There is a sense of buzz across the country over the prospect of the return of international cricket.
Karachi: Delighted Pakistani cricket fans, players and politicians Monday welcomed Bangladesh's decision to tour the country and end its three-year exile from hosting international matches. Bangladesh on Sunday agreed to a short tour during which they will play one 50-over game and a Twenty20 international on April 29 and 30 in Lahore, a move hailed by former captain and current allrounder Shahid Afridi.
"It's a major breakthrough and very good news for the whole nation, for Pakistan team and millions of fans who have been deprived of international game for the last three years," he said.
No international matches have been played in Pakistan since militants attacked the Sri Lankan team bus during the Lahore Test in March 2009, leaving eight people dead and seven visiting players and an assistant coach injured.
Foreign teams shunned Pakistan as a cricket venue after the attacks, forcing them to play their home series on neutral venues, mostly in the United Arab Emirates.
Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar praised efforts from Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Zaka Ashraf to revive internationals. "PCB's efforts have finally borne fruit and Bangladesh's visit will help bring international cricket back to Pakistan and will motivate more teams to come to our country," Khar said.
Intikhab Alam, the PCB's director of international cricket and a former national coach and player, said the Bangladesh tour could open the way for other teams to follow. "PCB in the leadership of [Zaka] Ashraf was endeavouring to bring cricket back in the country and the Bangladesh tour will be the beginning of a bigger thing in the future," Alam told AFP.
But former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif sounded a note of caution. "We must not leave any loopholes in security because we cannot afford a minor mistake or any lapse in arrangements," said Latif. "Other teams will also be motivated after Bangladesh tour but we have to make the best arrangements."
Interior minister Rehman Malik reiterated a promise to put in place stringent security measures for the Bangladesh team. "We will leave no stone unturned and put in place the best possible security for the Bangladesh team as per our promise and make this tour an exemplary one so that other teams also tour us," said Malik.
Fans were ecstatic at the news. "It will be great to watch international matches on our home ground," said Hameed Ali, a student in Lahore. "I cannot forget the dreadful attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus and was due to watch that day’s play. It's too early to say that Bangladesh's visit will help bring bigger teams, but let's keep our fingers crossed. I am waiting to get a ticket for the April 30 game."