Tour review

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 2019-20

Shahid Hashmi and Fidel Fernando

One-day internationals (3): Pakistan 2, Sri Lanka 0 Twenty20 internationals (3): Pakistan 0, Sri Lanka 3 Test matches (2): Pakistan 1 (80pts), Sri Lanka 0 (20pts)

Test cricket returned to Pakistan for the first time since the attack on the Sri Lankan team coach in Lahore in March 2009. Sri Lanka were the opposition again, having been satisfied by the security, and general atmosphere, during their white-ball series in September and October.

Rumesh Ratnayake, the interim coach who had taken charge for that leg, before the appointment of South African Mickey Arthur for the Tests, said he felt it was safe to play more international matches in Pakistan. Two Tests were arranged, although in the meantime Pakistan toured Australia, where they lost heavily.

Concerns remained that security arrangements would be overwhelming, and the players forced to spend their downtime in hotels. Ten Sri Lankans had turned down the white-ball tour, but now everyone made themselves available, including seamer Suranga Lakmal, who had been on the bus in 2009. Shortly before departure, however, he went down with dengue fever, and withdrew.

When the teams reconvened in December, the First Test - played in Rawalpindi because Lahore was expected to be shrouded in smog - was a disappointing damp draw. But Karachi stayed fine for the Second, which Pakistan won. By then, it felt almost like a normal tour. Security remained tight: troops lined the route from hotel to ground, while spectators endured long queues and multiple inspections. But still they flocked to the cordoned off Rawalpindi stadium, despite the frigid weather. When the sun finally shone, on the fifth day, they were in resounding voice, spurring opener Abid Ali towards a debut hundred, but reserving their biggest cheers for Babar Azam, who had become their new favourite.

By the Second Test, things were so normal that locals even started barracking Pakistan's captain Azhar Ali (who hails from Lahore) for failing to include local hero Fawad Alam in the team. The Sri Lankans had also begun to relax: on one of Rawalpindi's rainy days, they went shopping, and in Karachi left their hotel for meals in the evenings. Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne had been among those unwilling to travel in September, but admitted: "I do regret not coming for the shorter formats. I can say that Pakistan is now safe for cricket."

The return was a feather in the cap of Pakistan's board, who had been desperate to avoid the huge costs of continually relocating home series to the UAE. Representatives from England, Australia and Ireland were invited to watch the one-day matches and assess the security arrangements. The white-ball games had initially been in doubt after renewed terrorist fears, but went ahead, amid security arrangements usually reserved for visiting heads of state.

Pakistan took the 50-over series, but were shocked in the T20s:despite Sri Lanka fielding a weakened line-up against the world's top-ranked team, they pulled off a 3-0 whitewash. All three matches were sell-outs, despite even tighter security in Lahore. The result cost Sarfraz Ahmed the captaincy in all formats.

The spirit shown by Sri Lanka's young guns was a welcome boost after their underwhelming World Cup. "How can you say this is a B-team?" said opener Danushka Gunathilleke. "We beat the No. 1 team in the world!" Newcomers Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando - at 27, both older than the archetypal Asian debutant - did well in the T20s, with Nuwan Pradeep Fernando and Isuru Udana sharing 12 wickets in the first two games. They helped inflict some poor starts on Pakistan, for whom Babar did little after a magnificent century in the first ODI. The lively 19-year-old Mohammad Hasnain took a hat-trick in the first T20.

© John Wisden & Co