LAHORE — The Zimbabwe cricket team landed at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore at 1.45am yesterday to become the first full member nation to tour Pakistan since March 2009.
Zimbabwe will play two Twenty20Is and three one-day internationals at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore between May 22 and 31 before departing on June 1.
The visitors landed amid extensive security, with thousands of policemen deployed along the 14km route to a five-star hotel on the Mall Road, which divides the eastern and western parts of Lahore.
The touring group — 16 Zimbabwe players, nine team officials and five board officials — was flanked by a large convoy of police commandos, after they had been received by two ministers from the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz, along with the top brass of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
The streets leading into Mall Road were closed off to traffic, petrol stations along the route were closed, and even the police vehicles on duty had been authenticated to guard against impersonation.
Pakistan has remained a no-go destination for major international teams since March 3 2009, when gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team bus while it was en route to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore for the third day of the second Test.
Eight people were killed during the attack — and some players were injured — at Liberty roundabout, located 1,5km from the stadium.
The incident had occurred when there was political instability in the region, because the Punjab government had been dismissed and replaced by Governor’s rule in the province.
Since then, the PCB has been pushing hard to convince teams to tour Pakistan, who have been forced to play their home matches primarily in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Pakistan invited West Indies A in 2013, but the West Indies Cricket Board refused to send the team and asked PCB to host them in UAE, which did not happen.
Afghanistan, who received Associate status from the ICC last year, had visited Pakistan several times, but their fixtures were low profile. The PCB also had talks with Cricket Ireland last year, but the tour was put on hold following terrorist attacks on Karachi airport in June.
The PCB had, through the years, used diplomatic channels in a bid to win back lost confidence and there were frequent visits by the European Union delegation at the PCB headquarters. Kenya was the first country from outside the region to accept an offer to tour Pakistan and played five one-dayers last year in December against Pakistan A.
However, after in-depth lobbying with Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) president Wilson Manase, PCB managed to convince them to play a short series in the country.
“It’s their (Zimbabwe) trust and confidence in us which will strengthen our cricketing ties with them,” PCB’s chief operating officer Subhan Ahmed said. “We hope to change the perception of the world about Pakistan and build the confidence of other foreign teams to come here.”
Zimbabwe’s arrival in Pakistan came after days of uncertainty over whether they would go ahead with the tour. In the end, ZC decided to proceed with the tour against the advice from their country’s Sports and Recreation Committee. The ICC also said it would not send its officials to stand in the games, and allowed the PCB to appoint its own officials.
Meanwhile, all-rounder Shoaib Malik and fast bowler Mohammad Sami have been recalled to the Pakistan team for the two Twenty20 internationals against Zimbabwe in Lahore. Uncapped 19-year-old opener Nauman Anwar opening batsman and former under-19 captain Imad Wasim were given call-ups.
Squad: Shahid Afridi (capt), Sarfraz Ahmed (vc), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammd Hafeez, Mukhtar Ahmed, Noman Anwar, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Rizwan, Anwar Ali, Hammad Azam, Imad Wasim, Bilawal Bhatti, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Sami