Test cricket returns to Pakistan as Sri Lankans arrive

The weather in Rawalpindi on Monday was on the hazy side with the breeze making the atmosphere chilly just as Pakistan players got engaged in their first practice session at a new-look Pindi Cricket Stadium, the venue for the opening clash of the landmark two-Test series against Sri Lanka.

With Test cricket now just two days away from returning to Pakistan after the tragic events of March 2009 when the Mahela Jayawardene-led Sri Lankan side came under a horrifying terror attack on the third morning of the second Test against Pakistan at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, the build-up to the upcoming fixture hasn’t yet generated the usual fanfare.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has spent around Rs1 billion on the renovation of the stadium while it took almost a year for all tasks to be completed to make the venue more appealing as an international cricketing centre. The PCB is hopeful of a respectable turnout from Wednesday when the match starts. The only stand for the tickets, priced at just Rs50 each, have been put on sale for the Shoaib Akhtar Enclosure that can accommodate roughly about 4,000 people. On top of that around 11,000 tickets have been distributed among educational institutes free of cost in order to generate a buzzing arena.

The Sri Lanka squad, meanwhile, landed in Islamabad amidst watertight security blanket at 7:15 on Monday morning via Dubai and was swiftly whisked to the hotel in the federal capital.

Speaking to a handful of reporters at the airport, Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne expressed optimism that he side have a great chance of repeating their winning sequence against Pakistan at the highest level.

“The last time we played Pakistan in the format was in the United Arab Emirates in 2017 and we defeated them in both the Tests. Therefore, we have the momentum on our side heading into this series,” Karunaratne said. “These are World Test Championship matches and that itself is a great source of inspiration to lift our team. Sri Lanka are on a high, anyway, having beaten Pakistan 3-0 in the Twenty20 series on their tour to this country recently.”

Karunaratne downplayed security concerns while expressing faith that the host nation’s abilities to take adequate measures for the duration of the series that concludes in Karachi where the final Test takes place from Dec 19 to 23.

“After the 2009 episode players across the world were scared to tour Pakistan for safety reasons. But Sri Lanka and some other sides started visiting Pakistan in the last couple of years. Just two months ago our team played ODI and T20 series [in Karachi and Lahore, respectively] and there were no issues related to security,” he said.

“This is my first tour to Pakistan and for sure, I’m as excited as anyone to be part of this groundbreaking series. As a team Sri Lanka want to play good cricket over the next couple of weeks. We are confident we can win again.” (Courtesy Dawn)

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