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Sri Lanka board approves first Pakistan tour since 2009

KARACHI: Sri Lanka’s cricket board has approved a tour to Pakistan, eight years after an attack against the team brought top international games there to a standstill.

Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala said after a security assessment, the team had been cleared to play three Twenty20 internationals including “at least one” in Lahore, scene of the 2009 attack which left eight people dead.

Any tour would require government approval before the team is sent abroad.

“We have had our security experts visit and make an assessment, and things look positive with things improving all over the country and especially Lahore being cleared,” Sumathipala was quoted as saying in a statement on the sidelines of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting in Colombo over the weekend.

“We have three T20 games coming up against Pakistan in September and we would like to play at least one of those games in Lahore,” he added.

Addressing the ACC meeting in Colombo, Sumathipala also called for an end to Pakistan´s isolation and urged countries to play there.

He recalled that several Test nations did not want to visit Sri Lanka at the height of the Tamil separatist conflict, when bombs were exploding in the capital in the mid-1990s.

“Sri Lanka suffered through three decades of terrorism and war and at one stage no one wanted to come here — Pakistan stood by us then, as did India,” Sumathipala said.

Sri Lanka ended its long-running ethnic war in May 2009 when the top Tamil rebel leadership was wiped out in a military offensive that sparked allegations that 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by troops.

The Sri Lankan board statement also quoted Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Najam Sethi saying they had set up state-of-the-art security and surveillance to make their cities safe.

Pakistani cricket officials welcomed the decision, lauding the move on social media.

“Thank you Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala. We look forward to hosting you and the Sri Lankan team,” the PCB wrote on Twitter.

PCB chairman Najam Sethi hailed the announcement by SLC president in a series of tweets.

“PCB welcomes statement by SLC President to hold couple of T20 matches in Pak at the conclusion of their series in UAE in October 2017.”

“I just returned from ACC moot in Colombo where talks with SL Board President yielded good news for Pakistan.”

Since 2009, the only international team to visit Pakistan is Zimbabwe, who played five limited-overs games in Lahore in 2015. Pakistan play their “home” internationals in the United Arab Emirates.

But there were hopeful signs when Pakistan successfully staged the final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore under heavy security in March.

Pakistan, in an attempt to bring cricket home, is also scheduled to host an ICC World XI team next month for a three-match T20I series.

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Azhar Hashmi

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