The return of limited-overs international cricket to Pakistan after a 10-year absence following a terrorist attack targeting a foreign team has coincided with a renewed plea from the country’s cricket chief to recommence full, in-bound tours, including Test matches.
Pakistan had a 67-run victory over Sri Lanka on Monday to kick start its important cricket homecoming, which was delayed an extra couple of days due to weather.
The two-week tour marks the first time since Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked on the way to a stadium at Lahore in 2009 that a foreign team is touring Pakistan.
Major teams have avoided the country since the ambush that killed eight people and injured several star players. This series, initially scheduled to include three one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals — went ahead after the Pakistan government assured the Sri Lanka delegation of high-level security normally reserved for heads of state.
It will be the longest period in a decade for any of the top-ranking national cricket teams to have visited Pakistan, which has been “hosting” games abroad mostly in the United Arab Emirates.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani says he wants more international teams to return to Pakistan instead of playing at neutral venues.
“It’s so important that the game wins over any threats and terrorism,” Mani told a news conference Monday. “The main thing is that the security and safety of the players cannot be compromised, so it was important that the Sri Lankan (cricket) board was comfortable.”
Harin Fernando, Sri Lanka’s minister for telecommunications, foreign employment and sports, says the bilateral series was important to show regional support.
“Cricket has become a universal game and it’s not just about the competitiveness, but it is also about showing solidarity among the neighbouring nations,” Fernando said. “Life has to go on. We have to move on, sports should not stop. I believe players of other countries will also come.”
The team buses are heavily surrounded by armed security personnel between the hotels and the playing venues, and the main roads along the route are being blocked from normal traffic.
Security staff also keep a close eye on the spectators coming into the stadium.