Dubai: It’s an emotional moment for everyone who had followed Pakistan cricket over the years. Test cricket, which was denied to their home fans since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore, will return to their soil on Wednesday.
The biggest boost for Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is the fact that the Sri Lankan team, which was at the receiving when terrorists attacked the team bus near Gaddafi Stadium, are returning with confidence to play in the series.
Rawalpindi will host the first Test from December 11-15 while Karachi will stage the second Test from December 19-23.
For Pakistan team, which is going through a transitional period, it may be a huge boost as the home crowd will cheer for them while enjoying the longer version of the game.
The return of international cricket to Pakistan will be a loss for the UAE fans, especially the Pakistan diaspora here, as all of Pakistan’s home series were being held in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah for over a decade.
Many fans here have accepted the loss sportingly saying that return of Test cricket will enhance Pakistan’s reputation as a safe country and encourage more teams to come to return to their country.
Speaking to Gulf News from Pakistan, Abdul Majid Bhatti, Sports Editor of Pakistan’s popular newspaper Jang, who has been reporting the Pakistan series in the UAE for the last decade, said: “This historic series will benefit young players. A series at home is good for young players as they get to play in front of home crowd. Let us hope that Pakistan will go on to host Bangladesh and also stage Pakistan Super League (PSL) and also the Asia Cup. The effort of PCB to get this done is laudable and all credit should go to the management.”
Shahid Hashmi, who as correspondent of AFP had reported Pakistan matches in the UAE regularly, said: “It’s with mixed emotions that I cherish the return of Test cricket to Pakistan. Not coming to the UAE where I had been coming for eight years is a bit of missing the luxury. Sri Lanka deserves a big thank you and it’s hugely symbolic that they have come after the attacks in 2009.”
It took the PCB at least four years of vehemently trying to convince the cricket nations to come and play in their country.
In 2015, PCB succeeded in staging Zimbabwe for a few One-day and T20 matches. Pakistan then managed to stage limited over matches with Sri Lanka playing three ODIs and three T20 matches during September-October this year.
Though Sri Lanka’s top 10 players opted out of the limited overs series, the keen battle and the large turnout and smooth staging of the event have won the confidence of many countries.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Chief Executive Tom Harrison and Cricket Ireland Chief Executive Warren Deutrom visited Pakistan recently and announced that they are happy with the security arrangement and will plan to play a series there.
The PSL, parts of which had been happening in Pakistan over the last two years, have won the approval and confidence of many international cricketers. They even had paid huge incentives to players to play there. Cricketer-turned-Prime Minister Imran Khan, who took up the issue of cricket teams visiting Pakistan as a matter of prestige for the nation, gave PCB the impetus to go ahead strongly with their efforts to bring Test cricket back to their country.
Referring to security arrangements, PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said: “Pakistan have become strong in managing security. We are right up there with the best countries in the world in managing security.”
2009-2019: A timeline
May 2015: Six years after the 2009 incident, Zimbabwe became the first full member team to tour Pakistan to play a limited-overs series. Afghanistan and Kenya had also travelled in 2013 and 2014, but those tours weren’t awarded international status.
March 2017: The 2017 Pakistan Super League final was undoubtedly the biggest game played in Pakistan since 2009, and the gamble paid off. “It was as good an atmosphere as I’ve ever been involved in,” said England’s Dawid Malan, who did travel, as did compatriot Chris Jordan, and West Indians Daren Sammy and Marlon Samuels.
May 2017: A T20 match-up between Pakistan and an assortment of global stars from the rest of the world further bolstered Pakistan’s credentials as an international venue. Captained by Faf du Plessis, a World XI side played the home side in a three-match T20I series which they lost 2-1.
October 2017: Eight years after the Lahore attack, Sri Lanka made their way back into Pakistan, albeit only for a solitary match. It was the final match of their three-match series, with the previous games, as well as the ODI leg, having being played in UAE.
March 2018: The PSL final was played there again, which saw tickets for the final sold out in three hours. The game, held in Karachi, saw elaborate security arrangements in place, with as many as 8500 security personnel employed for the Islamabad United-Peshawar Zalmi clash, which United won.
April 2018: West Indies became the third Test playing team to visit Pakistan this decade, when they decided to tour the country for a short T20I series.
March 2019: The holding of nine PSL games in Pakistan, even in the wake of heightened military tensions with India, represented an important step towards the aim of holding the entire Pakistan Super League in Pakistan.
October 2019: Sri Lanka returned yet again, this time for both ODIs and T20Is. The Test series eventually followed in December.
- Compiled by K.R.Nayar