Rawalpindi: Pakistan fans skipped classes and work on Wednesday to attend the country’s first cricket Test in a decade, which was ringed with security and guarded by snipers following the deadly 2009 attack that scared away foreign teams.
Despite the tight security, excitement was palpable as the cricket-mad country finally got to host a Test, 10 years after the militant assault on a convoy carrying the Sri Lankan team to a game in Lahore.
“This is a dream come true,” said Hamza Shakoor, a 21-year-old university student. “We are all so excited. We just prayed for (this) time.”
Undeterred by the highly visible security presence, with heavily armed patrols and snipers on nearby rooftops, fans appeared jubilant as they entered the grounds after passing through at least five security checks.
Many of the youngsters arriving the stadium had never watched a Test at a stadium before, while none of Pakistan’s players had previously taken part in a five-day game on home soil.
The stands gradually filled over the morning with fans waving Pakistan flags, blowing horns and cheering as the first session got underway on a rain-soaked field.
“I have waited 11 years for this,” beamed medical student Mohammad Bin Haris, 22, saying he skipped seven classes and hours of study time to attend the opening day.
“It is really, really, really exciting cause I’ve only seen all my favourite players on TV so far, so this is my first chance to catch them live,” he said.
It was a riveting first day’s action which saw Pakistan’s teenage fast bowler Naseem Shah leading the hosts’ recovery against Sri Lanka. The visitors started strongly but Pakistan fought back through their four-pronged pace attack as the Lanka reached 202 for five when bad light brought an end to the day’s play.
Dhananjaya de Silva was unbeaten on 38 with Niroshan Dickwella 11 not out for the island nation.
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne won the toss and opted to bat under overcast skies. Karunaratne and his opening partner Oshada Fernando gave them a solid start, adding 96 for the first wicket as Pakistan’s fast bowlers toiled though a wicketless first session.
The Sri Lanka captain was lucky to survive while batting on 31 when an inswinger from debutant Usman Shinwari kissed his off stump but failed to dislodge the bails.
Shaheen Afridi gave Pakistan the first breakthrough when he dismissed Karunaratne, who was also hit on the back of the neck by Naseem Shah, leg before for 59.
Fernando, who played the last of his two tests in February against South Africa, fell to Naseem after a well-made 40.
The 16-year-old Naseem, who played his maiden test against Australia last month, also accounted for the experienced Angelo Mathews.
The former Sri Lanka captain scored 31 but added a crucial 62 for the fifth wicket with de Silva to steady Sri Lanka’s innings after they had lost Kusal Mendis (10) and Dinesh Chandimal in quick succession to be reduced to 127-4.
Sri Lanka (1st innings)
D. Karunaratne lbw b Shaheen 59
O. Fernando c Sohail b Naseem 40
K. Mendis c Rizwan b Shinwari 10
A. Mathews c Shafiq b Naseem 31
D. Chandimal b Abbas 2
D. de Silva not out 38
N. Dickwella not out 11
Extras: (b 5, lb 3, nb 3) 11
Total: (for five wkts; 68.1 overs) 202
Fall of wickets: 1-96 (Karunaratne), 2-109 (Fernando), 3-120 (Mendis), 4-127 (Chandimal), 5-189 (Mathews)
Bowling: Abbas 20.1-7-50-1, Shaheen 16-6-37-1 (nb3), Shinwari 14-4-47-1, Naseem 16-4-51-2, Sohail 1-0-9-0, Masood 1-1-0-0
Toss: Sri Lanka
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (ENG) and Michael Gough (ENG)
TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (ENG)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)