Pakistan unveils bullet-proof buses for cricketers in bid to end boycott


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The Independent Online

Determined to end the boycott of their country by international teams, Pakistan's cricket authorities have announced plans to buy a fleet of armoured buses to protect visiting players against attacks. They will also build a new high-security stadium in the nation's capital.

The world's cricketing nations have avoided Pakistan since a Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by militants in the spring of 2009 in Lahore, an incident in which six policeman and a driver were killed but from which the cricketers somehow escaped largely unscathed.

Instead of being able to host its home matches in the country, it has been obliged to hold them abroad, usually in Dubai.

Officials are determined to convince teams that it is now safe to return and their cause was boosted at the weekend when Pakistan hosted two unofficial 20-over matches in the city of Karachi featuring a number of international stars, including players from South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Those who participated appeared to believe Pakistan, where cricket has tens of millions of hugely enthusiastic fans, was ready to again host international fixtures.

"After these two matches I hope people will believe that Pakistan is a safe country for cricket," Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka, said as he left, according to the Agence France-Presse. "We had two great days with good crowds coming and I am sure that with more efforts international cricket will return to Pakistan. It is unfortunate that the people of Pakistan are not getting international cricket on their grounds, but I am sure they will get it sooner than later."

It is not as though all international teams have refused to play in Pakistan. Last year a visiting team from Afghanistan played three one-day matches against a second-string Pakistani team. But cricket officials want to persuade the big names of cricket that now is the time to return.

It has been reported that Bangladesh may be the first to take up its invitation. Its team had been scheduled to play in Pakistan in April but the tour was called off amid security concerns. They may announce a series of One-Day internationals to be held at the end of the year, according to reports.

The announcement by the Pakistan Cricket Board to purchase the bullet-proof vehicles followed a meeting on Tuesday in the town of Abbottabad, now known around the world as the place where Osama bin Laden was found and killed in May 2011.

"To ensure best security protocols for the international teams, the board unanimously approved the purchase of bullet-proof buses to enable the PCB to achieve higher security measures for the visiting teams," the board said in a statement.

The board also heard an update on the building a new stadium in Islamabad. The stadium will be built with accommodation facilities for the team in order to try and help improve security. "This stadium, when complete, with a capacity of 50,000, will be the biggest cricket stadium in Pakistan," the statement added.