Sri Lanka are likely to become the first team to resume Tests in Pakistan, in December. This time, they appear prepared to send what will be very close to a full-strength team.
Two Sri Lanka Cricket officials described progress on the tour as “very positive”. Board CEO Ashley de Silva also said that players – even the seniors who had pulled out of the recent limited-overs tour – have “consented” to touring, following internal discussions. The feedback from the senior players themselves is that while one or two have not fully committed to the tour yet, they are all open to being convinced.
The tour does have one, potentially two, significant hurdles to overcome before SLC confirms it. First, it must be approved by the board’s executive committee, which is likely to make its decision “in about a week” according to de Silva. Then, SLC may send another security delegation to sign off on the arrangements. Although the board had commissioned reports on security plans for matches in Karachi and Lahore, ahead of the recent limited-overs series, they had not sent a delegation to Rawalpindi, where one of the Tests is scheduled to be played. Rawalpindi is the Pakistan military’s headquarters.
While all SLC officials stressed that the board wanted to be sure of the security arrangements for themselves, de Silva also described the security plans sent over by the Pakistan Cricket Board as “quite convincing”.
Although 10 senior Sri Lanka players had withdrawn from the recent limited-overs tour of Pakistan, almost all of those players are also understood to now be satisfied with the security situation. In addition to the reports provided by both boards, positive feedback from the players who did tour Pakistan last month, is understood to have helped win the senior players over.
More than one player did express apprehension about being confined to hotel rooms for the duration of their stay in Pakistan. But they did not believe that to be a substantial enough reason to refuse to tour.
If the tour goes ahead as per the PCB’s plans, these will be the first Tests played in the country in 10 years. Sri Lanka were also the last team to play Tests there; it was the ambush by terrorists on their team bus in Lahore in March 2009 that effectively ended international cricket in Pakistan. Several members of that team were injured in the attack, with Thilan Samaraweera the most seriously hurt among them, taking a bullet to the thigh.
No international cricket was played in Pakistan in the first half of this decade, but cricket has gradually begun to return over the last few years. The return of Test cricket to the country, however, will be the biggest sign that Pakistan is ready to resume normal cricketing relations, instead of having to play their home matches in the UAE.
If the tour goes ahead as currently pencilled, Rawalpindi will host the first Test beginning on December 11 and Karachi will host the second, starting on December 19.