The return of one-day international cricket to Pakistan after a 10-year absence due to a terrorist attack on a team bus has coincided with a renewed plea from the country’s cricket chief to begin playing more international matches at home.
Pakistan had a 67-run victory over Sri Lanka on Monday. It’s the first time since Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked in Lahore in 2009 that a foreign team is conducting a two-week tour of Pakistan.
Major teams have avoided the country since the ambush that killed eight people and injured several players. The current tour went ahead after Pakistan government assured Sri Lanka team of high-level security normally reserved for heads of state.
It will be the longest period for any foreign team to have stayed in Pakistan when the tour ends in Lahore on October 9, when the third Twenty20 will be played.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani says he wants more international teams to return to Pakistan instead of playing at neutral venues such as the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s so important that the game wins over any threats and terrorism,” Mani said on Monday. “The main thing is that the security and safety of the players cannot be compromised so it was important that the Sri Lankan board was comfortable.”
Harin Fernando, Sri Lanka’s minister for telecommunications, foreign employment and sports, says the series is important for regional support.
“Cricket has become a universal game and it’s not just about the competitiveness, but it is also about showing solidarity amongst the neighboring nations,” Fernando said.
Team buses are heavily surrounded by armed security personnel en route to the stadium from the team hotel. Main roads leading from hotel to the stadium were also blocked from normal traffic.
Security personnel also keep a close eye on the spectators coming into the stadium.
“What amazes me is the amount of security that have been given and how they’ve looked after,” Fernando said. “To see that you will recognize every gate, every aspect, every person who gets into the ground and get out of the ground its being monitored.
“Life has to go on, we have to move on, sports should not stop, I believe players of other countries will also come ...”
Mani said officials from the Australian Cricket Board also visited Pakistan recently and met with government and PCB officials. And the PCB chairman said more cricketing officials from England and Ireland are expected to come to Pakistan soon and get first-hand information on security in the country.
“The message is getting across and that is why this (Sri Lanka) tour was so important for us,” Mani said.
“We can all say things are fine come and have a look but when cricket is actually taking place in Pakistan there’s no better endorsement than that.”
Several top Sri Lanka players pulled out of the tour to Pakistan. But Fernando said the players who came to Pakistan could boost the confidence of those who missed out on the tour when they go back home and tell them about the security.
Pakistan is due to host Sri Lanka for two test matches as part of World Test Championship in December and Fernando was optimistic.
“I thought this tour had to happen if we have to play a test series here, so I think I’m quite positive,” he said.
Mani said Pakistan will have to maintain high security for some time.
“It’s for us as Pakistan to make sure that the standards (of security) that we have given to Sri Lankan cricket board remain consistent,” he said. “I’m confident that the message going out is strong and powerful one.”
Mani said he didn’t want to put Sri Lanka Cricket under any pressure for December’s two-test series, but he hoped that “players who are here will act as ambassadors for Pakistan by going back and giving their version of security.”
The PCB’s ultimate goal is to make visiting teams comfortable instead of the focus being on the security around them.
“It might take a couple of years,” he said.