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Sethi adamant to host PSL final in Lahore

February 17, 2017

DUBAI: A senior Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) official on Thursday has vowed to stage the final of their Twenty20 league in Lahore next month, despite a powerful suicide bomb blast which killed 13 people there this week.

“We are committed to hosting the final in Lahore as our people want it there and it will be a step towards reviving international cricket,” PSL chairman Najam Sethi said here. “VVIP security is ensured.”

The first two rounds of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) are being played in Dubai and Sharjah, but organisers had planned the March 5 final at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, vowing ‘head of state security’ for international players.

However multiple Taliban suicide attacks in Pakistan this week, including Monday’s bomb in Lahore, put those plans in jeopardy.

The violence-hit country has not hosted a high-profile foreign team since a March 2009 gun and bomb attack on the Sri Lankan cricket side that killed eight people and injured nine others, including visiting players.

Sethi, who is also PCB’s executive committee chairman, said international players competing in the PSL — a list which includes former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, West Indian stars Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, Australia’s Shane Watson, Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan and England’s limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan — would be asked by Feb 22 if they are willing to go to Lahore should their team make the final.

“After that those who do not want to go will be replaced with other foreign players who are available for Lahore,” he said.

Sethi said in a talk show on TV following the Lahore blast that he had been in contact with several foreign players who indicated they would still be willing to play the final in Lahore.

“We are in touch with other foreign players so that we could replace those (contracted international) players who are not willing to play in Lahore.

“Now I will have to start all over again,” Sethi added. “I cannot say that we will be successful or not because [the players] have families, they will have their associations which will guide them.”

The PSL chairman also said that he wants to poll the Pakistan public and let them decide whether they want to see the final in Lahore most likely without foreign players or Dubai again probably with overseas players.

Sethi said he still wanted Lahore to host the final, with or without foreign players.

“I want cricket lovers to tell me ... what do they want? Whatever they want, we will do,” Sethi said.

Officials have already said players will be provided with bullet-proof buses and heavy police protection, among other high-level security measures.

Five teams — Islamabad United, Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators — are taking part in the league, which reported a healthy $2.6 million profit last year despite being held entirely in the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the last two years thanks to a military and government crackdown on extremism.

But groups like the Pakistani Taliban retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks.

The PCB have tried to convince the West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Sri Lanka to play in Pakistan in the last five years, but all declined over security fears, while Zimbabwe made a short visit to Lahore in May 2015 for a limited-overs series.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017