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Party time in Pakistan for Sri Lanka visit

Eight years after their team bus was attacked near the same venue, Sri Lanka returned to Lahore for a T20 match

Pakistan marked the return of the Sri Lanka cricket team by completing a 3-0 T20 series whitewash on Sunday, and now officials hope it will help re-establish the country's reputation for hosting international cricket.

The third and final T20, which Pakistan comfortably won by 36 runs at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, was Sri Lanka's first in the country since their team bus was attacked near the same venue in March 2009.

Those attacks, which left eight people dead and seven Sri Lanka players and their staff injured, suspended international cricket in Pakistan and forced them to play at neutral venues of United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The first two matches of this series, which Pakistan won by seven and two wickets respectively, were played in Abu Dhabi before Sri Lanka flew to Lahore in a 24-hour fly in, fly out arrangement.

A group photo marked Sri Lanka's return to Gaddafi Stadium // Getty
A group photo marked Sri Lanka's return to Gaddafi Stadium // Getty

The match was the fourth major series in Lahore since the attack, three of which have all come in 2017. Zimbabwe played a five-match limited over series in 2015, while this year has seen the final of the Pakistan Super League and a three-match T20 series with a World XI comprising of players from seven countries.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Najam Sethi dubbed the match "historic".

"This is historic because it marks the beginning of a new era of international cricket in Pakistan," said Sethi. "This sends a big signal to the rest of the cricketing nations that Pakistan is ready to host international cricket."

Sri Lanka Cricket President Thilanag Sumathipala vowed his board would not leave Pakistan in isolation.

"We are happy and privileged to be here to support Pakistan cricket," said Sumathipala. "It's a wonderful cricketing nation. Pakistan has done so much for world cricket and to sports in general so we cannot leave them in isolation."

However, a rampaging Pakistan side did not show any mercy to their opponents as they piled up 3-180 in their 20 overs.

Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket // Getty

Shoaib Malik, the only player from both the sides to have also featured in the fateful 2009 Lahore Test, smashed a 24-ball 51 with five boundaries and two sixes.

He added 75 for the third wicket with Babar Azam (34 not out) in just 45 balls. Openers Umar Amin (37-ball 45 with a six and three boundaries) and Fakhar Zaman (27-ball 31 with three fours) were the other contributors.

Pace bowler Mohammad Amir, playing his first international match before the home crowd after making his debut soon after the terrorists' attacks, finished with a career best 4-13 as Sri Lanka managed 9-144 in 20 overs.

Only Dasun Shanaka batted with aggression during a 36-ball 54 with five boundaries and three sixes before he became one of Faheem Ashraf's two wickets.

Mohammed Amir picked up a career best T20 haul // Getty
Mohammed Amir picked up a career best T20 haul // Getty

This becomes Pakistan's second 3-0 whitewash in a T20 series, having previously beaten the West Indies in UAE last year.

Thousands of fans filled Gaddafi Stadium under intense security, as the countries' respective national anthems were played before a capacity 23,000 crowd.

The city was adorned with pictures of the Sri Lankan cricketers as fans converged on the stadium hours before the start of the match.

The Lahore faithful showed great appreciation for Sri Lanka's visit // Getty
The Lahore faithful showed great appreciation for Sri Lanka's visit // Getty

Fans applauded both the teams before the start of the match and beat drums in an exhilarating atmosphere.

Sethi hoped Sri Lanka's return will be followed by a three-match T20 series with the world champion West Indies side next month, which is due to be finalised in the next few days.