Spectators at the Pindi stadium to watch Pakistan players in a domestic Twenty20 tournament. (AP Photo)
Islamabad: Pakistan might still be a no-go zone for staging international cricket, but a team from Britain began a week-long tour with a match against a local college team on Tuesday.
The visiting team comprises university students and players from the Marylebone Cricket Club. "Pakistan really needs cricket because cricket is the most important thing in the country and it keeps everyone going," captain Kamal Alam said.
"It's almost like taking the oxygen out of the country when you don't have international cricket." There has been no top-level international cricket played in Pakistan since a terrorist attack on Sri Lanka's team bus and security convoy in 2009. Bangladesh is in talks about a tour this month, which would end that isolation.
A high powered security delegation — led by Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) president Mustafa Kamal — visited Pakistan last month and got a briefing on proposed security from Pakistan government officials. The delegation also visited Lahore and were shown a mock demonstration how the teams will be escorted from hotel to the ground.
The Pakistan Cricket Board is still awaiting a response from BCB, which has submitted its security report to the government for clearance of the tour. The team from Britain will play one-day matches against Pakistan's under-19 team in Lahore on Wednesday and Friday.
Last year Afghanistan's national team played three one-dayers against Pakistan's second-string team and Hong Kong also sent their team on a training tour to Pakistan before last month's World Twenty20 qualifier in the United Arab Emirates.
"It's almost three years ago that unfortunately we had a nasty incident ... we do sincerely hope that things will go from here onwards and we will have more teams coming to Pakistan and playing here," PCB director Intikhab Alam said while welcoming the team from Britain.
"We are trying our level best try to convince people, the national teams abroad that this place is safe. "I'm sure when you play here and you meet people and when you go back you will have some general idea that things are not that bad.
With Pakistan fans deprived of watching international matches at home, big crowds of around 20,000 turned up at the Pindi Cricket Stadium last week to watch a local Twenty20 tournament in which national players like Saeed Ajmal, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul and Shoaib Malik represented their respective cities. It's the second tour of the team from Britain to Pakistan in the past seven years which also raise funds for education in Afghanistan.
"When you see things from outside it's a completely different picture which you see in the media, a lot of stuff is distorted. Until you can actually come to a country and see it for yourself with your own eyes, you can never get a good picture of what's going on," Kamal said.