File photo of the England men’s T20I team.© AFP
England’s cricket squad touched down in Karachi Thursday on their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years — a lengthy absence brought about by security fears. England last played in Pakistan in 2005 and were due to visit last year until pulling out at short notice after New Zealand also cancelled a tour citing safety concerns. The move infuriated the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), desperate to rehabilitate its security reputation, who called it “disrespectful”.
Following a deadly 2009 attack by terrorists on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, Pakistan were forced to play international matches at neutral venues such as the UAE, where they hosted England for series in 2012 and 2015.
Over the past five years, international cricket has gradually returned to Pakistan and earlier this year Australia toured successfully for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.
The PCB said that the Australia series had “demonstrated our event planning and operational skills” and expressed confidence that the England games will also pass off safely.
On match days, roads between the England team hotel and Karachi’s National stadium will be sealed off and under armed guard.
A helicopter will monitor their journey and shops and offices overlooking the stadium will be ordered to shut.
The last time England toured Pakistan, the government was waging a desperate battle with terrorists, including its own domestic chapter of the Taliban.
The security situation has vastly improved since then, but there has been an uptick in attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In March an ISIS suicide bomber attacked a minority Shiite mosque in the north-western city of Peshawar, killing 64 in the deadliest terror attack since 2018.
Most violence is confined to the porous border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has long been a hive of terrorism.
Rain does not stop play
However Karachi and Lahore have recently been targeted by Baloch terrorist attacks. In April four people — including three Chinese nationals — were killed in Karachi.
The tour comes as Pakistan grapples with catastrophic flooding that has left nearly a third of the country under water and affected at least 33 million people.
Last month the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the team were “desperate” to play in Pakistan despite the humanitarian disaster.
“I think hopefully us going out there and playing will be a positive for what’s been a pretty harrowing time for the people of that country,” said managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key.
The 19-man England squad, captained by Jos Buttler, will play seven Twenty20 games against Pakistan in Karachi and Lahore from September 20 to October 2 as both teams tune-up for next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
England will return in December to play three five-day Test matches.
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