RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, April 2, 2012 (AFP) - Pakistan is ready to host international cricket matches once again after a three-year break, authorities said Monday after the successful staging of a domestic Twenty20 event.
International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan since gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lanka team bus on its way to the Lahore Test in March 2009, leaving eight people dead and several players and officials injured.
Tens of thousands of cricket-starved fans thronged the Rawalpindi Stadium during the week-long Super Eight Twenty20 tournament, which ended on Sunday and was marked by tight security.
Former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik said fans were desperate to see foreign teams come and play -- and the country was ready for it.
"The discipline shown by the fans prove that we deserve international cricket and the successful event with immaculate security proves that we can host international cricket," said Malik, whose Sialkot team won the final on Sunday.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has invited Bangladesh for a limited-overs series later this month, but is still waiting for an answer.
Javed Miandad, Pakistan's all-time leading Test run-scorer and a PCB board member, said the success of the Super Eight showed the appetite for international cricket was enormous.
"This event sends a big message to the world," he said. "We don't have to say anything, 22,000 people on Sunday night demanded the return of international cricket in Pakistan and we can host that in near future."
Since the Lahore attack Pakistan have had to play all their "home" matches on foreign soil, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, and their share of 2011 World Cup games was moved out of the country for security reasons.
Pakistan also played "home" matches in New Zealand and England in 2009 and 2010.
The PCB and police put stringent security arrangements in place for last week's Twenty20 tournament, hoping they would serve as a model for matches against visiting foreign teams.
"We deployed 1,300 policemen and each and every fan entering the stadium was thoroughly body-searched, and the successful event proves that we can also stage international cricket," senior police officer Malik Matloob said.
Shoaib Malik said that Pakistan badly needed international cricket.
"We have been playing on foreign venues, which not only deprives the fans but also young players who want to improve their skills in the game, they can't do that when they don't see their stars play before them," he said.
The PCB said it was also looking at the option of staging a Pakistan Premier League (PPL) along the lines of the lucrative Indian Twenty20 league, with foreign players involved.
"We are doing our best to bring international cricket back to Pakistan," said PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf. "We are quite positive about that and are also planning to host the PPL so that we can take the first step."