Eight years after a deadly attack, in which gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan team bus en route to the Lahore stadium, the Sri Lankan cricket board has approved a tour to Pakistan.
Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala said after a security assessment, the team had been cleared to play three Twenty20 internationals including “at least one” in Lahore, scene of the 2009 attack which left seven players wounded.
The attack brought top international games in Pakistan to a standstill. Following the attack, leading cricket nations shunned playing in Pakistan since 2009.
“We have had our security experts visit and make an assessment, and things look positive with things improving all over the country and especially Lahore being cleared,” Sumathipala was quoted as saying in a statement.
“We have three T20 games coming up against Pakistan in September and we would like to play at least one of those games in Lahore,” he added.
The things have not been same for Pakistan since 2009. The only international team to visit Pakistan is Zimbabwe, who played five limited-overs games in Lahore in 2015. Pakistan play their “home” internationals in the United Arab Emirates.
All this has resulted in Pakistan board incurring huge losses. According to the reports, the board has already incurred losses of around $100 million in these years.
As for the Pakistan Super League, the domestic interest was also low as it was also hosted in the neutral venues in the UAE. But there were hopeful signs when Pakistan successfully staged the final in Lahore. However, the production cost was relatively higher as the match was played under heavy security.
For the domestic cricketers, there has been no motivation and no interaction from the international players. All this pointed to PCB facing an isolation and bankruptcy, if the circumstances were to continue.
However, with a Champions Trophy win and now the Sri Lanka’s support, it seems happy days are back for cricket in Pakistan.
Addressing the Asian Cricket Council in Colombo at the weekend, Sumathipala also called for an end to Pakistan’s isolation and urged countries to play there.
He recalled that several top Test nations did not want to visit Sri Lanka at the height of the Tamil separatist conflict, when bombs were exploding in the capital in the mid 1990s.
“Sri Lanka suffered through three decades of terrorism and war and at one stage no one wanted to come here — Pakistan stood by us then, as did India,” Sumathipala said.
Sumathipala also called for support from the Asian neighbours. “I call upon each one of you as members to play your role and give Pakistan the security of your support,” he added. “There is always risk – there were two attacks in London during the Champions Trophy – but cricket continued under the security assurances of the ICC, so likewise we too must be as accommodating and understanding as possible with our members and extend our fullest support to them as the cricketing family of Asia.”
The Sri Lankan board statement also quoted Pakistan Cricket Board chief Najam Sethi saying they had set up state-of-the-art security and surveillance to combat crime and make their cities safe.