International cricket to return to Pakistan with Afghanistan's help

The neighbours will come and play the A team of the troubled country where cricket has been suspended since March 2009.

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LAHORE // Afghanistan's cricket team will become the first foreign national side to play in Pakistan, two years after internationals were suspended over security fears, an official said Saturday.

International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan since March 2009, when gunmen attacked a convoy carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in the eastern city of Lahore.

"Afghanistan will send its national team to Pakistan in July and play the Pakistan 'A' team, and hopefully this will benefit our team," Naseem Ullah Danish, chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, told AFP.

Danish met Pakistan Cricket Board officials in Lahore on Friday where they agreed to play a three-match one-day series, with games in Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.

Five Afghan regional teams and their under-19 string are playing their domestic matches in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar, as their main grounds are being renovated.

Danish hoped Pakistan's second XI will also play in Afghanistan later this year.

"We have also invited the Pakistan 'A' team to Afghanistan for the inaugural match in Nangarhar where we have almost completed an international stadium," he said.

Since many Afghan players learnt their cricket in Pakistan they owe a great deal to the neighbouring country, Danish said.

"Pakistan has always been helpful to us and have helped us reach this far in international cricket," he said.

Most of the Afghan national team learnt the game as refugees in Pakistani camps after Soviet troops invaded their country in 1979.

Afghanistan won the Inter-Continental Cup and the International Cricket Council's divisions five to one in the last two years, earning ICC one-day status and qualifying for the World Twenty20 held in the West Indies last year.

International teams were reluctant to tour Pakistan even before the Lahore attack, and the troubled country has since had to play its home matches at neutral venues in England and the United Arab Emirates.

The attack, which left eight people dead and wounded seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach, forced the ICC to strip Pakistan of its share of World Cup 2011 matches.

But Danish said security in Pakistan would not be an issue for his team. "Security is not an issue and by playing in Pakistan we want to send out a positive message to the world and hope that teams come to Pakistan and play here," he said.