Terrorism, security issues mean no home matches for Pakistan

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Fast bowler Wahab Riaz played his first limited-overs cricket international in 2008, in a vastly different era for cricket in Pakistan.

A terrorist attack just over a year later in his hometown of Lahore means that all but three - all played in 2008 - of the 50-plus games he has played since his debut have been staged outside of Pakistan due to security concerns.

On March 3, 2009, a bus carrying the Sri Lanka squad travelling to a test match against Pakistan was attacked by 12 masked gunmen near Gaddafi Stadium. The resulting firefight injured six members of the Sri Lankan touring party, including star batsman Kumar Sangakkara, who is the leading current run-scorer at this World Cup.

Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed. The tour was quickly cancelled.

Since the attack, Pakistan has played most of its ''home'' matches in the United Arab Emirates because the top teams in world cricket fear touring in Pakistan.

Umar Akmal made his one-day international debut in Sri Lanka on Aug. 1, 2009, meaning the 24-year-old batsman and part-time wicketkeeper he has not played any of his 100 matches in front of his home fans.

''Of course it's a big drawback for us not being to play in our country,'' Riaz told The Associated Press. ''We have been born and bred here. Unfortunately what has happened is a big loss for us, obviously we would love to play in front of our own people, relatives and friends, but it is how it is. We have to cope with it and try to keep the smiles on the faces of our fans no matter where we play.''

Security and terrorist incidents have been a concern for travelling cricket teams to Pakistan for more than a decade.

In May 2002, New Zealand abandoned its test series in Pakistan after a suicide bomb attack outside their hotel in Karachi. The cricketers were not the target of the attack, and none were injured, but the shock was enough to cause concern for incoming sports teams.

Last year, a Taliban attack on Karachi airport killed 28 people, 10 of them attackers. That incident directly affected one team's plans to set aside security concerns and tour Pakistan.

Ireland, which won three matches at the World Cup this year but missed out on the quarterfinals after a loss to Pakistan on Sunday, has proven to be the best of the so-called Associate or second-tier teams. The Irish are always looking for opportunities to play against the top ranked teams.

Richard Holdsworth, performance director for Cricket Ireland, said contact was made with the Pakistan Cricket Board in January about reviving hopes of a tour, subject to security concerns.

''Discussions were put on hold last June following the terrorist attack on Karachi airport, such incidents would still be reviewed before any possible tour,'' Holdsworth said in an email response to The AP. ''We will keep this matter under review and consider a tour when conditions are right.''

But Ireland officials may have to reconsider after the most recent terrorist attack. On Sunday, a pair of suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore as worshippers prayed inside, killing 15 people.

Bangladesh has twice backed out of proposed tours to Pakistan over the last three years due to terrorism concerns. But there have been a few recent success stories.

The Kenyan national team toured Pakistan in December and played all of its five one-day internationals against a Pakistan ''A'' - or second-tier - team in Lahore. Afghanistan, which won a match at this World Cup in its first-ever appearance, also played against Pakistan A in three ODI in 2013.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan said last week that the PCB plans to host associate countries in 2015, and eventually test nations again.

''The doors will be opened slowly once we start hosting smaller nations,'' Khan said. ''If you compare security situation in Pakistan it has improved (from) what it was four years ago. Afghanistan and Kenya have already played and Nepal will come soon. Netherlands and Ireland are also willing to come.''

Those visiting teams would be welcomed by pace bowler Riaz.

''We realize there have been incidents, but the security situation is improving,'' Riaz said. ''I would like to say to any other team that would like to travel here, I can assure them it would be a great pleasure to see them.''

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AP Sports Writer Rizwan Ali contributed to this story from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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