LAHORE: It took a decade to come back. But it’s finally coming back for sure.

Test cricket is set to return to Pakistan after a long gap of 10 years when Sri Lanka tour the country for a two-match series at Rawalpindi and Karachi next month, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced on Thursday.

The vote of confidence from Sri Lanka is hugely symbolic as they were the last team to play a test match in Pakistan in March 2009, when their team bus came under attack at Lahore.

Six security personnel and two civilians were killed while seven Sri Lankan players were injured in the attack which drove international cricket away from Pakistan. All incoming tours were cancelled after the attack and Pakistan later lost their status as co-hosts for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

“This is fabulous news for Pakistan and its reputation of being as safe and secure as any other country in the world,” said PCB’s director of international cricket Zakir Khan in a news release.

The PCB said Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had confirmed next month’s tour would go ahead, based on the successful staging of three One-day Internationals and three Twenty20 Internationals at Karachi and Lahore in September and October, though 10 key Sri Lankan players opted out of that trip citing security concerns.

Sri Lanka were originally scheduled to play the Test series last month and then return to Pakistan for a limited-overs series in December. However, the tours were swapped so that Sri Lanka officials could assess the security situation in Pakistan before deciding on the Test venues.

Rawalpindi will now host the first Test from Dec 11-15, and the second Test will be played in Karachi from Dec 19-23.

“This series is part of our cricket celebrations and we will leave no stone unturned in putting up a show which is a memorable one for the players, officials, fans and media,” Zakir said.

Pakistan did not host any international cricket for six years after the Lahore attack, with the team playing their home matches in the United Arab Emirates as foreign teams refused to visit the cricket-mad country for security fears.

But Pakistan has seen its security situation improve in recent years, and international cricket has started to come back.

Minnows Zimbabwe became the first team to return Pakistan in 2015 for one-days and Twenty20s, followed by a Twenty20 series by a World XI in 2017, a one-off T20 match against Sri Lanka later that year, and a visit by the West Indies in 2018.

Over the last two months, the Sri Lankans played six matches in the country, losing the ODI series 2-0 after the first game was washed out before their second-string team sprung a huge surprise when they swept Pakistan 3-0 in the Twenty20 series.

But the announcement of a Test series, still the most highly regarded cricket format, is an important step.

:The Test series schedule was confirmed today after Cricket Sri Lanka gave their thumbs-up... following a highly successful visit last month,” said the PCB statement. “Sri Lanka’s one-day and T20 tour not only delivered security from the top draw, but packed houses sent out a loud and clear message about the security situation in the country as well as passion for the game.”

The SLC said it was satisfied with their visit and the high-level security provided for the team and its Chief Executive Ashley de Silva said it was time for Test cricket to return to Pakistan.

“We are pleased to confirm our return visit to Pakistan as, based on our earlier visit, we are comfortable and convinced conditions are suitable and conducive for test cricket,” the PCB statement quoted de Silva as saying.

“We also believe all cricket playing countries should host international cricket at home and in this relation we are happy to play our part in complete resumption of international cricket in Pakistan, which not only has a proud history but has been one of our biggest supporters in our early days as a cricket nation.

The two Tests will be part of the World Test Championship, which is being played between the top nine teams of the world, culminating in a final in June 2021.

“We drew our opening World Test Cham­pionship series against New Zealand, and I anticipate, like in the past, these two Tests will be exciting and competitive, and the fans will thoroughly enjoy the quality of cricket that will be on display,” added De Silva.

Pakistan are currently in Australia where they play two Tests before returning for the series against Sri Lanka.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019