IT finally seems to be happening. Pakistan’s cricket trajectory is set to experience one of its most emotional and truly historic moments, with the ending of a decade-long drought in Test cricket. If all goes according to plan, cricket fans in the country will be part of the two-Test home series against Sri Lanka to be played next month. A Pakistan Cricket Board press release on Thursday confirmed that the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium and Karachi’s National Stadium will host the two Test matches against the visiting team on Dec 11 and Dec 19 respectively. Needless to say, the news has taken the cricket-starved nation by storm. The agonising lull had seemed like an eternity — not just to the players and fans but also to those who realise that cricket as a sport is a key catalyst in aiding social cohesion in a nation that has forever grappled with multiple ethnic, cultural and ideological divisions.
Pakistan, since it was granted Test status in 1952, has been a front-ranking cricketing nation with an impressive record in both home and away matches. Leading cricket teams visited Pakistan regularly until a decade ago, and the country has also had the honour of being a joint host for the two ICC Cricket World Cups that were held in 1987 and 1996. However, all that changed one unfortunate morning in March 2009 when a Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by gunmen in Lahore. Six visiting players and two staff members were injured. Eight other people were killed. No foreign team has toured Pakistan for a Test since then, though efforts to reintegrate the country into mainstream international cricket did result in ODI and T20 tours by Zimbabwe, the West Indies and, more recently, Sri Lanka itself. The PCB’s hectic diplomatic efforts to reassure other cricket boards about the improved security situation in the country and safe playing conditions, in addition to the government’s pledges of presidential-level security for the touring sides, had been in vain and a full-fledged Test series by a foreign team continued to elude Pakistan. But now, matters seem to be improving for Pakistan cricket. It is ironic, though, that it will be Sri Lanka that will help in reviving full-scale foreign tours to this country after the attack on its team a decade ago. A debt of gratitude is owed to the Islanders.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2019