Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in the Pakistani city of Lahore to protect Zimbabwe’s cricket team as it prepares for the first top-level international cricket matches in the South Asian nation since an attack on a convoy carrying Sri Lankan sportsmen in Lahore in 2009.
Zimbabwe became the first Test-playing team to set foot on Pakistani soil in six years when 16 cricketers from the African nation landed at Lahore’s Allama Iabal International Airport early on Tuesday morning, along with nine team and five cricket board officials. The touring group is scheduled to play two Twenty20 and three regular one-day internationals at Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium between May 22 and 31, before departing on June 1.
“We are so grateful to the Zimbabwe cricket board for sending their team and for trusting us. We will ensure tight security for every player of the Zimbabwean team.” Subhan Ahmed, the chief operating officer of the Pakistan cricket board, told the Guardian as the team arrived in the country.
Pakistan has not hosted any major international teams since March 3, 2009, when a dozen gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers attacked the Sri Lankan team’s convoy en route to same stadium, killing eight people, and wounding several Sri Lankan players. The incident sent shockwaves around the cricketing world.
Ahead of the Zimbabwe team’s arrival, speculation was rife that the African nation might cancel the tour after an attack on a bus in Karachi earlier in May that killed 45 people and the bombing of two churches in Lahore shortly before Easter. The International Cricket Council (ICC) refused to send any officials for the upcoming matches citing security concerns.
Tickets for Friday’s Twenty20 match — a short-form of cricket in which each side plays one innings each of a maximum of 20 six-ball overs — in Lahore been sold out and officials say they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure the security of the visiting crickets and spectators. “Whatever resources we have available here in Pakistan we will utilise them to ensure a peaceful tour for the Zimbabwean team,” Shuja Khanzada, the home minister of Punjab, told the Guardian.