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Pakistan’s tryst with touring teams after the 2009 Sri Lankan bus attack

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Less than a week after New Zealand decided to call off its tour of Pakistan, England became the latest team to withdraw from touring the Asian nation on Monday. 

Had the series proceeded as planned, it would have been England’s first tour of Pakistan since 2005. 

However, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cited security concerns while insisting that the mental and physical well-being of their players remains their highest priority. 

The news came as a big blow for the Pakistan cricket team as England’s men as well as the women’s teams were scheduled to play two Twenty20 internationals. 

What are the possible reasons behind teams refusing to tour Pakistan?

Both England and New Zealand received their fair share of backlash after refusing to play Pakistan in the Asian side’s backyard. New Zealand even practised at the Pindi Cricket Stadium ahead of their scheduled series before calling off the tour hours before the opening ODI.

The abrupt abandonment of the tour hence came as a shock to Pakistan and the wider cricketing world. However, it’s worth mentioning that teams touring Pakistan have been extremely cautious ever since a terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009 that left several players and staff from the island nation injured. 

The incident took place on March 3, 2009 when a bus carrying the Sri Lankan team in Lahore close to the Gaddafi Stadium was attacked by Islamist militants which marked the beginning of a long hiatus of visiting cricketing nations in Pakistan.

In fact, it took six years for Pakistan to welcome international cricket back to the country, with Zimbabwe becoming the first nation in 2015 to agree to a limited-overs series in Pakistan.

The likes of Afghanistan and Kenya also toured in 2013 and 2014 respectively, but those matches were not granted international status.

Which teams have toured Pakistan after the Sri Lanka bus attack?

Shortly after men’s cricket returned to Pakistan, Bangladesh decided to send their women’s team for two T20Is and two ODIs in Karachi in 2015.

Eight years after the horrific attack of 2009, Sri Lanka decided to travel to Pakistan in 2017 albeit for only a single match. Several Sri Lankan players seemed hesitant but Thisara Perera supported the tour.

“It’s nice to be in Pakistan again,” Perera had then said. “We are thankful for a warm welcome and will do our best to entertain the crowd with some good cricket.”

In 2018, West Indies became the third nation to officially tour Pakistan since 2009. In what was a short T20I series, most of the Windies’ big names like Chris Gayle, Carlos Brathwaite and Jason Holder decided to step away from the tour. 

With big names absent from the Windies squad, Pakistan completed a rather easy clean sweep of the three-match series.

In October 2019, Sri Lanka returned again in what was a tour comprising Tests, ODIs and T20Is. It was the first time in 10 years that Pakistan hosted Test cricket in their backyard. While the first Test ended in a draw, the home team produced a masterclass to win the second match by 263 runs.

A year later, Bangladesh were scheduled to tour Pakistan for a one-off ODI and one Test match, but the series was scrapped due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

South Africa the last team to tour Pakistan

In December 2020, Cricket South Africa confirmed its tour of Pakistan, comprising two Tests and three T20Is, to be played between January and February 2021. Babar Azam’s men were utterly dominant throughout the series, winning both the Tests and clinching the T20I series 2-1.

Afghanistan series postponed

The Afghanistan cricket team was scheduled to tour Pakistan in September 2021 for a three-match ODI series, but that fell through due to logistical challenges. The teams were originally scheduled to play in UAE, but the rescheduling of the 2021 Indian T20 League saw the matches moved to Sri Lanka.

However, with Sri Lanka announcing a 10-day lockdown, Pakistan offered to play as hosts before logistical challenges became an issue and the two teams mutually decided to postpone the series to 2022.

England and New Zealand pulling out off their respective tours has unsurprisingly angered Pakistan cricket fans, but it’s difficult to question the decision made by the respective boards with player safety being paramount.

Featured photo: AFP / Randy Brooks

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