SUNDAY, Oct 29, 2017, will go down in the annals of Pakistan cricket as a historic day — a day when international cricket returned to the country after an absence of over eight years. Nearly everything took a back seat to cricket on that day as Pakistan played the Sri Lanka team in a T20 match in Lahore, emerging victorious yet again after the 5-0 ODI triumph in the UAE earlier this month. It was a happy event for the Pakistanis, and fans turned up in their thousands to fill the Gaddafi Stadium, sending a message to the world that no kind of terrorism could dent the country’s resilience. The Sri Lankans, too, were offered a tumultuous welcome, having been the target of the terrorist attack in the city in 2009. It was this terrible incident that had caused Test-playing nations around the world to refuse cricket tours to Pakistan. The national team was forced to fulfil its international commitments in the UAE, where games were played before sparse crowds much to the chagrin of the players and fans in this cricket-mad country. It is hoped that Sunday’s game has put all that in the past.
The detractors, though, were quick to highlight the downside — the extraordinary security measures (as many as 10,000 policemen were deployed) that were in place for the match, and the opting out of half-a-dozen Sri Lankan players including skipper Upul Tharanga, Lasith Malinga and others. The critics contended that this was not the ideal scenario for a cricket match and that Pakistan needed to do a lot more to convince leading teams such as South Africa, Australia and England to revive full-fledged tours to this country. Such arguments cannot be dismissed out of hand; nevertheless the picture is not all that bleak — with a fair bit of light at the end of the tunnel for which the PCB deserves much credit. The West Indies cricket team is set to tour Pakistan for three T20 games next month while a number of Pakistan Super League matches are scheduled to be played in Karachi and Lahore in February next year. Besides, the Asian Cricket Council has decided that the Asia Cup for emerging players will be held in Pakistan, which is a significant development, especially considering the fact that India is supposed to be part of that tournament which is set to be played in April 2018.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2017