Eight years after a history-changing attack on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team to the Gaddafi stadium, Lahore hosted the Sri Lankan team for a T20I on Sunday. The last match of one-month-long series had been scheduled in the city as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continued to take steps to bring international cricket back in the country.
No other visit could have sent a more profound message of Pakistan being a safe destination for international sides, than the victims of the attack returning back to the country. Eight people died and eight more – including Sri Lankan team members and umpire Ahsan Raza – were injured in the attack back in March 2009.
Despite the recent tour of a star-studded ICC World XI – which had representation from the top seven Test nations – many in Sri Lanka were against their side visiting Pakistan, but Sri Lanka Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala told reporters before the third T20I that his board had a desire to visit the country and start the process of the revival of international cricket in Pakistan.
“We have gone through 30 years of war in Sri Lanka and not a single day Pakistan declined to tour us,” he said. “We have always wanted to come back. We believe that we should be the ones to initiate this process [of resumption of cricket in Pakistan] … We are happy and privileged to be here to support Pakistan cricket.
“Sri Lanka would like to come back soon. We will come back with our ‘A’ teams, with our national teams, and under-19 teams. We encourage the Asian nations to play more games in Pakistan. Pakistan is our big brother who we cannot leave.
“There are various [types of] people. We appeal to them to keep children, women, religious places and sports aside. Leave us alone, let us play our game of cricket in peace and harmony. We want to enjoy the game of cricket and give everyone opportunities and a chance to share our happiness in the game.
“If Pakistan is weaker, Asia would get weak which in turn will weaken the world cricket. Your strength is our strength.”
Sumathipala’s last tour of Pakistan was during the 1996 World Cup, which Sri Lanka won defeating Australia in the final at the Gaddafi Stadium. “It took us more than an hour to reach our hotel after the match [because of the celebrations],” he recalled with a twinkle in his eyes. “Ninety-five percent of the crowd supported us in that final.”
Sri Lanka arrived in Lahore in the wee hours of Sunday and left for Abu Dhabi a couple of hours into Monday morning. They were escorted by presidential-level protocol throughout their 24-hour stay in the provincial capital.
Sri Lankan skipper Thisara Perera, who was part of the World XI side, expressed his satisfaction on the security arrangements. “The team was scared initially but now it is feeling safe because of this security,” he said before the toss. “I think that is the most important thing because now we can play at 200 percent. The Pakistani people have welcomed us really, really well. It is an honour to lead my country, especially in Pakistan.”