As Test cricket returns to Pakistan, a look at the road to redemption & cricket's brushes with terror

Sri Lanka's Thilan Samaraweera plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket test match against Pakistan at the National stadium in Karach
Sri Lanka's Thilan Samaraweera plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket test match against Pakistan at the National stadium in Karachi February 22, 2009.
©Reuters
 

Sports fans around the world often forget that sport does not occur in vacuum. Actually, nothing happens in vacuum and all the good and bad going around in the world in some way or the other effects sports as well.

While sports have seen horrific tragedies like the Hillsborough disaster, terrorism in this day and age, is the biggest factor that challenges security. While many might remember the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 as the biggest terrorist activity with cricket in the centre, it was not for the first time that the game had a taste of terror.

In April 1987, in Sri Lanka's Colombo, a bomb went off at a bus station, taking the lives of more than 100 people. This was the time when New Zealand's three-match Test series in the island nation was going on and the series had to be cut short to just one Test.

Five years later, in Colombo itself, a suicide attack killed four people. The bomb blast took place right outside New Zealand cricket team's hotel. Five players and the coach left the tour midway.

Four more years passed and in 1996, Colombo was again the focus of attention, when a bomb blast killed 80 people and injured as many as 1200. In its wake, Australia and West Indies did not participate in the preliminary World Cup matches hosted by Sri Lanka.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Tamil Tigers' suicide attack struck Colombo yet again, which killed 14 people and injured 12 others. The New Zealand cricket team again was on a tour to Sri Lanka. However, the Kiwis showed their solidarity with the nation and played the next match as scheduled.

In May 2002, New Zealand cancelled their tour to Pakistan after a bomb went off outside the team hotel, taking the life of 11 French engineers. The same year, Australia also cancelled their Pakistan tour due to security concerns in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The series was then held in United Arab Emirates.

The next year, another bomb blast in Karachi meant that South Africa postponed their tour by a few days.

Before the Australian cricket team's 2008 tour of India, serial blasts in Delhi killed a total of 20 people and injured 90. The Australian tour, however, went as planned. The same year, coordinated attacks by terrorists in Mumbai, which killed 170 people saw the England cricket team fly back home, only to return for the Test series.

However, in the collective consciousness of the modern day cricket fans, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at Lahore in March 2009 has left the most prominent mark. The reason to this simply is that while all the prior attacks were not aimed at the cricketers with them happening to be in the vicinity, this particular attack in Lahore was targeted directly at the Sri Lankan cricketers.

It saw eight people, including two civilians and six policemen, lose their lives.

"Things will have to change dramatically in Pakistan in my opinion if any of the games are to be staged there. I think that international cricket in Pakistan is out of the question until there is a very significant change, a regime change, I guess," ICC president David Morgan said after the attack.

It was a long wait before cricket returned to the country.

Afghanistan and Kenya reached the Pakistan shores in February 2013 and December 2014 respectively but those matches were not given international status.

Following several attempts from the Pakistan Cricket Board and ICC, cricket returned to Pakistan in May 2015 with Zimbabwe coming for 2 T20Is and 3 ODIs. That the matches were held in Lahore, the target of the dastardly attack, was a symbolic win for the cricket-crazy country.

After Pakistan hosted the final of the Pakistan Super League, its top-notch domestic T20 competition, it gave the ICC some confidence and World XI toured the country for a three-match T20I series. The same year, Sri Lanka, who were at the receiving end of the Lahore attack, returned to Pakistan for a solitary T20I.

Apart from more PSL matches hosted by Pakistan in 2018 and 2019, Karachi hosted a second string West Indies side for a three-match series in April 2018. But, it was Sri Lanka who finally ended the drought in the real sense, with a proper three-match ODI series and a three-match T20I series this year.

However, 10 of their top players, including Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews, did not tour. The return of Test cricket to Pakistan after a decade now, marks a red letter day in the country's cricketing history.

With Sri Lanka deciding to field a full strength squad this time around and the matches being part of the ongoing World Test Championship cycle, Pakistan are all set to have a proper taste of redemption.

©Cricket World 2019