KARACHI: A full bilateral One-day International cricket series finally kicking off at the National Stadium Karachi after a decade was not only about the game itself.
It also represented the gradual progress Pakistan has made in the recent years to ensure international cricket’s full return to the country since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009.
It is the same country which is now helping the hosts achieve their targets by agreeing to play three ODIs in Karachi and as many T20s in Lahore.
“Cricket has become a universal game and it is not all about competitiveness only but also a tool to show solidarity amongst the neighbouring nations,” said Sri Lankan Sports Minister Harin Fernando in a joint press conference with Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani, his Sri Lankan counterpart Shammi Silva and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) secretary Mohan de Silva here at the National Stadium on Monday as the two teams competed in front of a scattered yet pumped up crowd during the series’ second ODI.
Fernando specially mentioned the long-standing good relations between the two countries and thanked Pakistan for sending their Under-19 side to play against Sri Lanka within two months after the country’s capital Colombo was targeted by terrorists which obviously played a big part in the Islanders agreeing to tour here.
“I want to thank the Pakistan cricket board for sending their U-19 team when things weren’t even settled in Sri Lanka following the attacks. That was an act of solidarity shown by Pakistan to Sri Lanka,” Fernando admitted.
He expressed satisfaction with the security that has been provided to the Sri Lankan team for the tour and said the arrangements, which he came to see himself, are of the highest standard. The minister said as long as the security is good there is no question of the Sri Lankan team not visiting Pakistan.
“Even though we had to go through a tough situation in Lahore about ten years ago, and some players are still in shock, the Sri Lanka’s sports ministry, the SLC and the government decided that as long as the security is perfect and as long as Pakistan is taking care of our boys we will send them,” Fernando said referring to the 2009 attack.
“The command and control system at the stadium is high tech and it’s amazing how its’ capable of covering every aspect and being able to monitor every person getting in and out of the ground,” he added.
With ten Sri Lankan senior team players opting out of the tour citing security concerns, the visitors have fielded a depleted side and there have been questions about that affecting the quality of competition in the series.
However, Fernando said, that the players who have decided to visit Pakistan are well-equipped and are not second eleven or ‘A’ team players and that the series provides for them as an opportunity to perform well and threaten the senior players’ place in the team.
“The players who have not opted to come have their fears, especially due to what happened in 2009, and the concerns of their families should be considered too,” Fernando said.
With Pakistan and Sri Lanka set to play two Tests later this year, there have been speculations whether the latter will visit Pakistan for the longer format or not. Fernando, however, said the players visiting currently will surely tell the others about their experience in Pakistan and will try to convince them.
With the ICC Test Championship now underway, Sri Lanka will look to field their best team and therefore there is no certainty that they will visit again.
“Security wise we don’t need to think twice. But keeping in mind the Test championship, we have to see if three or four of our important players are willing to come because 2009 is still in our mind. If all the players agree we will definitely come,” SLC president Shammi Silva said while Fernando echoed his views.
Mohan de Silva also put on recorded his confidence with the security arrangements. The SLC secretary general visited with the country’s security delegation before the tour and assessed Pakistan’s plans for the visitors’ safety. “When we came to Pakistan earlier to assess the security arrangements, the relevant personnel showed us their presentations. The important thing is implementation and I think what was promised has been delivered,” he said.
PCB chairman Mani expressed deep and sincere gratitude to the Sri Lanka team and officials for making the tour a reality. Mani said the moment was the right one to acknowledge Sri Lanka’s efforts to help bring back full time international cricket to Pakistan.
“They have been exceptional in their support for Pakistan cricket. They knew how important it was for this tour to take place. Without their support this tour would not have been possible,” Mani said.
The PCB chief said terrorism has targeted countries all round the world and every nation is fighting the ill. However, Mani insisted that the game must go on “We’ve seen what happened in Christchurch and it was horrible, Sri Lanka too were target of terrorism. But these things can happen anywhere. The main thing is that the security and safety of the players cannot be sacrificed,” said the former ICC president.
The country’s cricket chief revealed more countries are now open to the idea of at least talking about sending their teams to Pakistan in near future. “Kevin Roberts, Australian Cricket Board’s chief executive was in Lahore earlier this month. Apart from him, officials from Ireland and New Zealand have also initiated talks with the PCB.
“I’m very grateful to the Australian Cricket Board for sending their chief executive and head of security while their chairman has promised to come to Pakistan in the future,” said Mani.
“Similarly England will be sending their chief executive and their board’s director. Then we’ve got cricket Ireland whom we didn’t even mention, they’ve offered to come themselves. New Zealand has been speaking to us. So the message is getting across.”
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2019