Sri Lanka to tour Pakistan for limited-overs series in September

Players pose against the backdrop of packed stands in hazy Lahore
Pakistan news August 23, 2019

Pakistan will host their longest bilateral series in a decade after Sri Lanka agreed to play three ODIs and three T20s in Karachi and Lahore. This will mark the first international action in the country for 18 months, though it has meant that the two Tests scheduled between the sides for October - and which the PCB wanted to be played in Pakistan - have been postponed to December. Where they will be played is not yet clear, though it appears as if this tour could be a trial run for bringing long-form cricket back to Pakistan.

The National Stadium in Karachi will host the three ODIs, while the T20Is will be staged in Lahore. The ODIs will be the first to take place in Pakistan since Zimbabwe toured for a three-match ODI series in 2015; all the international cricket since the 2017 PSL final has been in the form of T20Is.

Cricday understands discussions on the matter of where the Tests will be played are continuing. The PCB had originally wanted the Test series to be played in Pakistan in October, but the Sri Lankan sports minister has said that players were reluctant for that to happen.

The decision to swap formats, according to a PCB press release, was made following a phone discussion between the Pakistan Chairman Ehsan Mani and SLC President Shammi Silva on Friday. The visitors will arrive in Karachi on September 25 and fly home on October 10.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka carried out their security assessment in Lahore and Karachi - the two possible venues for any international cricket in the series - and it threw up "very positive" results. Ultimately, it does not seem to have been positive enough to remove player apprehensions about playing Test cricket in Pakistan. But the limited-overs leg gives Pakistan an opportunity to convince players otherwise and should it go off without a hitch, enable the PCB to make a more convincing case for the Test series to be played in the country, too.

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According to Sri Lanka sports minister Harin Fernando, the board had conveyed to him that it would prefer "not to take the risk" of playing a Test in Pakistan. He believed "some players were quite apprehensive," and that Sri Lanka would play only one of the two limited-overs series in Pakistan, and that the Tests would "definitely" be held in the UAE. As it turns out, Sri Lanka will play the entire limited-overs leg in Pakistan, staying in the country for 13 days, with the PCB not yet ruling out the possibility of an actual home Test series.

A Sri Lanka team played one T20I in Lahore in October 2017, but did so without a number of its prominent names. Sri Lanka's then T20I captain, Upul Tharanga, pulled out, along with Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal and Akila Dananjaya. But the game went off without incident.

For all the promising developments in terms of increasing international cricket in Pakistan over the past two years or so, convincing a team to play a Test match in the country has proved difficult. In part, the increased time commitment that a Test match will invariably demand has proven a challenging hurdle to overcome. And with the World Test Championship now having begun, it is unlikely teams would even be willing to send over weakened squads for a one-off Tests, with each game carrying significant points that count towards the eventual standings.

"The PCB is pleased with the outcome of its discussions with Sri Lanka Cricket, which has supported Pakistan in its efforts and endeavours for the complete revival of international cricket," Mani said. "The tour for limited-overs matches will also provide Sri Lanka with an even better understanding of the ground situation before discussing the schedule of the Tests.

"The hosting of the ICC World XI, a T20I against Sri Lanka, three-T20I series men's and women's series against the West Indies and eight HBL PSL 2019 matches within the past couple of years is a testament to Pakistan's claim that it is a safe and secure country to play cricket.

"We are very grateful to Sri Lanka Cricket President Mr Shammi Silva, his board and players for responding positively to our request to play matches in Pakistan."

Silva said: "The PCB and SLC have a long history of cricket relationship and friendship, and this decision only strengthens that bonding. The SLC is committed to playing its role in the promotion of cricket and looks forward to visiting Karachi and Lahore for three ODIs and three T20Is.

"The SLC security experts had visited the two cities earlier this month and had given a positive report, which made our job of decision-making easy. The safety and security of its players is the responsibility of the SLC, which it takes very seriously. If there had been any doubts, the SLC would not have gone ahead with this arrangement that we envisage will improve the players' confidence and trust level and will also be critical when we start discussions on the schedule of the Test matches."

On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, there were several bomb attacks in churches and hotels all across Sri Lanka, with over 250 people killed and more than 500 injured. Sri Lanka Cricket was particularly apprehensive about what it meant for visiting teams in the future. But just over a month after the attack, Pakistan's U-19 team visited Sri Lanka for five 50-over matches, a move that created much goodwill between the two boards, and gives Pakistan a slightly better chance of convincing Sri Lanka to play as much as possible of their tour in the country.

* With additional reporting by Andrew Fidel Fernando

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