LAHORE: Even Pakistan’s prime minister did not believe it could happen but when Sri Lanka visit Lahore on Sunday for a T20 match, the hosts will celebrate the end of eight years of isolation from international cricket.
Less than a year ago, none of this appeared possible for a nation that had largely been shunned by international teams since 2009 due to security risks.
That year gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lanka team from their hotel to Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium for a match, injuring six players and killing six security personnel and two civilians.
The incident forced Pakistan to play their home matches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the country has since remained starved of international cricket at home, apart from Zimbabwe’s limited-overs tour in 2015.
Last year, the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) — based on the franchise model of the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League — became a success, though all the matches were played in the UAE.
Things changed in March this year when Pakistan hosted the final of its domestic T20 competition featuring high-profile international players.
“Even that baby step seemed an impossibility. I can tell you that none of the franchises wanted it, they were scared… the government was scared…the players were scared,” Najam Sethi — the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) — told Reuters in an interview.
The match proved pivotal in changing the global cricket community’s opinion of Pakistan’s ability to host international matches and garnered support from cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).