Pakistan’s hopes for Test cricket to return to the country have suffered a substantial blow, as 10 prominent Sri Lanka cricketers have refused to travel to Pakistan for the forthcoming limited-overs tour.
By hosting the limited-overs series first, the PCB had intended to prove to Sri Lanka players and officials that the nation was once more secure enough to host Test cricket, starting with the teams’ World Test Championship matches, presently scheduled for December. But with Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Suranga Lakmal, Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne all having pulled out of the limited-overs tour, its capacity to further the PCB’s aims are significantly curtailed. Even if this tour goes off without a hitch, Sri Lanka’s frontline Test players may remain unconvinced about the December tour. And, if that is the case, SLC is almost certain to refuse to play those Tests in Pakistan. While they can be convinced to send a weakened limited-overs side to the country, they are unlikely to do so for Tests that have Championship points at stake.
SLC had held a meeting on Monday with the players who were part of the preliminary squad for the tour, to inform them about the security arrangements in Pakistan, which the board itself is largely happy with. In fact, a former Sri Lankan Air Force Commander had conveyed his confidence in those arrangements to the players. But the board has ultimately respected the players’ wishes. According to an SLC release, chief selector Asantha de Mel had told players that refusals to tour Pakistan on this occasion will not affect their selection for future series.
Both the present ODI captain, Karunaratne, and the T20 captain, Malinga, have refused to tour.
This is not Sri Lanka’s first trip to Pakistan since the Lahore attack on the Sri Lanka team. In fact, they had played a solitary T20 there in 2017, also with a weakened squad. But Thisara Perera, who captained the Sri Lanka side in that match in Lahore, is this time among the players who have refused to travel. Thisara had also been part of the World XI team that played in Pakistan earlier that year.
Of the players currently in the frame for selection, only Suranga Lakmal had been on the team bus that was attacked by terrorists in 2009. Nevertheless, many younger players will have heard of the ordeal from former players, some of whom remain scarred by the experience. Among the arguments this current group of players mounted their refusal on, is that some other team should be the first to resume Tests in Pakistan, rather than another Sri Lanka side.
The PCB will be especially disheartened at the players’ refusal, because they had been the first to send a team to Sri Lanka following this year’s Easter Attacks on the island. There was a time, in the weeks immediately following the bombings, when cricket tours on the island faced an uncertain future. But the PCB had sent the Pakistan Under 19 team to Sri Lanka for five ODIs only a month after the Attacks, which helped demonstrate the improved security situation. Since then, Sri Lanka has hosted Bangladesh and New Zealand at venues around the country.
But although the Sri Lanka board had at one stage said it had received “very positive” feedback from the security team it had sent to assess the situation in Pakistan, their players have ultimately made their own decisions. The PCB will hope there is still a chance the limited-overs tour can still be a springboard to hosting Tests at some point in the near future. But the chances of Sri Lanka being that touring Test team have diminished significantly.
The limited-overs series, which features three ODIs and three T20s, is set to run from September 27 to October 9. The ODIs will all be played in Karachi, before Lahore hosts the T20s.