LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Najam Sethi said Thursday that his board was inviting Sri Lanka to play a home series, five years after they survived a terrorist attack in Lahore. Sethi asserted that Pakistan was ‘ready’ to host international cricket in the country once again. The move by the PCB came two days after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse promised his Pakistan counterpart Mamnoon Hussain to send his cricket team during a meeting on the sidelines of a summit in China. President Rajapaksa’s said that his cricket team “must go to Pakistan and play there.”
No foreign team has toured Pakistan since militants attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009, killing eight people, six security men and two civilians, and injuring seven visiting players. Cricketers injured in the attack included Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana. “We are sending a letter of invitation to Sri Lanka Cricket after their President promised to send his country’s cricket team to Pakistan and we hope for a positive outcome,” Sethi told a press conference at Gaddafi Stadium here yesterday.
“We are ready to host them, have mentioned the gap in our cricket commitments and want to use this opportunity. Our top priority is to host an international team and we are making efforts for that,” he added. Sethi was holding his first press conference after being restored as chairman of the PCB management committee by Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday, four days after an Islamabad High Court ruling suspended him and reinstated Zaka Ashraf.
Sethi said Pakistan was very much concerned about being isolated, without major international cricket in Pakistan. “We have heard the positive statement by the President of Sri Lanka and we are writing them and offering them a home series in Pakistan. We are writing them that there is no security problem and you are welcome and we will provide you the maximum security with the help of the Punjab Government.
Since the 2009 attacks Pakistan have been forced to play their home series in the United Arab Emirates. This is not the first time the Sri Lanka Government has hinted at having intentions to help Pakistan in breaking their isolation, but the discussions never bred anything concrete previously. The PCB also tried hard to negotiate home series’ with the Bangladesh Cricket Board, but the series never happened. Bangladesh twice agreed to play short limited-over series in Pakistan to end their isolation but each time backed out for security reasons. The PCB had tried to win back the confidence of players by organising a lucrative Twenty20 league, offering top players from around the world a chance to earn over $100,000, tax-free, in 10 days. But the plan was hit by logistical problems, and the board had to postpone it indefinitely.
Pakistan are set to tour Sri Lanka in August to play two Tests and three one-day internationals. They will then host Australia and New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates from October 3 to December 19. They are scheduled to host Zimbabwe in December to January, but that period could be utilised to host Sri Lanka.
‘I will only stay if the patron wants me to’: To a question, Sethi said that if the patron of the PCB, Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif, wanted him to stay on as the chairperson, then he would do so. “I said this before also, I didn’t want to come here (PCB). This is the patron’s decision. If he wants to keep me as chairman, I’ll stay. If not, then he can bring someone else in,” he added. Commenting on whether or not the cricket team has been paid for the last two tournaments, which include the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20, he said that the payments had been made. “As of today, the cheques have been signed off and sent to the players. I don’t like keeping anyone’s money on hold,” he added. Sethi said that the Supreme Court has also sent him the orders to formally hand over the responsibility of PCB to him. Regarding the security of the PCB, Sethi said that there was no threat to the PCB or him for that matter. “I roam around in an armoured car by choice,” Sethi concluded.
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