RAWALPINDI: Cricket-starved fans in Pakistan had to wait in long lines for stringent security checks before entering the stadium for the first test match in the country in more than a decade.
The 17,000-seat Pindi Cricket Stadium was heavily guarded by police and army personnel on Day 1 of the match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Wednesday. By stumps, the stadium was half-full and containing mostly youngsters as Sri Lanka reached 202-5.
“I didn’t mind that I waited for around four hours (to get in) when I compare it with Pakistan’s 10 years of isolation from hosting a test match,” said Dayan Mehdi Butt, a 20-year-old student. “I will definitely come tomorrow, too, no matter how long I have to wait in queue.”
Sri Lanka was the last team to play a test match in Pakistan, in a series in 2009 when terrorists attacked the touring team’s bus in Lahore. The ambush killed eight people and left several Sri Lankan players and officials injured.
Pakistan has since played its home test matches in neutral territory, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, because international teams didn’t want to visit Pakistan for security reasons.
It was symbolic that Sri Lanka was the first team to play a test back in Pakistan after a 10-year absence, with the stadium in Rawalpindi hosting its first major international match since India played a test match in the city in 2004, which Pakistan lost by an innings.
“I came straight from the school because I have been waiting for so long to see Pakistan batsman Babar Azam live in action,” said Usama Bhatti, a college student who came with his friend. “But it’s not just Babar. We also want to support both teams, no matter who wins or loses.”
After a wicket-less opening session, witnessed by only a few spectators, when Sri Lanka cruised to 89-0 against the new ball, Pakistan had its most productive period between lunch and tea as the visitors lost four wickets for 31 runs and slumped to 137-4.
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne (59), who scored his 24th test half century, and Oshada Fernando (40) saw off the threat of the new ball with a 96-run opening stand.
Karunaratne, who opted to bat first after winning the toss, hit nine boundaries before he was undone by Shaheen Afridi’s yorker and was out lbw.
Karunaratne said he didn’t think about the context of the match when he faced the first ball, just about providing a good start for his team.
“At that time I was thinking about how to survive,” Karunaratne said, “and once I get the start, I know how to get runs as well.”
Karunaratne was impressed with the appreciation his team received from fans.
“The spectators gave us good support and I also saw some boards, telling us welcome,” he said.
Fernando took an hour to register a run, scoring off his 20th ball, before edging 16-year-old paceman Naseem Shah, who was the most impressive bowler with 2-51.
Pakistan surprisingly left out veteran leg-spinner Yasir Shah and instead handed left-arm paceman Usman Shinwari a test debut.
Shinwari bowled to a better line and length after lunch and was rewarded with his first test wicket when Kusal Mendis edged to wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan for 10.
Pakistan’s most experienced bowler, Mohammad Abbas, finally got a first wicket in his 14th over by having Dinesh Chandimal (2) clean-bowled with a delivery that just moved enough to knock back the off-stump.
Former Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews (31) added 62 runs with Dhananjaya de Silva before Shah returned after tea and got the breakthrough. Mathews, who was in the middle for 2 hours, 20 minutes, played a reckless drive and was neatly caught by Asad Shafiq.
Dhananjaya was unbeaten on 38 while Nirsoshan Dickwella was not out on 11 when play was called off early because of bad light, with Pakistan bowling only 68.1 overs.
Shah, who made his debut against Australia at Brisbane last month, said he was excited to play at home.
“I enjoyed a lot when the crowd supported me today and appreciated me whenever I bowled good deliveries,” he said.
“I was very excited because I was playing at home. I am thankful to the crowd that they spared time and came to the stadium today.”