Pakistan hosted South African Cricket Team at their home in October of 2007. The series consisted of 2 Tests and 5 ODIs. South Africa came out victorious in both the tests (winning one and drawing one) and the ODIs (winning 3 losing 2) but that was not the worst thing about this series. The worst thing was about to come. There was going to be a long wait before another team would be willing to visit Pakistan to play Cricket on account of the country’s deteriorated security condition. At the time, Pakistan was one of the most affected countries in the world at the hands of terrorism. Suicide bombings were a thing of the norm, not a day would go by without something blowing up somewhere in Pakistan. Amid such horrid circumstances, it was evident why no one would want to come and play Cricket in Pakistan.
And it was during the same time that the Sri Lankan cricket team agreed to visit Pakistan. This series was arranged as a replacement tour for the scheduled series of India in Pakistan which was cancelled by the BCCI in the wake of Mumbai attacks in 2008. India backed off and it was Sri Lanka who stepped forward. The series included two Tests and three ODIs. The matches were to be played in Karachi and Lahore. Sri Lanka won the ODI series and the first Test ended in a draw. It was the second Test match that was going to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It was the month of March. Sri Lanka had posted a mammoth 605 in the first innings with three of their batsmen scoring in the excess of a ton. Pakistan had an uphill task if they wanted to squeeze a draw out of this one and they were doing a good job of it too having only lost one wicket for 110 at the end of the second day of the match. It was the 3rd of March when the unthinkable happened, the 3rd day of the match. On their way to the stadium, the Sri Lankan team’s bus was attacked by terrorists. 7 people lost their lives including 6 policemen. 7 members of the Sri Lankan team were injured. If it weren’t for the heroics of the brave bus driver of Sri Lankan team, it could have been an even worse disaster than it already was. The bus driver showed presence of mind and nerves of steel to steer the bus to safety while it was being shot at with guns, rocket launchers and grenades.
After this incident, Pakistan was isolated. There was going to be no more Cricket in Pakistan for years to come. Pakistan Cricket Team was forced to make a home away from home. UAE would be the venue where Pakistan would host Cricket then on and they’d do a great job at it as well, in the longer format of the game at least. Even the first edition of PSL was going to be completely contested in the UAE. In 2015, Zimbabwe visited Pakistan for two T20Is and three ODIs. All of the matches were hosted in Lahore and the series was a huge success. But the world needed more convincing so Pakistan decided to host the final of the second edition of PSL in Lahore in an effort to resume international cricket in Pakistan.
After a successful PSL-2 Final in Lahore, ICC decided to send a world XI to Pakistan for a bilateral series, showing that the world was standing by with Pakistan. At the same time, Sri Lankan Cricket Board stepped forward once again and showed interest in playing at least one game of their tour in Pakistan in September/October.
Speaking at the Asian Cricket Council's (ACC) AGM in Colombo, SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala appealed for Asian unity, and cited Pakistan's willingness to tour Sri Lanka during the island's own civil war as reason to play in Lahore. Mr. Sumathipala said, “I am keen to take my team to Pakistan. We have had our security experts visit and make an assessment, and things look positive with things improving all over the country and especially Lahore being cleared. We have three T20 games coming up against Pakistan in September and we would like to play at least one of those games in Lahore.
"I call upon each one of you as members to play your role and give Pakistan the security of your support. There is always risk - there were two attacks in London during the Champions Trophy - but cricket continued under the security assurances of the ICC, so likewise we too must be as accommodating and understanding as possible with our members and extend our fullest support to them as the cricketing family of Asia."
Sri Lanka showing the brotherly support is an amazing gesture especially considering that they were the team at the receiving end in the Lahore attack. The successful tour of World XI will play its part in calming down the nerves of Sri Lankan players who might have their doubts about visiting Pakistan. The security during the Independence Cup contested between Pakistan Cricket Team and World XI was foolproof. Some of the biggest stars in world cricket felt at home in Pakistan and now, Sri Lanka coming to Pakistan would mean that there can finally be a gradual revival of International Cricket in Pakistan.
Just like Pakistan stood by Sri Lanka during their hour of need when no other team would be willing to visit them, Sri Lanka is now standing by Pakistan. It is not only great for the relations between the two cricketing nations but also great for the neutral supporter of Cricket. Revival of international Cricket in Pakistan is absolutely necessary as Pakistan is one of the giants of the game. It is pivotal that the world must stand by Pakistan during these times so that the message goes out to those who are trying to harm the peace and unity in the world that they are alone and the rest of the world is standing together against them. There cannot be a more beautiful example of unity and how with the help of sports, hearts and nations can unite. Pakistani nations are thankful to Sri Lanka for their heartfelt support and we hope that the rest of the world comes forward too and send their teams to Pakistan.
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