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Under heavy security, Sri Lanka cricket team tours Pakistan



Sri Lanka’s cricket captain Lahiru Thirimanne speaks to reporters Tuesday in Colombo prior to the squad’s departure for Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD, Sept 25 (AP) Sri Lanka’s cricket team arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday for a series of limited-overs matches, with the Pakistani government promising to give the players the same level of security as a head of state.

It is the first time since Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009 that a foreign team will conduct a two-week tour of Pakistan. Major teams have avoided Pakistan since that ambush, which killed eight people and injured several players.

Ten of Sri Lanka’s top cricketers opted out of this tour because of security concerns, but the makeshift team arrived in the southern port city of Karachi, which will host three one-day internationals on Sept. 27, 29 and Oct. 2. Those will be followed by three Twenty20s in Lahore.

Sri Lanka's cricket captain Lahiru Thirimanne (R) and teammates look on as Buddhist monks chant prayers for their success during a ceremony in Colombo on Septemer 24, 2019, prior to the team's departure for a cricket tour in Pakistan.
© ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images Sri Lanka’s cricket captain Lahiru Thirimanne (R) and teammates look on as Buddhist monks chant prayers for their success during a ceremony in Colombo on Septemer 24, 2019, prior to the team’s departure for a cricket tour in Pakistan.

”We can’t forget, 10 years ago it was a terrible attack on the Sri Lanka team and they are the same country which has come back to play here,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani said in Lahore. ”We are thankful to the players and their board for standing strong with Pakistan.”

The current tour also looked in doubt after the Sri Lankan cricket board said it had been warned by its government about a possible terrorist threat. But the tour finally got the go-ahead from the SLC after Pakistan’s government promised that the army would coordinate the security over the two-week long visit.

Over the past four years, Pakistan has successfully hosted Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and a World XI for limited-overs matches amid intense security as it tries to win back the confidence of foreign teams to restart fully fledged international cricket at home.

For the last 10 years Pakistan has been playing most of its ”home” matches in the United Arab Emirates.

But Mani said he expects both the National Stadium in Karachi and the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to be full for the ODI and Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka.

”We have been playing in front of virtually empty stadiums (in UAE) which wasn’t a cause of motivation,” Mani said. ”In Pakistan we will have people coming in stadiums not only to support their own team but also applauding Sri Lanka for taking a big step to help us as a country.”

The PCB also used its own domestic Twenty20 league as a brand to attract foreign players to play in Pakistan over the last three years.

”This series isn’t a result of an effort overnight, it’s a long journey,” Mani said. ”PSL has played a big role, we got a lot of support within the country and I hope we will be getting same level of support in the bilateral series too.”

Sri Lanka’s team bus will be flanked by a fleet of vans carrying armed security personnel when moving from the hotel to the stadium, but Mani is hoping things will normalize eventually.

”I am hopeful the time will come very soon when players can feel totally relaxed, the way they find in other countries,” Mani said.