Is cricket ready to return to Pakistan?
In the lead-up to Sri Lanka’s recently concluded series against Pakistan in Pakistan, a number of the visitor’s highest profile players pulled out of the tour. With the exception of a Zimbabwe tour in 2015, virtually all of Pakistan’s home games for the past decade had been played in the United Arab Emirates due to security concerns in the country.
Clearly, the players that pulled out still felt that concern even if the governing powers of Sri Lankan cricket didn’t, but in the wake of a successful series that went off without incident, Sri Lankan coach Rumesh Ratnayake thinks it’s time for that to change.
‘This has gone very smoothly,’ the coach said. ‘Us playing here will encourage so many other countries to also be here. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it even though some of us came in doubt. But the doubt has been taken out now so I would like to thank you all for making it happen.’
According to Ratnayake, ‘the crowd has been the same as it was 30 years ago,’ and while he won’t (and can’t) force any players to come, ‘We’ll certainly explain that to them and they’ll have seen it as well. We’ll try and convince them as much as we can, but we cannot enforce anything. Hopefully, they’ve changed by seeing this series be so successful.’
The success of the tour may well be looked back upon as a turning point for cricket in Pakistan, with the glowing words of the Sri Lankan team and ‘impeccable’ security which they were afforded likely to, as Ratnayake said, have a positive impact on the willingness of other teams to travel to the country.
For the record, Sri Lanka, with a severely decimated team as a result of the numerous first XI players who didn’t want to travel to Pakistan, did a pretty good job throughout the tour. It didn’t start off so well – after the first ODI was abandoned due to poor weather, they lost the next two relatively comfortably to end the three-match series 2-0 down. In the ensuing three-game T20I series, however, they enacted a remarkable turnaround, winning all three games.
Ratnayake toed the company line, saying that they ‘chose the best team’, that they were ‘confident’ and ‘believed they could do something at the highest level’. His beliefs, however, were not shared by many fans, nor were they shared by bookmakers, who installed Pakistan as comfortable favourites in both series’. The result came as a particular surprise considering Pakistan excel in the shortest form of the game and are the number one ranked T20I team in the world. Perhaps Sri Lanka will be keen to return to Pakistan in the future for more reasons than safety.