By Raza Haidery
LAHORE: The wait is over. For the first time in six years, a test playing nation will be playing cricket in Pakistani soil as Pakistan takes on Zimbabwe in the first Twenty20 (T20) game of the two-match series here at Lahore’s Gaddafi on Friday, ARYSports.tv reports.
The doors of international cricket were nearly closed when several teams expressed their apprehensions over playing the ICC Champions Trophy 2009 in the country due to security concerns and the tournament was contested in South Africa.
The biggest setback for Pakistan cricket came when armed gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team as they were heading to Gaddafi Stadium to play the second test match resulting in the death of six police officers and two civilians.
Pakistan also lost the hosting rights for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.
No test-playing side agreed to tour Pakistan after the incident which closed all doors of international cricket in the country.
However, ICC granted “Big-4” status to Pakistan after the country voted for India, England and Australia to be granted the Big-3 status in international cricket in June 2014.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) started contacting other countries to play series in Pakistan after being granted the Big-4 status.
The return of international cricket in Pakistan had a big boost when Kenya arrived in Pakistan to play five one day matches against the A side in December last year.
However, the nation received joyful news when it heard that Zimbabwe will become the first test playing country to play in the terror-hit country in six years.
The rumours were spreading that the African country had not yet announced the confirmation of the tour until a Zimbabwean newspaper stated that the tour was still on.
The team finally arrived at Lahore on early Tuesday to play two T20 games and three one day games at the Gaddafi stadium.
Pakistan’s T20 captain Shahid Afridi, praising the courage of the Zimbabwean team stated that the bravery of the Zimbabwe team must be praised and they have delighted the fans who have been waiting for international cricket for quite some time.
Zimbabwe’s cricket chief stated that the country decided to tour Pakistan because have experienced the same isolation before. He also said that the side wants to prove that brotherhood supercedes everything else and cricket unites the world.
Thousands of police and paramilitaries have been deployed around the stadium for security.
Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has assured that the visiting teams will be provided fool proof security.
Roads around the stadium have been closed and shops and restaurants have been shuttered for the duration of the series, consisting of two Twenty20s and three ODIs, all in Lahore.
It should be noted that a bomb blast took place outside Karachi’s Sheraton Hotel in 2002 where the New Zealand squad was staying which killed more than 10 people.
The spectators have been advised to bring their original National Identification Card (NIC) to the stadium where a National Database and Regulatory Authority (NADRA) team will verify them. People presenting a fake NIC will result in arrested.
However, ICC has refused to send its umpires for the T20 series and ODI series for the tour and has asked the hosts to use their own umpires.
Ahsan Raza, who was critically injured during the attack on the Sri Lankan team has been named one of the on-field umpires of the match.
The tickets for all the matches were sold out despite the tight security arrangements for the tour.
The game will start at 07:00 pm local time.
Pakistan (squad): Shahid Afridi (captain), Sarfaraz Ahmed, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Mukhtar Ahmed, Noman Anwar, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Rizwan, Anwar Ali, Hammad Azam, Immad Wasim, Bilawal Bhatti, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Sami.
Zimbabwe (squad): Elton Chigumbura (captain), Sikandar Raza, Chamu Chibhabha, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Roy Kaia, Hamilton Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Richmond Mutumbami, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusi Sibanda, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori and Sean Williams.