Let's hope WI tour of Pakistan will prove worthwhile

Saturday, April 07, 2018

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On March 3, 2009, members of the Sri Lanka cricket team were on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, for the third day of the second Test match against their hosts when all hell broke loose.

Terrorists armed with rifles, rocket launchers and hand grenades attacked the convoy in which the players' team bus was travelling, killing six policemen and injuring 20 people including seven Sri Lankan cricketers.

It could have been even worse, but the driver of the team bus, though injured, held his nerve and somehow found a way to safety.

Then Sri Lanka cricket captain, Mr Mahela Jayawardene, captured the horror of the moment: “For some reason I moved my head to get a better view and a split second later I felt a bullet fizz past my ear into the vacant (adjacent) seat.”

Long before that day, international cricket teams had shown hesitancy and, in some cases, had postponed and even cancelled scheduled tours to Pakistan because of security concerns.

After that attack in 2009, international tours to Pakistan stopped. The Pakistanis were forced to host teams at neutral venues, most notably in the United Arab Emirates.

Comprehensive steps by Pakistan to improve the situation led to Zimbabwe visiting in 2015. But even then there was a suicide bombing just outside the Gaddafi Stadium which sent jitters through the cricketing world.

Last September, the Pakistan cricket authorities hosted a three-match series against a Rest of the World team and also hosted the last two finals of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore and Karachi respectively.

Those games last year, and presumably independent security checks, gave Cricket West Indies the confidence to send a team to Pakistan, just recently, for three T-20 games. Wary of the security risks, most West Indies' elite players declined the invitation, forcing Cricket West Indies to send mostly fringe players.

As expected, West Indies were soundly beaten in all three games.

We are told that the West Indies players flew into Pakistan on the eve of the first game and flew out immediately after the last game. In the circumstances there was no time for practice sessions or acclimatisation, and reports say the players appeared jet-lagged. Indeed, from a purely cricketing point of view, the only positives for the visitors were that their performances improved game by game and young, untried players gained experience.

For Pakistan, the tour was a big boost, with the locals describing it as proof that it is now safe for international teams to visit Pakistan. From all reports there is also considerable gratitude that West Indies made the short tour, albeit with a significantly depleted squad.

In truth, this wasn't just altruism on the part of Cricket West Indies. It was, as we understand it, very much part of a calculated business arrangement which will see Pakistan joining West Indies in exploring the North American cricket market.

All that said, regardless of the primary motivation for the gesture by Cricket West Indies, it is to be hoped that it will prove to be of significant value in helping to assure the world that Pakistan is a safe place for international cricket.

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