The Sri Lankan cricket team arrived in Lahore under heavy security to play the final T20 International of a three-match series against Pakistan. The visit comes eight years after they suffered a gun and grenade attack in the same city.
International cricket was suspended in Pakistan after the 2009 gun attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, which left eight people dead and seven visiting players and their staff members injured.
Upon their arrival here last night, the Sri Lankan players and the officials were straightaway taken to a five- star hotel in a bomb-proof bus with hundreds of elite police commandos and the paramilitary rangers providing high level security.
Several Lankan players and officials, including the survivors who came under gunfire in 2009 and their head coach, had opted out of the T20 fixture after some voiced concern about security.
The 24-member strong Sri Lankan contingent became the first major international team to visit the country since the incident.
In the last eight years, Pakistan have only managed to get minnows Zimbabwe to tour Lahore in 2015, besides hosting the final of Pakistan Super League and a three-match Twenty20 series against a World XI – comprised of players from seven countries – earlier this year.
The attack on the Sri Lankan team led to international teams refusing to tour Pakistan and the ICC also relocated all matches of the 2011 World Cup, which were to be held in Pakistan, because no one was willing to play in the country.
Sri Lanka have played two Tests, five One-day Internationals and the first two T20 matches of the series in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan’s neutral venue since 2009. But Sri Lanka agreed to travel to Pakistan for the third and final T20 match.
An hour before the Sri Lankans arrived from Abu Dhabi, the Pakistan team had also reached the city from Dubai.
Besides the team and officials, Sri Lanka’s sports minister Dayasiri Jayasekera and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) President Thilanga Sumathipala are also on the tour.
They were all greeted by fully armed elite commandos, Inspector-General of Punjab police, the Lahore Mayor, top ranking Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials and other government dignitaries on the runaway and within no time were whisked away in bullet proof vehicles to their hotel from the terminal.
All the roads from the airport to the hotel were sealed off and one hour before the Sri Lankan team was due to land, the security forces had cordoned off all entrances and exit points at the airport. Mobile phone services were also temporarily suspended in the area, where the hotel is located.