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Pakistan take giant step with Sri Lanka hosting

LAHORE: From Sri Lanka team bus hero Meher Khalil to the three of the eight families of those who died in the March 2009 terrorists’ attacks, Sunday’s Twenty20 international in Lahore was more than a cricket match for everyone.

The match lasted just four hours but it left a lasting impression, both on and off the field. Since those attacks, the families have settled but the loss of their dear ones can never be forgotten. The match gave them a moment to remember them.

For the fans it was once again an exercise of going through the rigours of security and since this is the fourth time in two years that they had to go through four security checks and go-through metal gates they are getting used to it. It needed a huge effort to organize the match as heavy security is required to put in place.

The cost factor cannot be neglected. Convincing the Sri Lankan team was itself a great challenge as the scars of those tragic attacks led to the withdrawal of regular skipper Upul Tharanga, their head coach Nic Pothas and six other players turned down the visit.

For the new generation of Sri Lankan players, it was all a unique experience. Some were not even born when the Island was itself going through a civil war, so gun tottering security personnel was an unusual thing for them. Their make-shift captain Thissara Perera honestly admitted players were scared before coming to Pakistan.

But come the match day they forget everything. Lahore was buzzing since morning. Pakistanis are known for their big-hearted nature. They do everything with an open heart, with full zeal and vigour. So once again they came in big numbers, not from Lahore alone but from different many other cities as well.

Once they had the traditional puri-cholay-hulwa breakfast they started to descend on the Gaddafi stadium. The route to the stadium was adorned with pictures of Sri Lankan players and hoardings welcoming “friends in need” slogans.

“I have come from Multan,” said Amin Salim, a student of M.Phil in Punjab University. “I have travelled across the world but my best memories are from the 2005 tour of India when people received us so warmly. “It’s my wish that I live the day when India and Pakistan play once more and we get another chance to visit the Indian Punjab.”:

Pakistan Cricket Board did not repeat the mistake they did in the World XI series as they had reduced prices for tickets, that filled the Gaddafi stadium an hour before the toss and triggered a cacophony with the drum beating and slogans.

For Pakistan’s most experienced batsman Shoaib Malik the match is of great significance. He is the only player from both the sides to have featured in that fateful 2009 Test match as well. His tennis super-star wife was also a big attraction for the Pakistan fans as they repeatedly asked for her autograph.

For Mohammad Amir this is his first match before the home crowd. “I am on the moon, playing before my people for the first time and I hope and pray that this continues and we also have ODIs and Test matches in near future.”

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Najam Sethi predicted his board will be able to host full-fledged series in the next two years. It may be seemed a hope against hope, but with improved security, the day may not be too far.



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