Pakistan marked the return of Sri Lanka with a 3-0 Twenty20 series whitewash on Sunday, as officials hoped the match will help re-establish the country’s reputation for hosting international cricket.
The third and final Twenty20 match, which Pakistan comfortably won by 36 runs at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, was Sri Lanka’s first since their team bus was attacked near the same venue in March 2009.
The first two matches, which Pakistan won by seven and two wickets respectively, were played in Abu Dhabi before Sri Lanka flew to Lahore in a 24-hour fly-in, fly-out arrangement.
A rampaging Pakistan side did not show any mercy to their opponents as they piled up 180-3 in their 20 overs after the visitors had won the toss and opted to field first against the hosts.
Sri Lanka, in pursuit of Pakistan’s 181-run target, lost early wickets and managed to score 144 runs in their allotted 20 overs.
Shoaib Malik, the only player from both the sides to have also featured in the fateful 2009 Lahore Test, smashed a 24-ball 51 with five boundaries and two sixes.
He added 75 for the third wicket with Babar Azam (34 not out) in just 45 balls. Openers Umar Amin (37-ball 45 with a six and three boundaries) and Fakhar Zaman (27-ball 31 with three fours) were the other contributors.
Pace bowler Mohammad Amir, playing his first international match before the home crowd after making his debut soon after the terrorists’ attacks, finished with a career best 4-13 as Sri Lanka managed 144-9 in 20 overs.
Only Dasun Shanaka batted with aggression during a 36-ball 54 with five boundaries and three sixes before he became one of Faheem Ashraf’s two wickets.
This becomes Pakistan’s second 3-0 whitewash in a Twenty20 series, having previously beaten the West Indies in UAE last year.
Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to field. —DawnNews
Trailing 2-0 in the series, Sri Lanka brought in all-rounder Chaturanga de Silva in place of Ashan Priyanjan.
Pakistan made two changes from the side which won the second Twenty20 by two wickets in Abu Dhabi.
They brought in paceman Mohammad Amir and Umar Amin in place of injured fast bowler Usman Shinwari and the out-of-form Ahmed Shehzad.
Amir is playing his first international match at his home ground.
Soldiers stand guard next to cricket fans arriving to watch 3rd T20I match. ─AP
Cricket comes home
Earlier, the cricket teams arrived at the heavily-guarded stadium on Sunday afternoon, DawnNews reported.
Cricket fans dance during the third Twenty20 match against Sri Lanka. —AP
Fans also made their way to the stadium to watch the first international cricket match featuring a major Test-playing team on Pakistan soil since the 2009 terror attack.
Najam Sethi, in a message shared on Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) Twitter page, welcomed fans and Lahore’s residents to the stadium, saying that “it [today] was a historic day”.
Air surveillance will be in place during the match with fans having to go through various checkpoints and body searches.
Cricket-starved fans bought tickets in large numbers to witness Sunday’s match despite the series already being won by Pakistan.
Sri Lankan team arrives in Lahore.—DawnNews
“What’s important to me is that we are hosting an international match and show the world that it’s safe to play in Pakistan,” said Ghulam Abbas, a college student. “I think after the West Indies tour, the doors of international cricket will be wide open in Pakistan.”
Sri Lanka played two Tests, five one-day internationals and the first two Twenty20 matches of the series in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan’s neutral venue since 2009.
Sri Lanka team lands in Lahore
The Sri Lankan cricket team arrived at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport in the early hours of Sunday to play the the final Twenty20 International match at a heavily-guarded Gaddafi Stadium.
Sarfraz Ahmed and Thushara Perera have high hopes for today’s showdown. — DawnNews
According to DawnNews, the team received a warm welcome in the city and was escorted to their hotel amid tight security.
The team and their officials were taken to a five-star hotel in a bomb-proof bus with hundreds of security guards on the roads and at the resort.
Sri Lankan Captain Thushara Perera expressed joy upon his arrival in Pakistan and said that his team would try and give their best on the field today.
“Its nice to be in Pakistan again,” said Perera, who was part of the World XI last month. “We are thankful for a warm welcome and will do our best to entertain the crowd with some good cricket.”
Sri Lanka team arrives in Lahore ahead of the final Twenty20. ─Photo courtesy: PCB Twitter
Pakistan Skipper Sarfraz Ahmad, in a video message, thanked the Sri Lankan team for returning to Pakistan and told fans to expect great cricketing spirit from both sides in tonight’s showdown, DawnNews reported.
“We are thankful to the Sri Lankan team for coming to Pakistan and I request the fans to support both the teams during the match,” said Sarfraz.
Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan Tillakaratne two of Sri Lanka’s survivors in the 2009 attack that killed eight have also returned to Lahore as team manager and batting coach respectively.
Several Sri Lankan players, however, opted out of playing in Pakistan. Regular captain Upul Tharanga, Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal and Akila Dananjaya have all pulled out of today’s showdown.
Security plans for the third T20 match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been finalised, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations Lahore Haider Ashraf told DawnNews on Saturday.
Troops stand guard at the main entrance of Gaddafi Stadium ahead of the match. ─ AP
“The security officials are trying their best to ensure that the match is played in a secure environment,” he said. “All institutions, as well as the Sri Lankan squad, are satisfied with the security arrangements.”
The traffic plan has been laid out ahead of the match and four points have been marked for parking for spectators, which include Punjab University hostel and Liberty LDA Parking Plaza. More than two thousand traffic wardens have been appointed for duty.
Vehicles will not be allowed to pass from Ferozepur Road to Liberty Chowk. The route from Muslim Town Mor to Kalma Chowk will also be closed for traffic. M.M. Alam Road, however, will be open for traffic.
A policeman stands guard outside Gaddafi Cricket Stadium. ─AFP
Several thousand security officials have been deployed on duty with armed military personnel around the stadium and on the route of team busses to the stadium.
Hundreds of security cameras have also been installed to keep a close watch on the movement of spectators.
A “dispersal plan” has also been laid out, CTO Lahore Rai Ejaz said. Once the match is over, fans will leave Gaddafi Stadium through shuttle services.
A security jammer vehicle is parked outside Gaddafi Cricket Stadium. ─ AFP
“This is not just a cricket match, it is a matter of Pakistan’s honour,” the DIG maintained.
He advised the residents of Lahore to avoid visiting Liberty Market unless they have “some important business or wish to watch the match”.
“We have tried our best to ensure that residents do not face problems regarding traffic this time,” Ejaz claimed.
2017: The year cricket returned to Pakistan
The Pakistan Super League final in March also conducted in Lahore featured several overseas players. It was the first small step toward winning back the confidence of foreign teams and reviving international cricket at home after an attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009 during a test match at the same stadium in Lahore.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), in collaboration with the ICC, last month organised a three-match T20 Independence Cup against a World XI, led by South Africa’s Faf du Plessis, at Gaddafi Stadium.
And now Sri Lanka will round off a T20 series which Pakistan already leads 2-0 after winning in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Pakistan has only hosted Zimbabwe for a short limited-overs series two years ago since the fateful 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team that shut the doors of international cricket on Pakistan.
Since then, UAE has become Pakistan’s “home” venue away from home as the PCB gradually tries to convince foreign teams that it’s safe to play international cricket in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Cricket Board is hoping Sunday’s match will be a small step towards having regular matches played in Pakistan with the country already planning to host West Indies in a three-match series next month.
“It’s a historic moment,” PCB chairman Najam Sethi told AFP on Friday. “With improved security we hope fully fledged international cricket will return to Pakistan in the next two years.”