International cricket’s return to Pakistan: New Zealand, Australia, England, West Indies tours | Security


There was a hint of disappointment as the second and final Test between Pakistan and New Zealand fizzled to a close in Karachi on Friday, players shaking hands due to bad light when the hosts had 15 runs to win and the visitors one wicket.

But a silver lining is the match was another contest between Pakistan and a touring side in the Asian country — and that’s significant.

Until 2022, New Zealand, Australia, England and the West Indies hadn’t visited Pakistan since 2005 or earlier, yet all four of those teams have done so in the last 12 months.

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Against the backdrop of isolation triggered by a deadly attack during Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan in 2009, a glut of international action has returned to the cricket-mad nation.

When Australia landed in Islamabad for its first visit to Pakistan since 1998, about 4000 police commandos and military personnel were on hand.

Guns were everywhere the Australian players looked: at the airport, lining streets, outside their hotel, and inside, too.

Leaders in cricket and government were doing everything they could in a bid to prevent a repeat of the 2009 attack, when a convoy of the Sri Lankan team’s bus and a van transporting match officials was targeted by 12 militants in Lahore.

The bus and van were sprayed with bullets and grenades, resulting in eight deaths and many more injuries.

Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene and several teammates were among the wounded.

Motivated by a desire to cut Pakistan off from the world, the terrorists saw cricket as one of few avenues still keeping the country connected with the globe.

New Zealand was scheduled to visit Pakistan later in 2009, but the Kiwis pulled out after the attack.

“We’re not going and I think that’s pretty clear,” said James Vaughan, New Zealand Cricket’s then chief executive.

“I don’t think any international team will be going to Pakistan in the foreseeable future.

“It’s very frightening that for the first time a cricket team appears to be the specific target of terrorist action. That’s never happened before. All previous incidents have been about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I think this is a very frightening one for world cricket.”

The international game’s avoidance of Pakistan was undeniably necessary, but it left a cricket-crazed nation that’s since ballooned to more than 230 million people yearning for the return of a treasured pastime.

Settling for the United Arab Emirates as an adopted home meant millions of Pakistanis couldn’t be in the stands when Mizbah-ul-Haq smacked a 56-ball ton against Australia in 2014, the fastest Test century in history at the time.

Nor could millions of Pakistanis witness live Yasir Shah’s eight-wicket haul against the Kiwis in 2018.

Nor the arrival of prodigious left-arm fast Shaheen Afridi on the Test scene in the same year.

Zimbabwe was the first country to tour Pakistan since the 2009 attack when it visited for one-dayers and T20s in 2015.

“We miss you, Australia,” read one sign in the crowd as Pakistan met Zimbabwe.

Of the 12 countries categorised as full members of the International Cricket Council — excluding Pakistan — India, Afghanistan and Ireland are the only nations yet to tour Pakistan since 2009.

Afghanistan and Ireland are scheduled to play in Pakistan in 2025.

At that point, and for many years after, India and Pakistan will probably remain caught in a knot entangling politics with cricket.

But despite the distancing of cricket’s biggest giant, the international game has gravitated back to its western neighbour.

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