Pakistan are hosting Sri Lanka in a three-match ODI series and three Twenty20s.
It is the first time since the Lankan team bus was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009 that a foreign team is conducting a tour of Pakistan.
Major teams have avoided Pakistan since that ambush, which killed eight people and injured several players. Needless to say, Sri Lanka Cricket has done the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the nation a huge favour by agreeing to send its players.
Have they done something foolhardy? Is Pakistan safe to host international cricket?
There might be an inherent difference between ‘perception and reality’ about the security situation, according to the Pakistani cricketers.
It is a tough job for the PCB to convince the international teams that there is no security threat for them in the Islamic Republic, which is facing a great deal of insurgency.
But former cricketers of the subcontinent nation are of the view that instead of isolating Pakistan in these difficult times, international cricketers should come forward and help the country.
Pakistanis are extremely passionate about cricket and it is only next to religion for a great many.
Probably, they need healthy activities like sports to vent out their frustration, and cricket could also provide an alternative to extremism.
Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has said that it is time for other boards to reconsider their approach towards playing in Pakistan.
The years since the infamous 2009 attack have been an age of isolation; no Test cricket has been played in the country, and only a few brief limited-overs series.
This has not merely deprived the team of home advantage, but also imposed a burden on the players. No cricket in Pakistan has meant an existence in hotel rooms and being cut off from their families and friends.
The wonders of the Champions Trophy triumph in 2017 should not create the illusion that the sport has been impervious to nine years without hosting a Test.
The lack of international cricket at home has deprived children of seeing cricketers up close, and so wanting to play themselves.
The financial cost of playing without a home has been crippling. Every time Pakistan play in the UAE, they must pay $50,000 per day to rent the stadiums; when they play at home they just need to pay for electricity.
In the UAE, they must also pay $200-250 per person a night for hotels – both for Pakistan themselves and the touring team; at home, these costs are half as much.
When the Pakistan Super League takes place, the PCB must pay for six teams to stay in the UAE for a month.
A lack of cash means that no new academies have been established in the last five years.
As foreign coaches have not wanted to come, young players have been denied their expertise.
They have also not been able to practise on wickets with a different character, and it is a perpetual struggle to get foreign groundsmen to the country to prepare wickets designed to favour seam bowling.
The women’s team have also suffered, missing out on cash to fund better contracts and training support.
All that being said, Pakistan can be seen as an unsafe place. According to the 2012 UN murder stats, Pakistan ranks 10th in regards to the quantum of murders per annum. 13,846 people lost their lives to violence.
It also means that there’s a similar amount of blood-hungry terrorists walking the streets of Pakistan ready and willing to take a life.
That means tons and tons of security, as has been evident from a recently publicised video. Tickets have been pre-sold reducing the likelihood of long queues on game day.
Locals need to bring their national ID cards and submit to a frisk search and metal detectors. Players and officials will have VIP state security protection, including at the hotels and while in transit. Fences. Checkpoints. The army.
None of this is foolproof, but it is about as good as it could possibly be.
Irrespective, it is an individual’s right to decline putting themselves somewhere that they feel unsafe. In the end, playing cricket is only a job.
And maybe, just maybe, getting Sri Lanka to tour Pakistan was an impulsive idea that could have been avoided. For the country is far from being safe, and it is a place that could be privy to a military coup any given day.
Given the beefed-up security measures the cricketers are having to undergo in order to play an enjoyable match, it simply defeats the purpose of organising a cricket match.
Ultimately, the “gentleman’s game” should be played in a safe haven, and Pakistan does not fit the bill. It is a shamefully sad state of affairs in a cricket-crazy nation; but a reality, nevertheless.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE