“It’s a huge day for all the Pakistanis and we have been waiting for this day for quite some time,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani said. “It will send a strong message to the whole cricketing world that Pakistan has the ability to host all its home matches in Pakistan.”
The PCB has been trying for the last four years to convince foreign teams to play in Pakistan. Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies and the World XI toured Pakistan during this period but all these matches were either ODIs or Twenty20s.
The test series in Pakistan was made possible after Sri Lanka toured three months ago and played an ODI and a Twenty20 series in Karachi and Lahore without any security trouble. Pakistan's government has promised top-level security, normally reserved for heads of state. The two test matches will be played in Rawalpindi and Karachi.
A security force of more than 4,000, including policemen from Punjab province and the Pakistan Army, will be deployed around the Pindi Cricket Stadium where the first test starts on Wednesday. Karachi will host the second test from Dec. 19-23.
“We have suffered a lot for the last 10 years and I really want to thank all the (security) forces, especially the Pakistan Army, for making this dream come true," Mani said. “I also want to thank the Sri Lanka Cricket for showing confidence in Pakistan’s abilities to host international matches and I think the doors of international cricket will be completely opened for Pakistan.”
PCB director of cricket operations Zakir Khan welcomed the Sri Lanka team members at Islamabad International Airport before the team drove to the hotel amid tight security on Monday. Sri Lanka suffered a setback just before the departure from home when fast bowler Suranga Lakmal was ruled out with dengue fever. He was replaced by Asitha Fernando, who has played for Sri Lanka’s under-23 team.
The team will be led by Dimuth Karunaratne and includes seasoned players like Angelo Matthews and Dinesh Chandimal. The three players were among 10 high-profile Sri Lanka cricketers who refused to tour Pakistan three months ago because of security concerns.
For the 16-man Pakistan squad, led by captain Azhar Ali, who has played 75 test matches, it will be their first test in Pakistan, while seamer Usman Shinwari and spinner Kashif Bhatti have yet to make their test debuts.
Opening batsman Shan Masood said all the team players have forgotten the two defeats against Australia in Brisbane and Adelaide and look forward to playing in front of the home crowd. “Hats off to the Sri Lankan Cricket board, to the Sri Lankan players for giving us the opportunity to host them over here,” said Masood, a left-handed batsman. “Hopefully whatever test cricket our players have missed out at home, I hope we get the chance to perform in front of our home crowds.”
Legspinner Yasir Shah, who is the fastest bowler to complete 200 wickets in test cricket, batsman Asad Shafiq and fast-improving test batsman Babar Azam are some of the exciting players who have not played in front of home crowds.
“This is an opportunity for our children to look at people like Azhar Ali, who has scored 300 and 200 (in an innings in a test match), to look at people like Asad Shafiq, who has scored centuries in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, everywhere around the globe,” Masood said.
Pakistan had its training session at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Monday while Sri Lanka rested in their team hotel and will train on Tuesday. The PCB has invited former Sri Lanka captain Bandula Warnapura and former Pakistan test captain and coach Javed Miandad for the test in Rawalpindi.
Warnapura and Miandad led their respective nations during the first-ever test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Karachi in 1982. Pakistan won that test by 204 runs.
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