Bangladesh to tour Pakistan at month end
International cricket is set to return to Pakistan after three years, with Bangladesh formally confirming to the PCB that they will play one ODI and one Twenty20 International there later this month. There has been no cricket between two Full Member nations in Pakistan since the attack on the Sri Lanka team in March 2009.
The ODI is scheduled for April 29 and the T20I for April 30. Both matches will be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
"The public of Pakistan have been deprived of cricket and we felt that we needed to support them," BCB president Mustafa Kamal said. "The reception we received when we toured Lahore and Karachi on our security visit was overwhelming."
Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, thanked the BCB and the Bangladesh government for their support for the tour.
The ICC, though, was more guarded in its response, saying it had asked the the PCB for a security plan, following which its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit would commission a localised risk assessment to determine the safety of its officials and staff; only after that would it decide on deploying its officials.
Last month, the ICC had introduced a "special dispensation" to be made only in "exceptional circumstances" in order to ensure that bilateral series take place even if the ruling body has determined it "unsafe" to appoint its officials for such series. This would allow such series to be manned by "non-neutral match officials", a departure from the ICC's Standard Playing Conditions, pending permission from its executive board.
Bangladesh was due for a full tour of Pakistan in 2012 under the ICC's Future Tours Programme. The PCB also said the remaining matches of the tour will be played at dates mutually agreed between the two Boards at venues including Bangladesh.
There had been several itineraries proposed for the tour, including a three-match ODI series and a series of two ODIs and one Twenty20 international. Karachi and Rawalpindi were the other possible venues but ESPNcricinfo understands they were dropped on security grounds.
Sunday's announcement follows lengthy negotiations between the two boards over the terms of the tour, and at times it looked as though the tour would be a non-starter. A nine-member delegation, headed by Kamal and including security officials from that country, visited Pakistan in March for a demonstration of the security plan for the proposed series. The plan was well received, it is believed, but confirmation of the series was delayed. One reason, according to the BCB, was that it was waiting for a government advisory; another possible reason was the ICC's special dispensation plan, which possibly implied that the venue was not safe for neutral officials.
Jalal Yunus, the BCB's media committee chairman, said Kamal had taken charge of the matter and handled it personally. "We haven't talked about it since Zaka Ashraf came and discussed the matter officially, so it has been 2-3 months," he said. "The BCB president must have known the government stance and that's why he has confirmed. He has handled it personally from the beginning."
The tour will come a little more than three years after masked terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus and a van carrying ICC officials to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, on what would have been the third day of the second Test of that tour. Six Sri Lankan cricketers were injured in the attack, and six security personnel and two civilians were killed.
Since then, Pakistan have hosted "home series" in UAE and other neutral venues. They played New Zealand in New Zealand (2009-10), England and Australia in England (2010). UAE has been their favoured home base, having hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka and England.
The announcement of a resumption of international cricket in Pakistan is a fitting reward for both the spirited performance of the national team in the recent past and also to the patience and passion of the country's cricket fans. It is often said, rightly so, that international cricket needs a strong Pakistan, and while this is often in the context of its on-field prowess, it is also about the state of cricket in that country. Sunday's news will redress to some extent that situation, even if it is only two matches in the shorter formats.
Heartening though the news is, it must be hoped that the decision has been taken by both sides with security and the safety of all concerned - players, officials, spectators - as the top priority. Sport is a proven healer in troubled times but at no time can it be pursued at the cost of basic safety. It can be said that two matches in two days is too short a time to judge a nation's preparedness to host full-fledged international cricket but, by staging the matches at location, it is perhaps sufficient to test the waters. It is also hoped the ICC will lend its support, though it may say that it does not have any official role to play in the staging of a series. If Pakistan is to get back on track and re-join the cricket family, it needs every other member of that family to extend its hand - as the youngest, Bangladesh, has done.
Edited by Nikita Bastian
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent