In March 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was touring Pakistan when their team bus was attacked by gunmen in Lahore. None of the Sri Lankans were killed but six Pakistani police officers and two civilians lost their lives. Following the attack, other cricketing nations refused to tour Pakistan due to security concerns. It was heartbreaking for tens of millions of fans and a loss for the sport. Despite lacking the resources of richer nations such as Australia , England and India , the Pakistanis were capable of indisputably brilliant, sometimes temperamental cricket. At the 1992 World Cup, Pakistan were captained by Imran Khan, the current prime minister, and they pulled off a stunning upset to beat England in the final and win the 50-over tournament. At the 1999 tournament, they again made the final before losing to Australia. In the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan has produced some of the most mercurial fast bowlers of the professional era, whereas Javed Miandad and Mohammad Yousuf were at different stages among the world’s most prolific batsmen. At the time of the Lahore attack, Pakistan was gearing up for the second edition of the 20-over format (T20) World Cup in England. Pakistan went on to win the tournament, beating Sri Lanka in the final. But the team and its fans were denied the chance to celebrate with a homecoming parade as it was deemed too dangerous. Worse was to follow: Pakistan would be condemned to sporting isolation for more than a decade. The 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus was carried out by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates. The militant group coalesced from more than 100 militant groups in 2007 in response to security forces killing dozens of extremists at a seminary in Islamabad. Drawing its recruits from near the Afghan-Pakistan border and sharing ideological ties with al-Qaeda, TTP’s objective was to overthrow the state. The attack on the Sri Lankan team bus established a pattern of violence, whereby TTP responded to army assaults against its northwestern strongholds with high-visibility acts of terrorism in distant urban centres. High-profile foreigners such as the touring cricketers, aid workers and diplomats were a favourite target because they represented an opportunity to undermine the Pakistani state, both at home and in the eyes of the international community. Within two years of forming, TTP had extended its territory from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan into the hinterland. More than 2 million people in Swat – home to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai – were ruled by psychopaths. And the militants were rapidly encroaching on Islamabad, heightening international concern the Pakistan government could be toppled and its nuclear weapons seized. However, the turnaround in the years since has been remarkable, particularly after 2015 when the TTP and its al-Qaeda allies were driven out of their last strongholds along the porous border with Afghanistan. Inch by inch, the state has reasserted its writ, building up to the return of top-tier international cricket to Pakistan’s slow, flat wickets. There was a smattering of token T20 fixtures in recent years. But in December, Pakistan’s exile truly ended with the return of test cricket – the oldest and most prestigious of the sport’s three formats. Fittingly, Sri Lanka was Pakistan’s opponent, returning to play two test matches more than a decade after the team bus was attacked in Lahore. A second home test series against Bangladesh began on Friday, and South Africa could follow later this year. This long-awaited return to the fold will culminate on February 20 with the opening of the month-long Pakistan Super League (PSL). For the first time, Pakistan’s showpiece T20 tournament will be played entirely at home venues, having relied previously on safe venues in the United Arab Emirates. Assisted by favourable travel advisories from Western governments, franchises have been able to secure the services of stars from most test-playing nations for the event – India is the notable exception, reflecting heightened political tensions. For Pakistanis, it is a big moment and millennials will be able to watch a major international sporting tournament in their own country for the first time as members of their war-affected generation take on the world’s best. They will also have one eye on the next T20 World Cup in Australia in October and November: Pakistan is ranked No 1 in the world and is among the favourites to win the tournament. After TTP was defeated in 2015, Pakistan was eager to show the world it was again safe and open for business. For confirmation, the country still needed two further developments: a major programme of international investment and the revival of cricket. In April that year, Pakistan’s “iron brother” President Xi Jinping delivered on the investment front, unveiling the US$60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of the vast Belt and Road Initiative . By 2018, CPEC infrastructure and energy projects were fuelling GDP growth of nearly 6 per cent, and Pakistan was back on investors’ list of emerging economies worth watching. The PSL was launched soon after CPEC, in September 2015. The UAE provided a convenient staging post to bring together established international stars and Pakistan’s best players, and to introduce new talent, as the Pakistani security forces continued to mop up terrorist cells back home. But the aim was always to restore cricket to Pakistan, to have the sport up in lights again. The impact of the tournament on Pakistan’s sporting fortunes was just as dramatic as CPEC was for its economy. It spurred an unprecedented national talent hunt which, in turn, produced a new generation of players who might otherwise have been denied the chance to play for Pakistan due to the nepotism inherent in the national selection system. In 2017, a young side composed mostly of emerging PSL stars defied the odds to win the 50-over Champions Trophy, beating arch-rival India in the final. There are many rags-to-riches stories to be told about the team, especially about the players who emerged from regions previously seized or besieged by the TTP. Indeed, the two best-performing teams in the PSL are based in Peshawar and Quetta, the major cities most affected by terrorism because of their proximity to the Afghan border. The PSL embodies Pakistan’s re-emergence after its debilitating war in many ways: it’s colourful, exciting and unpredictable. It also provides an inspiring glimpse of what could be given the right circumstances.