Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

Pakistan v Sri Lanka: Test cricket set for 'historic' return a decade after fatal terrorist attack

The attack plunged Pakistan into sporting isolation during its years-long battle with militancy, with all "home" venues played in the UAE

Pakistan captain Azhar Ali believes Sri Lanka's return to the country for the upcoming Test series "will send a strong message to the world", a decade after a fatal terrorist attack on their team drove international cricket away.

Eight people were killed and several players and officials were wounded when militants opened fire on the Sri Lankan team bus travelling to a Test in Lahore in 2009.

The attack plunged Pakistan into sporting isolation during its years-long battle with militancy, with all "home" venues played in the UAE.

While Pakistan's relocation to the UAE proved fruitful - with the Test team reaching the top of the world rankings for the first time - the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have made strides in recent years to take international cricket back to their country, albeit only in the limited overs formats.

The return of Sri Lanka is the biggest statement so far, and captain Azhar is grateful to their rivals for agreeing to play a two-match Test series, with the first match starting on Wednesday.

"It's a historic occasion and all the players are excited to be part of this," Azhar, who has played 75 Tests - but, until now, none at home - said at a press conference in Rawalpindi with his counterpart, Dimuth Karunaratne.

"We thank the Sri Lankan team for coming here. The last Test was also against them so their visit will send a strong message to the world that we need to support each other."

Sri Lanka will play two Tests under heavy security, one in Rawalpindi and the second in Karachi, ending a decade-long absence for cricket's five-day format. The matches will also be the first home Tests for all 16 players in the Pakistan squad.

"Cricket is the biggest thing and if the youngsters can't see matches here then it's a big loss for our cricket and budding players," Azhar said. "I am sure our grounds will host more matches in the years to come."

Pakistan batsman Shan Masood shared his captain's sentiments and believes top-level international cricket being held in the country will only boost the team's future prospects.

"Bringing Test cricket here is our biggest accomplishment," Masood said. "This is a chance for our young generation to finally watch their heroes and it was unfortunate that legends like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan couldn't play in their home grounds in the peak of their careers.

"I feel this will propel Pakistan as a generation and the future generations of this country to take up cricket. It's almost going to be like everyone is making their debuts, because we're all playing in Pakistan for the first time."

Karunaratne, who refused to tour Pakistan for a limited over series in September-October this year, said he and his teammates are delighted to be returning for this series.

"I am really excited. The players are excited to be part of this historic occasion," he said.

Sri Lanka are on the up in Test cricket after becoming the first Asian team to win a series in South Africa earlier this year. They then drew a Test series 1-1 against New Zealand at home in August, their first fixture in the World Test championship.

Sri Lanka have not lost a series in Pakistan since 1992, winning two and drawing two. They beat Pakistan 2-0 in their last series in the UAE two years ago, a win Karunaratne hopes will motivate them.

"We played good cricket in 2017 so that confidence is with us," he said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are smarting from a 3-0 defeat in South Africa and 2-0 in Australia this year.

"Test cricket demands discipline and [Sri Lanka] are a well disciplined side, whether playing at their home or away so we have to play disciplined and good cricket," Azhar said, adding that as captain he has to "lead by example".

Updated: December 10, 2019 04:54 PM

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