LAHORE       -           Kumar Sangakkara, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) President and captain of its 12-man squad on a week-long tour of Pakistan, has said that he is in the country to ensure Pakistan is back on the cricket map.

Speaking at a press briefing here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday, Sangakkara said: “Cricket belongs to everyone, but for the players to have that platform and display their skills, you need to have that support. The fact is that you need to have an underpinning of youth who can be inspired to take up the game.

“So if there is no home cricket for a very long period of time, there is a danger that sometime that kind of hunger might go away. The more cricket that you play here at home, the more times young children and the fabulous fans of Pakistan can see their side, their players play in front of them, within almost touching distance,” he added.

The MCC will contest a 20-over match against Lahore Qalandars at the Gaddafi Stadium today (Friday) before facing Pakistan Shaheens in a 50-over fixture on Sunday. The tourists - whose 12-man squad includes Ravi Bopara, Oliver Hannon-Dalby and Ross Whiteley - will then meet Northern and Multan Sultans in 20-over matches on February 17 and 19 respectively.

Sangakkara, who took over the charge as MCC president in October 2019, further said its difficult to put into words what a strong Pakistan brings to world cricket, and how it’s important to hammer home the message that touring Pakistan is now safe. “Rather than a direct message by saying something to them, the best thing that we can do is send that message by the way we play in the field,” Sangakkara said. “The more times international sides tour, that message becomes stronger and becomes harder to ignore.

“I think that is wonderful for the game, it is wonderful for the country and it’s great for the global game. We should not lose sight of how important the strength of Pakistan is in that big picture of having global cricket in a very, very healthy and strong state. “The MCC tour is a part of completing that puzzle, and I think this is a great step by everyone to combine and to be here to again try and encourage sides to come back and play cricket in Pakistan,” he asserted.

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Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chief Executive Wasim Khan described the tour as a ‘huge coup’. “Until we break that barrier of having non-Asian countries coming, it’s always going to be difficult for us to make the first step. “But Kumar Sangakkara has been adamant from the word go that Pakistan was a safe place to come and play cricket. There was a need to bring cricket back to the country, for the nation, for the people, but also our sustainability as well as a nation.”

England has not played a series of tests in Pakistan since 2005, when Michael Vaughan’s team suffered a 2-0 loss, with subsequent series in 2011/12 and 2015/16 in the United Arab Emirates. In December, Pakistan completed its first Test series victory in its homeland for 13 years when they beat Sri Lanka in Karachi.