Asia

Pakistan hosts biggest cricket game in years amid tight security

Cricketers of Peshawar Zalmi their victory over Quetta Gladiators in the final cricket match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) at The Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on March 5, 2017. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Peshawar Zalmi won the league - but the final had a much deeper significance

Pakistan staged its largest cricket game in eight years in Lahore on Sunday, amid an enormous security operation.

Eight people died in a 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, which ended international cricket tours to Pakistan.

But Sunday's test of a major match - the Pakistan Super League Twenty20 final - ended without incident.

Thousands of troops, backed by air support, patrolled the area.

Since the 2009 attacks, Pakistan has played its home games in other venues, such as the United Arab Emirates, as foreign teams refused to tour the country.

A rare exception in 2015, with the Zimbabwean team, was marred by a fatal suicide bombing outside the Lahore stadium.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Strict security around the stadium led to hours-long lines

Even the Pakistan Super League itself - which drafts foreign players - has been played in UAE, with Sunday's final being its first true home game.

Several international players dropped out of Sunday's final over security fears.

But among those who chose to play was West Indian Darren Sammy, who led Peshawar Zalmi to victory.

Sammy's fellow West Indian, Marlon Samuels, and Englishmen Chris Jordan and Dawid Malan also played.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Darren Sammy wears a traditional turban at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore

"I felt tonight I brought a lot of smiles in Lahore and Peshawar," Sammy told the Associated Press in the sold-out stadium. "I am glad I came to experience the atmosphere here."

His team easily defeated rivals Quetta Gladiators, but the result is seen as less important than the peaceful conclusion of the event.

Militant attacks in February killed 130 people - the worst spell of violence in years - and sparked fresh concerns over the ability to provide security at a high-profile sporting event.

The venue, Gaddafi stadium, was the same as the scheduled game eight years ago, before the Sri Lanka team was attacked en route.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Fans of the sport were acutely aware of the wider importance of the game

Security clearance for the final was only approved days beforehand.

But the success of Sunday's game may also have lasting effects for Pakistan's cricket fixtures.

Several officials - including from the International Cricket Council - attended the game to see the security measures for themselves.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is rumoured to be in talks with officials from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh about the possibility of touring Pakistan later in 2017.

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