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Eight years after attack, Sri Lanka's cricketers return to Lahore

A Pakistani soldier stands guard outside the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium ahead of a Twenty20 international cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Lahore. Reuters/Mohsin Raza

Even though the three-match series’ outcome is already decided, thousands of Pakistanis are looking with eager anticipation at Sunday's T20 international match that will see Sri Lanka return to Lahore for the first time since gunmen killed seven people in an attack on their bus in the city in 2009.

Pakistan, who have taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, will play against Sri Lanka at the Gaddafi Stadium in in a final match that holds great significance for both sides.

For this is the first time that a top cricketing nation is playing in Pakistan since a 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team. The deadly attack on the team bus outside the same stadium sent Pakistan into sporting isolation.

Now, eight years later, the stadium is buzzing with thousands of fans.

“There are four layers of security checkpoints to enter the stadium and we are confident that the match will be held safely,” Haider Ashraf, Deputy Inspector General of Punjab Police said, adding that international security consultants and a delegation from Sri Lanka are also on board.

Pakistan open to international cricket

According to the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Najam Sethi, “The match is a big signal that Pakistan is ready for big-time cricket.”

Sri Lanka Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala said Pakistan should no longer be overlooked, citing his own country's decades of isolation during its civil war with Tamil separatists.

“In those 30 years Pakistan never stopped its cricket tours so we cannot leave Pakistan in cricketing isolation,” Sumathipala said.

Sumlathipala is in Pakistan along with Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara.

Sri Lankan skipper Thisara Perera is the only player who has previously toured Pakistan as part of an invitational World XI last month.

“It’s nice to be back in Pakistan,” he said.

Since 2009, Pakistan have been playing ‘home’ matches in the United Arab Emirates.