’s return to Lahore, eight years after the terror attack on their team bus in the city, represents a historic, and potentially game-changing, moment for Pakistan cricket, writes Saj Sadiq of PakPassion.net…
The tragic events of March 2009 in Lahore that led to the cessation of international cricket tours to Pakistan are firmly etched in the minds of all cricket followers in the country.
The target of the wanton attack was the Sri Lankan cricket team but the aftershocks of the incident were destined to be felt for many years in the shape of desolate cricket grounds in Pakistan and in the desperation of a team which could not play cricket on its home grounds and in front of its own fans.
For almost six years after the attack in Lahore, Pakistan’s cricket-mad millions could only watch with envy as crowds across the world continued to enjoy witnessing their teams in home stadia. It was a situation which was brought about by a number of factors, many of which were sadly beyond the control of Pakistan’s beleaguered cricket authorities.
All the Pakistan Cricket Board could do was to wait for the geopolitical situation to improve and for calmer minds in the international community to take sympathetic notice of the plight of cricket in Pakistan.
In May 2015, after a great deal of convincing and financial incentives, a Zimbabwe squad arrived in Lahore to play a limited-overs series. The games were held with great fanfare, with hopes of a revival of international tours to Pakistan mentioned at every opportunity, but the realists knew full well that without the blessings of the ICC and its members, the visit by Zimbabwe was nothing but notional in nature.
The effort required to create conditions conducive for cricket in Pakistan was a mammoth one and mere goodwill would not be enough to convince top cricketers or teams to visit Pakistan, where security was a major concern.
The advent of the Pakistan Super League in 2016 was, therefore, a major step in re-introducing the world of cricket to what Pakistan could offer. While the 2016 edition was entirely held in the UAE, it provided an opportunity for the PCB to understand and re-establish the processes needed to hold major events. Subsequently, in 2017, the PCB ventured one step further by holding the final of Pakistan’s premier Twenty20 tournament in Lahore.
The high-profile PSL final was held at Pakistan’s iconic Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore under intense security cover and featured some prominent international players such as West Indies’ Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels and England’s Chris Jordan. The wheels were now in motion as the ICC was fully engaged to monitor the progress and success of the PSL final.
With the successful and safe completion of a high-profile tournament such as the PSL, the PCB felt itself on firmer ground to ask for a more ambitious next step from the ICC. Consequently, last month, a World XI squad, led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and containing some notable names from the world of cricket, arrived in Pakistan to play three T20I games.
The ICC, realising the importance of this tour, acted swiftly to award international status to the matches and also appointed its own officials to oversee the series.
The successful and highly important tour by the World XI was accorded all the formalities of a visit by an in international team and so the stage is now set for the next logical step in the restoration of Pakistan as a venue for international tours.
Sri Lanka, who were the last major team to visit Pakistan in 2009, will also become the first such team to visit Pakistan again to play a solitary T20I game in Lahore on Sunday as part of Pakistan’s home series being held in the UAE. Once again, the ICC, realising the importance of this venture, will be providing its officials to ensure that the series is given the proper international status it deserves.
The 20-over game in itself may not be significant in terms of the format and duration, but the important symbolic significance of such a match is truly historic. For a start, the fact that the very team that had its lives threatened in 2009 considers it safe to return to Lahore will be a testament to how the security situation has improved in Pakistan.
The PCB, for their part, can only be congratulated for ensuring that all arrangements are in place and checks completed which have convinced Sri Lanka Cricket to take the bold step to send their cricketers to Pakistan, which would have been considered inconceivable even a few months ago.
Secondly, the significance of the powerful message of stability and security that one T20I game played in Lahore could send to the world cannot be under-estimated. As things stand, the West Indies may play a short T20I series in Lahore which will be based totally on the success of how things transpire during Sri Lanka’s short trip to Pakistan.
As one might imagine, other nations of the cricketing community will be watching both these tours with interest and while a visit by other top teams in the near term is not guaranteed, the Sri Lankan visit may increase the likelihood of an Australia or England team visiting Pakistan in the long term.
Given what is at stake for Pakistan cricket, Sri Lanka’s courageous and bold decision to reaffirm their commitment to visit Pakistan is an amazing one and deserves appreciation from cricket lovers around the world.
It is an open secret that there are a few dissenting voices in the Sri Lankan camp who oppose a return to the scene of an incident which left the world of cricket aghast, but it is to the extreme credit of Sri Lanka Cricket that they are able to see the bigger picture and make the effort to lend a helping hand to their Pakistani counterparts.
Regardless of the result of the T20I game in Lahore, the already strong bond of friendship between both nations and their cricket-loving people will take a new turn for the better as Lahore opens its traditional hospitality to the visitors.
If the PCB’s recent track-record of assuring excellent arrangements for the recent international visits is any guide, this set of Sri Lankan visitors will return home with only praise for their hosts.
Sri Lanka playing in Pakistan, a possibility of West Indies playing a few T20Is later this year, a chance of more Pakistan Super League matches in Pakistan next year – a picture is emerging where international cricket, slowly but surely, returns to a cricket-starved nation.
Progress has been made, but there remains a lot of hard work ahead for those running Pakistan cricket to convince other nations to tour Pakistan. But, as things stand, the future of cricket in Pakistan looks a lot brighter and that can only be a good thing for the cricketing family and well-wishers of Pakistan cricket.