Sunday’s Twenty20 against Sri Lanka may take less than four hours to play but its significance could last far longer — convincing major nations that it is safe to tour Pakistan again.
Sri Lanka are the first top eight team to visit Pakistan, eight years after they were the last — caught up in a deadly attack by militant gunmen outside Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.
The attack sent Pakistan into sporting isolation, with Sri Lanka abandoning an agreed tour in 2011 after attacks on a naval base in Karachi.
But the same Gaddafi stadium will be buzzing with noise as a capacity 23,000 crowd is expected to watch the match under huge security arrangements.
“We are ready to host Sri Lanka team,” Haider Ashraf, Deputy Inspector General of Punjab Police, told reporters as he oversaw the final touches to security.
“International security consultants and a delegation from Sri Lanka are also on board. There are four layers of security checkpoints to enter the stadium and we are confident that the match will be held safely,” said Ashraf.
The city is adorned with pictures of Sri Lankan cricketers and welcome signs, as fans started to converge on the stadium from 11:00 am (0600GMT) although the gates will only open at 2:00 pm with the match starting four hours later.
Sri Lanka’s sport minister Dayasiri Jayasekara is and president of Sri Lanka Cricket Thilanga Sumithapala have also travelled to Lahore.
Sri Lankan skipper Thisara Perera is the only player from who has previously visited Pakistan — as part of an invitational World XI last month.
“It’s nice to be back in Pakistan,” said Perera on team’s arrival early Sunday. “We will be do our best to give best cricket to the fans.”
Pace spearhead Mohammad Amir will play for Pakistan at his home ground for the first time in his career.
Experienced Pakistan batsman Shoaib Malik is the only player from either side who took part in the fateful 2009 Test.An another character present on both occasions was Pakistan’s most famous fan, Sufi Jalil, known as Chacha Cricket (Uncle Cricket).
“It’s a historic day,” said Jalil. “We hope the match is held without any problem and like always I will be in the stands raising slogans for both the teams.
“I am fed up of going abroad, so I want cricket to be fully restored in Pakistan.”