Zimbabwe cricketers in Pakistan for first tour since 2009

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Zimbabwe’s cricket team is in Pakistan, the first Test-playing nation to visit the country in six years.

Thousands of security personnel were deployed as the team were taken from Lahore airport to a city hotel.

Pakistan has hosted no top-level international cricket since Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked by gunmen in Lahore in 2009. Six policemen died.

Zimbabwe and Pakistan will play two T20 matches and three one-day internationals starting on Friday.

Pakistan have named two uncapped players for the T20 games – all-rounder Imad Wasim, who was born in Swansea, Wales, and opener Nauman Anwar.

Fast bowler Mohammad Sami has been recalled, as has former captain Shoaib Malik, but there is no place for spin bowler Saeed Ajmal.

The 15-man squad also sees batsman Umar Akmal return after failing to impress in the Cricket World Cup and being left out of the recent tour of Bangladesh.

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The International Cricket Council has refused to send any match officials to Pakistan for the series with Zimbabwe because of security concerns.

A driver was killed along with the six policemen who died in the 2009 militant attack. Seven Sri Lankan players were wounded, causing shock around the world.

The first T20, to be played on Friday, is sold out amid a wave of jubilation among cricket fans across Pakistan, reports the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.

Pakistan Cricket Board officials received the Zimbabwe players at Lahore airport with garlands.

“This is a happy occasion. I am grateful to the Zimbabwean government which made this tour possible,” PCB chief operating officer Subhan Ahmed told Pakistan TV.

Songs and security: M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

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Television channels offered live coverage of the arrival of the Zimbabweans – most playing famous Bollywood songs about the “home coming of the beloved” in the background.

All channels ran footage of fans welcoming the Zimbabwe squad and expressing relief over what they saw as the “improved security situation” in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the local authorities have been rehearsing security and evacuation plans involving both airborne and ground forces in the event of an attack, BBC Urdu reports. The authorities have also ordered the closure of all businesses and eating places around the Qaddafi Stadium area in Lahore for two weeks.

Officials say only spectators with valid tickets will be allowed to approach the stadium.

The BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani in Karachi says officials are determined to make sure the Zimbabwe visit goes smoothly and hope it will pave the way for more international cricket on Pakistani soil.

Since 2009, Pakistan has played all home series at foreign grounds, mostly in Dubai.

The Zimbabwean visit is being seen as a major test as the country seeks to end its sporting isolation.

Thousands of people have been killed in recent years in Pakistan’s militant violence, which continues to rage despite a military offensive in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

A sectarian bus massacre in Karachi last week highlighted the security risks.

Read more:http://www.bbc.com

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