Dhaka: Bangladesh have agreed in principle to tour Pakistan and become the first team to play international cricket there since an attack on Sri Lanka's team bus nearly four years ago, officials said on Monday. Pakistan have had to play their 'home' matches in venues ranging from Dubai to London ever since gunmen shot dead eight people and wounded seven Sri Lankan players in an audacious attack near the stadium in Lahore in March 2009.
But their exile status now looks set to end as early as January 12 after the Bangladeshi board (BCB) said it would take up an invitation to play two games in Lahore, as long as there were no last-minute objections on security grounds. "We have in principle agreed to tour Pakistan. It's a commitment made by former BCB president Mustafa Kamal. We are keeping his word," Enayet Husain Siraj, the board's head of cricket operations, told AFP.
"The tour is subject to security clearance," he added. Bangladesh had also accepted an invitation to tour Pakistan last April for a short limited-over series but the Dhaka High Court blocked the tour on security grounds. Officials have said they see no judicial bar this time.
Jalal Yunus, a spokesman for the BCB, said the board on Sunday night received a security plan from their counterparts in Pakistan, which would be discussed before signing off on the tour. "We'll sit with our stakeholders, including players and concerned government officials, very soon," he told AFP.
Yunus said Pakistan had proposed two matches to take place in Lahore from January 12-13, one of which would be a 50-over international game and the other a Twenty20 contest. Pakistani cricketers are hugely popular in Bangladesh and 20 of them - including stars such as big-hitting Shahid Afridi and the spinner Saeed Ajmal - played in the inaugural edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) last year.
The second edition of the BPL is due to begin next month, days after the Pakistan tour. But according to a Monday report by the cricket website ESPNcricinfo, Pakistan will only give its cricketers clearance to play in the tournament if Bangladesh goes ahead with the tour.
A Pakistani board official told the website that the "onus is on Bangladesh now", insisting that "we are committed to give them the best security". In October Pakistan successfully hosted two Twenty20 exhibition matches involving a group of largely retired stars from South Africa, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Pakistan are due to play two Twenty20 games in India later this month and three 50-over matches in the first series between the two neighbours and nuclear rivals in five years. Anti-Pakistan sentiment still runs strong in Bangladesh, which was part of Pakistan until 1971 when it won independence after a nine-month war.