Cricket to return to Pakistan when ICC sends in World XI

Two years after Sri Lanka team bus was attacked by gunmen, a 'goodwill' team could pave way for return of Test matches

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The Independent Online

More than two years since international cricket was suspended in Pakistan, plans are being laid for rehabilitation. It will be fraught with complexity and will need delicate negotiation, but the initial intention is to send a goodwill XI comprising star players from round the world.

If that succeeds – and, crucially, is seen to succeed – it may pave the way for the return of Test and limited-overs matches. Although the International Cricket Council is keen to proceed quickly, its biggest hurdle may be raising a team of sufficiently illustrious quality. The vast majority of players would be reluctant to travel, to the point of refusal. Foreign Office guidance for making journeys to several parts of the country including Peshawar, Baluchistan and Quetta in the west of the country remains unequivocal. It advises against.

Equally, the FCO website reports that 275,352 British nationals visited Pakistan last year and by far the majority had trouble-free journeys. The ICC is aware that Pakistan cannot continue indefinitely without staging any international cricket and is keen to offer support.

When the ICC's Pakistan Task team reported in June, the second of its 63 recommendations was that when member countries were confident – following their own risk assessments – they should consider touring Pakistan once more. But the report also said: "Unfortunately, it is not possible to indicate, let alone definitively state, when it will be safe for teams to tour."

The idea of an international goodwill XI was originally floated last year. The ICC is in the process of discussing the recruitment of potential players but is aware it will need some at the top of their game – as well as Indian players – to have any hope of capturing the public imagination in Pakistan. India have suspended cricketing ties with their neighbours, although the two countries met in the World Cup semi-final last March without a hitch.

Afghanistan played three limited-overs matches against Pakistan A in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Faisalabad in May, all without incident. Pakistan A won all three.

The Nepal women's team have also played in the country but only when a high-profile squad visits can there be any prospect of a return of regular fixtures.

Part of the problem for the ICC and part of its frustration is that Pakistan are reluctant to recognise that they have a problem. The last Test match played in the country was abandoned on 9 March 2009 after the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked by gunmen on its way to the ground in Lahore.

Eight people died, six of them policemen, and six of the Sri Lanka players were injured. It ended for ever the assertion that sports teams were safe from terrorism, and that alone makes it difficult to persuade a team to go. The ICC insists that a match could only be played if the public could attend.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are continuing to play, with their home fixtures taking place on neutral territory.

Their preferred venue appears to be the United Arab Emirates, where England will play them in three Test matches, four one-day internationals and three Twenty20 matches early next year.

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