Thousands of security staff were deployed across Lahore as Sri Lanka became the first major international cricket team to visit Pakistan, since a terrorist attack on their team bus in 2009 resulted in 8 deaths, and injuries to seven Sri Lankan players and a team official.
With Pakistan forced to play their subsequent home matches in the UAE, Sunday’s match was an emotional homecoming, made more poignant by the fact that the current Sri Lanka manager, Asanka Gurushina, and batting coach, Hashan Tillakaratne, were among the players attacked 8 years ago.
Although the decision to return to Pakistan has been hailed as brave, not everybody in Sri Lanka agrees with it, including skipper Upul Tharanga, who, along with a number of his colleagues, and coach Nic Pothas, refused to make the trip to Lahore.
Turning to the match itself, both teams made changes from the previous game, with Ashan Priyanjan being replaced by Chaturanga de Silva, making his ODI debut for the visitors, whilst Pakistan brought back Mohammad Amir from injury, and Umar Amin, in place of Ahmed Shehzad and Usman Khan.
It was Sri Lanka who won the toss and decided to field, a decision they quickly came to rue as the Pakistani openers put on 57 for the first wicket, before Zaman was bowled by Munaweera for 31. Amin and Babar Azam then took the score to 91, before Udana accounted for Amin for 45.
That brought Shoaib Malik to the crease, who quickly gave the Pakistani innings momentum, by smashing a 23 ball half-century, including 2 sixes. Although he was out caught for 51, there was still time for Ashraf to score 13, off just three balls, and he was undefeated at the end, along with Azam, as this hosts concluded their innings on 180/3.
Given their recent batting frailties, this looked from the outset to be a very tough target for Sri Lanka to chase, and so, initially, it proved. Munaweera was bowled by Amir for just a single, and Samarwickrama fell shortly afterwards for 4. When Gunathilaka was then out in the next over for 9, another Sri Lanka batting collapse looked on the cards.
However, Shanaka offered some resistance, and hit a rapid 54, which included 3 sixes. Debutant de Silva chipped in with 21, but he then became one of Amir’s four victims, as Sri Lanka succumbed to 144/9 at the end of their allotted 20 overs, some 36 runs short of their target.
Amir finished with 4 for 13 on his return to international cricket and was in contention for man of the match, but this was awarded to Shoaib Malik instead.
For Pakistan then a T20 whitewash to go with their ODI series clean sweep. More significantly perhaps, was the fact that this match was actually played at “home”, eight years after that terrible attack. Fittingly it was the same opponents.
Meanwhile Sri Lanka will head home, reflecting on their continued poor form in the shorter forms of the game. Their two test victories against Pakistan in the UAE at the start of the month now seem a very long time ago.