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Homeward bound - Pakistan’s decade-long test match exile comes to an end

November 18th, 2019Cricket
On 3rd March, 2009 a shocking terrorist attack rocked the cricketing world. Sri Lanka were touring Pakistan and as their bus pulled towards Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore twelve gunmen opened fire. What was supposed to be the third day of the second test between the two teams became a bloodbath as six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed and six members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were wounded. 

The savage attack was the culmination of many years of threats of violence and very near misses. Back in 2002 the New Zealand team abandoned their tour of the country after a suicide bomb attack outside their hotel. Australia cancelled their 2003/2004 tour again on safety grounds. And India also pulled out of their 2009 tour as a direct result of the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Ironically Sri Lanka were the replacement team for that Indian tour and had only agreed to the matches after the Pakistan government offered them “presidential style” security. The measures were not enough and headlines of the deadly attack reverberated around the world.On 3rd March, 2009 a shocking terrorist attack rocked the cricketing world. Sri Lanka were touring Pakistan and as their bus pulled towards Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore twelve gunmen opened fire. What was supposed to be the third day of the second test between the two teams became a bloodbath as six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed and six members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were wounded. 

Pakistan test cricket played away from home for a decade

From that day on no test cricket has been played in Pakistan, as rightly so, international teams felt the risks were too great to tour the country. And Pakistan had to find themselves a new, secure home in the United Arab Emirates. While the facilities were excellent in the Emirates, playing away from home for a decade has been hard on both the players and their millions of fans. Weekday test matches have often been played out to virtually empty stadia as Pakistanis working in the Emirates have been unable to attend due to work commitments. It has also been financially crippling for the PCB as nearly 100 million dollars have been lost in revenue due to not playing at home.

But that’s all about to change as for the first time in ten years test match cricket is returning to Pakistan and the nation are very excited about the prospect.

Sri Lanka to play test cricket series at two venues in Pakistan in December

And symbolically it is Sri Lanka that is to be the first team returning on tour as they are set to play a two-test series. The first Test will be in Rawalpindi from 11-15 December, while the second will be in Karachi from 19-23 December. And they will form part of the World Test Championship.

Zakir Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board's director of international cricket enthused:

"This is fabulous news for Pakistan and its reputation of being as safe and secure as any other country in the world,"

"We are thankful to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) for agreeing to send their team for the longer version of the game, which will contribute significantly in the PCB's efforts and drive for regular resumption of international cricket."

And SLC chief executive Ashley de Silva responded by saying:

"We are pleased to confirm our return visit to Pakistan as, based on our earlier visit, we are comfortable and convinced conditions are suitable and conducive for Test cricket."

Sri Lanka played three ODIs and three T20 matches there in September and October, although some notable senior players chose not to make the journey that time around.

The restoration of Pakistani test cricket on home soil

For Pakistan this could be the relaunch of a new era of Pakistan cricket.

Zakir Khan went on to observe:

"I've been saying for a long time that Pakistan is safe. Cricket is thriving here. It's a young community now in Pakistan and everybody wants to see cricket back.

"We're hoping that the restrictions will start to reduce in terms of what countries are demanding around security."

"For us, this is now about starting to lay the foundations for England to come back and play Test cricket here in 2022.

"We've invited South Africa to play a T20 series at the end of March. We are very hopeful that will come through.

"We are also at advanced stages with the MCC to come and tour Pakistan, which we are planning for in February before the Pakistan Super League starts.

"Things are starting to move in the right direction for us."

And it seems that 10 years of effort and change have also convinced some of those directly affected by the tragic events of 2009.

Warwickshire sport director Paul Farbrace, the former Sri Lanka assistant coach, was on the team bus during the attack. Commenting on the news he said:

"I've spoken to quite a few players who have been back to Pakistan. I would definitely go back,"

"The thought of sport going back and cricket going back to Pakistan is vital for young kids growing up in that country."

"I don't think any cricket board will force any player to go. Sri Lanka went there recently and not all of the main players went.

"It will take a little bit of time for teams to start to go to Pakistan. The players will do the selling; they will come back and say 'it's fantastic, you have to go there as there is no issue'."

The importance of international cricket returning to one of its most important and well supported homes on the planet was not lost on Sri Lanka’s Ashley De Silva:

“We also believe all cricket-playing countries should host international cricket at home and in this relation we are happy to play our part in complete resumption of international cricket in Pakistan.”


Pakistan’s enforced nomadic schedule has defined whole playing careers. Sir Alistair Cook for example, who notched up a huge 161 test matches, never played in Pakistan having joined the England test team three months after their last tour of the country. It is still entirely possible that legends such as Ben Stokes or Steve Smith could play out their careers having also missed out on the experience.

But all are hoping that will not be the case and Pakistan are once again offering “state level” security for the Sri Lankan test team. If these matches go ahead trouble free, then that paves the way for a new generation of players to visit such an amazing and enthusiastic cricketing country. And for the Pakistani players themselves it represents something even more profound. A long due homecoming, playing in front of millions of adoring fans, and the return of the soul of a proud cricketing nation after many a long year of exile.