Foreign players' comfort levels in Pakistan 'growing all the time' - David Richardson
The progress made by the PCB in bringing international teams and the PSL to Pakistan has 'changed the perception' of the country, the ICC CEO stressed
Over the last two years, Pakistan has made serious strides towards bringing big cricket back to the country. The PCB has successfully hosted various international teams over the last 20 months as well as business-end matches of the high-profile PSL. All this, according to ICC chief executive officer David Richardson, has "changed the perception" of Pakistan as a cricketing destination. International cricket in Pakistan came to an abrupt halt after the 2009 terror attack on Sri Lanka's team bus in Lahore, with Pakistan's national team forced to find a home away from home in the UAE. Since the visit of Zimbabwe in 2015, however, there has been a slow and steadily inflow of teams to the country. "I think they've done a tremendous job and the level of comfort is growing all the time among the foreign players," Richardson said during Sunday's PSL final between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi in Karachi.
"I know some security officials from Australia and other countries have come to see the matches here. Step by step, certainly, Pakistan is on the right path and I know that the PCB will be redoubling their efforts to encourage people and teams to come across and certainly it will be with the ICC's support."
The perception outside of Pakistan was that it was quite a dangerous place to visit in the past and that perception, slowly but surely, has been changed through the good work that has been done yet
This season, Pakistan has hosted eight PSL matches including the final at Karachi's National Stadium. Over 230,000 spectators attended the eight Karachi matches, making each nearly a full-house affair. The security arrangements for the teams were extraordinary, with the overseas players given presidential-level cover.
"As you may be aware, the ICC has tried to support Pakistan in getting international cricket back to Pakistan on a more regular basis and I think everyone agrees that having the PSL matches in Pakistan and the final in Karachi is a great step forward in achieving that," Richardson said. "So, well done to all involved, and thank you to the players who decided to make the trip across to Pakistan. I think you should also appreciate the work done by Pakistan as a country and Pakistan's security forces.
"Because the fact is that the perception outside of Pakistan was that it was quite a dangerous place to visit in the past and that perception, slowly but surely, has been changed through the good work that has been done yet. I think that point needs to be appreciated. The fact that so many foreign players agreed to come and play in Pakistan is indicative of that."
On Friday, Bangladesh's tour of New Zealand was aborted following the terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch, which have so far claimed at least 50 lives. Some of Bangladesh's players and staff narrowly escaped being caught up in the attack; they were on their way to one of the mosques for their Friday prayers when it was attacked.
When asked if the incident made the ICC extra alert with the World Cup looming, Richardson said, "It has always been the case that we've had to make sure that we keep security absolutely priority, not only for the players but also for the visiting media, fans, spectators and everyone who attends the event. If you recall the Champions Trophy in England a couple of years back, there were a few incidents that happened.
"So I don't think security is anything new, obviously something happening in New Zealand probably took a lot of people by surprise and it emphasised the need not to be complacent, especially going into the World Cup. I know the work done already by the security director together with all the security agencies in the UK, they leaving no stone unturned, and if the threat level should rise in any way we will [further upgrade] the plans in place."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent