Sri Lanka 'keen' to visit Pakistan for T20s in September
Pakistan could be on the verge of hosting their highest-profile international visitor in the last eight years, with Sri Lanka all but committing to play a T20 there in September or October. This would, in itself, represent an extraordinary gesture by SLC, given its own side had been the target of the 2009 terror attack that stopped international cricket being played in Pakistan for six years. Since that attack, in which six policemen and two civilians were killed, only Zimbabwe have toured the country, playing five internationals in Lahore in 2015.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan are due to play each other in a full series that starts at the end of September. An SLC release said that "Sri Lanka will play at least one of the three T20s in Lahore, in September," so long as "the logistical and operational plans fall in place".
Speaking at the Asian Cricket Council's (ACC) AGM in Colombo on Saturday, SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala appealed for Asian unity, and cited Pakistan's willingness to tour Sri Lanka during the island's own civil war as reason to play in Lahore.
"I am keen to take my team to Pakistan," Sumathipala said. "We have had our security experts visit and make an assessment, and things look positive with things improving all over the country and especially Lahore being cleared. We have three T20 games coming up against Pakistan in September and we would like to play at least one of those games in Lahore.
"I call upon each one of you as members to play your role and give Pakistan the security of your support. There is always risk - there were two attacks in London during the Champions Trophy - but cricket continued under the security assurances of the ICC, so likewise we too must be as accommodating and understanding as possible with our members and extend our fullest support to them as the cricketing family of Asia."
Despite Sumathipala's eagerness, it is not clear yet how Sri Lanka's players will react to the prospect of playing in Pakistan. Out of the squad that was attacked in Lahore, only Chamara Kapugedara stands a chance of being selected for future T20s, but other players will also have heard the details of that attack from team-mates who had lived through it. Many are likely to have reservations. Thilan Samaraweera, who was shot in the thigh during the attack, has spoken about the trauma the incident had inflicted upon him and his family. Other former players have also spoken of it as being one of the darkest days of their lives.
The PCB, meanwhile, confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that preparations to host Sri Lanka will begin now. "The SLC president and I had very fruitful talks on the sidelines of the ACC meet in Colombo on Auguest 11 and 12," PCB chairman Najam Sethi said. "I am grateful for his decision to support our efforts to bring international cricket back to Pakistan. We shall start preparations to stage one or two T20 matches in October in Lahore. This is a historic decision. Once Sri Lanka have toured Pakistan, the door will be open for safe passage of other teams to Pakistan."
When and whether the game - or games - goes ahead will also depend on how a planned series between Pakistan and a World XI side pans out. The status of that World XI tour - currently scheduled to be played between September 10 and 16 - is still uncertain, and dependent on the political situation in Lahore in September.
The scenario has been complicated by the recent dismissal of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister; because of this, a very significant by-election is due to take place on September 17 - one day after the last World XI series is due to be played. A high-profile series so close to an election is likely to stretch security resources in the city. The Punjab government has had multiple meetings with PCB officials and, according to PCB chairman Najam Sethi, are agreed about the dates subject to a go-ahead from the province's chief minister Shehbaz Sharif (brother of Nawaz). Punjab's law minister Rana Sana Ullah has confirmed that the government is determined to host the series.
Sumathipala's optimism is also indication that a deal has been reached. With both boards and various governments keen for the match to be played in Lahore, player protestations - if there are any - may not be enough to halt that political will.