THE start of a home Test after a gap of more than ten years is dawn of a new era in the history of the game of this country. Struck by that tragic event of March 2009 when the visiting Sri Lankans were attacked by terrorists on the third day of the second Test in the vicinity of the Gaddafi Stadium, Pakistan had become a no go country for the full members of the ICC.
It was a ghastly incident in which a number of people were killed and also the members of the Sri Lankan team led by Mahela Jayawardane suffered injuries which kept foreign teams away from Pakistan as they cited security risks.
That indeed heavily affected not only the finances of the controlling body of the game, the PCB, it also deprived the cricket mad local population of watching international matches or their own stars at home as Pakistan had to make home away from home in the UAE to host their Tests and other international matches, spending millions on logistics and in ground fees to their hosts in UAE cricket.
But that was not really the solution of the problem. As a temporary arrangement it served well and has got be appreciated the way the authorities at all level helped the PCB and their team and those visiting UAE to play against them. In that transition of almost a decade the PCB left no stone unturned to lure international teams to Pakistan as years progressed and security risks were minimised as much as possible.
We must appreciate those who made sincere efforts to convince the other countries to tour Pakistan. From Zaka Ashraf to Shaharyar Khan to Najam Sethi, they had all have their turn as they travelled round the globe to invite teams. Their attempts did bring some solace as Zimbabwe, West Indies and Sri Lanka did show up but only for a brief T20 or ODI series.
It was difficult to put their mind to rest as far as the security of the teams was concerned touring Pakistan. Delegates from Test playing countries did visit to see for themselves of the climate was right for them to come to Pakistan. But to no avail.
What really helped in the end to convince the cricketing world was the PCB’s decision to host some of their PSL league matches with some foreign players around in various teams. Still there were many who withdrew from their teams, not ready to take a risk.
The 2019 PSL, in which more matches were played at home in Lahore and in Karachi including the final, did however do the trick to show to the world that matches can be played without any trouble if proper security was provided.
The Sri Lankans were at the receiving end of that terrorist attack ten years ago and it was the Sri Lankans who really showed grit and courage to come to Pakistan for an ODI series which was played without much fuss or any incident to now bring them back to play in the first of the two ICC World Test Championship.
Today, when Pakistan and Sri Lanka step out on to the turf of the Pindi Cricket Stadium for the first Test, a new era will begin in the annals of Pakistan cricket for which both Sri Lanka Cricket and the present PCB regime need to be congratulated. That tragic incident in 2009, therefore, has got to be put behind us once this series is over.
Ten years ago on one fine morning of the second Test at Lahore I was taking my usual walk to the ground from Lahore Gymkhana where I was staying when I noticed the team bus passing me, going towards the ground. I had no idea who was in it, Pakistan or Sri Lanka team members.
Minutes later there was big bang and seconds later gunshots. I saw people running in every direction. I hid behind a tree and a wall to see two gunmen with rucksack on their back shooting. There were people on the floor at the Liberty roundabout and the bus not in sight. I feared an attack on that bus which turned out to be true.
I discovered that coming back to my room at the Gymkhana. Had I left my room earlier in the morning I would have been right there at the roundabout, the place of shooting. A lucky escape I thought.
Memory of the tragic morning lingers on, but thankfully things now look better and most of all Test cricket is back in the country, so let us celebrate and appreciate those who have worked hard to bring the game back in the country. Hail Sri Lanka and its team and cricket board as well as the PCB for ensuring this new beginning.
‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step’ is a saying from Lao-Tsu, a Chinese.
And this indeed is the first step.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019