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Sri Lanka pay price for tour nobody else wanted

Sri Lanka's cricketers paid a heavy price on Tuesday for agreeing to tour a country nobody else was prepared to visit.

cricket Updated: Mar 03, 2009 14:53 IST

Sri Lanka's cricketers paid a heavy price on Tuesday for agreeing to tour a country nobody else was prepared to visit.

They only stepped in after India cancelled a much-anticipated January-February series in Pakistan due to simmering political tensions between the two countries over the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November.

That cancellation was the third major cricket event called off in Pakistan in the past year, after Australia refused to tour in March and the ICC postponed the elite eight-nation Champions Trophy set for August until 2009.

It was a disaster for the Pakistan Cricket Board who said at the time that the Indian pullout would lose them least 25 million dollars.

While Sri Lanka initially committed to fill the Indian void the tour came into question after the country's sports minister, Gamini Lokuge, disbanded the interim national cricket board and sacked its chairman Arjuna Ranatunga.

But in December Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse finally gave the green light, making the team the first to play a Test in Pakistan since South Africa in October 2007.

"Sport is an effective means of promoting connectivity between nations and thereby enhancing friendship and mutual goodwill between countries," Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was quoted as saying at the time.

Barely two months later and his team was being helicoptered out of Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore after masked gunman opened fire on their team bus, wounding eight members of the tour party -- seven players and a coach.

The Sri Lankan team first played international cricket in 1975, and were awarded Test status in 1981, which made them the eighth Test playing nation.

Routinely seen as a cricketing minnow, they transformed themselves into a major force during the 1990s, winning the 1996 World Cup by beating Australia in the finals.

Since then they have continued to be a major force, reaching the finals of the 2007 World Cup where they lost to the Aussies while nurturing some of the best talent in the world.

Perhaps their best-known star is spin-king Muttiah Muralitharan, who has underpinned their success by backing up the batting heroics of Sanath Jayasuriya and the now-retired Aravinda de Silva.

The injured players included star batsman Thilan Samaraweera, captain Mahela Jayawardene, vice captain Kumar Sangakkara, Tharanga Paranavithana, Thilina Thushara and Ajantha Mendis. None have serious injuries.

The tour was immediately cancelled with Rajapakse condemning the "cowardly terrorist attack targeting the Sri Lankan cricket team".

It was an inglorious end to a series that had already been split into two parts with the venues of some of matches changed at the last minute.

Sri Lanka were initially due to play three one-dayers in Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad in January but the third venue was dropped at Si Lanka's request, with no more details given.

The one-dayers went off without a hitch, ending on January 24 with the Sri Lankans winning the series 2-1 before the team left the country.

They returned on February 14 to play two Tests, with the first in Karachi ending in a draw before the second was called off on Tuesday after Sri Lanka posted 606 in their first innings. Pakistan were 110 without loss in reply.

First Published: Mar 03, 2009 14:51 IST