Pakistan is set to host its first international cricket tour since a March 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Authorities say they have arranged "foolproof" security to protect the visiting Zimbabwe team in and outside the stadium where the first match will be played Friday.
Thousands of police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in and around Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium where all the matches between Pakistan and Zimbabwe’s teams are being staged. Matches include two Twenty20 and three one-day international matches.
Provincial Home Minister Shuja Khanzada tells VOA the cricket-crazy nation has long waited for this moment, and praised the African team for becoming the first country in more than six years to set foot on Pakistani soil despite the pressures.
"The [Zimbabwe] team is here and I am very much thrilled and so are the people of Lahore and Pakistan that we are going to revive the international cricket on the soil of Pakistan after the break of six years."
2009 attack on Sri Lankan team
It was March 2009 when Islamist insurgents ambushed and attacked two buses bringing visiting Sri Lankan players from their hotel to play a cricket match against the host team. The terrorist raid killed eight Pakistani police officers and wounded some members of the Sri Lankan team.
The attack occurred when suicide bombings and other terrorist acts had become routine in Pakistan. Since then, authorities say counterterrorism operations against militant strongholds, mainly in northwestern parts of the country, have improved security.
Minister Khanzada says the government has ensured tight security for the protection of Zimbabwe’s team at their hotel and the visitors are being kept fully informed of these steps to enable them to play their matches without fear.
“We have full-fledged security here for them. We have protected the entire stadium also," he said. "We are carrying out combing operations every evening, every morning, and wherever we see suspected people, we haul them up. So, we have foolproof security for them. We have learned a lot from our previous mistakes and we will ensure that the tour goes well and we hope to revive our international cricket, with the rest of the teams coming to Pakistan.”
Reviving international cricket
Since the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka's team, foreign cricket teams have refused to go on tours to Pakistan, citing security concerns. In recent years, the Pakistan Cricket Board, the supervisory body of the game, has been forced to host matches against test-playing nations on neutral venues, mostly in the United Arab Emirates.
Experts say they believe that the absence of international matches from Pakistan has undermined efforts to promote the game and prepare domestic players for global competitions.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, however, the Board’s chief, Shahryar Khan, said he hoped that Zimbabwe’s tour of his country will be a proving ground for other nations to send their teams to Pakistan. He said invitations have already been sent to Asian rivals India and Bangladesh and called on them to follow Zimbabwe’s lead.
Khan went on to urge Pakistani fans to cheer both the touring and national teams, saying the African nation, despite pressure, has given Pakistan a lot of support through the tour.