It was back in 1996 on this very Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore that Sri Lanka became world champions for the first time, beating Australia. One of the Lankans’ basmen that day, Hashan Tillakaratne, now the batting coach of Sri Lanka said that touring Lahore is bringing back some happy memories for him. He also added that he had no problems coming to Pakistan despite the terrorist attack back in 2009.
Reminiscing that day, a nostalgic Tilakaratne said, “I have had some great memories here. The World Cup victory in 1996 was here and that’s the happiest day in my life. I remember we stayed in this very hotel (Pearl continental) in 1996. It has not changed much. The support the people of Pakistan gave us that night was tremendous. When we landed for the World Cup final, people were standing on roads and gave us a warm welcome. I had no hesitation to come down to Pakistan. It’s the right thing to do. It is our duty to help Pakistan.
Hashan went on: “We faced a similar predicament in 1996 soon after the Central Bank bombing. Had the joint India-Pakistan teams not played that game, our cricket wouldn’t have survived. Not only the West Indies and Australia games would have been shifted, even Zimbabwe and Kenya would have refused to come. It would have been similar to what happened to us in 1987. A bomb went off when the New Zealand team was in Colombo and for the next five years we had no cricket at home. We suffered enough. Our duty is to come and help Pakistan. We are brothers in arms. This is a historical moment for Pakistan and my message to other cricket playing nations is that to come and play in Pakistan.
Apart from the World Cup win, Tillakaratne has other individual highlights in Pakistan. He was named Player of the Series in 1995 which Sri Lanka won 2-1. In 2004, he was part of the team that won the Asian Test Championship, also in Lahore.
Hashan talked about Pakistan as an opponent: “Playing against Pakistan is always a challenge. I remember the 1995 tour, it was the first assignment of our new coach Dav Whatmore. We had a 7three-day match which we lost inside two days. The first Test we were beaten in three and half days. Then we regrouped and went onto win the next two Tests and the series. That was followed by the ODI series win and that was the turning point of our cricket. A few years prior to that series, we toured Pakistan and Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were at the peak of their prowess. I had a good series and that was the time I gained confidence that I could play quality fast bowling well.”
Lastly, he applauded the security measures of the country by saying, “We have enjoyed our stay in Lahore so far. We were provided a bullet proof vehicle and the welcome was superb. The security that we are given is unbelievable. There is no reason for anyone to fear touring Pakistan.”