England’s cricket team has arrived in Karachi for 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, but cancelled at short notice after New Zealand pulled out of a tour citing safety concerns.
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The move infuriated the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), who called it “disrespectful” and had been desperate to show the country was safe again following a deadly attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009.
The 19-man visiting team, 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 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
Our Men's team have landed in Karachi ahead of our historic IT20 series against Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/TQEnKzaRpl
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 15, 2022
“We are excited to be here. It’s my first experience of Pakistan,” Buttler said. “Some of the players who featured in the Pakistan Super League have shared positive things about Pakistan and how much the public like the game.”
Pakistan’s former cricketer Sadiq Muhammed hailed the English team’s tour. “It looks like a good omen for future tours by other teams,” he told Al Jazeera on the telephone from Karachi.
Following the attack by armed men on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, Pakistan were forced to play international matches at neutral venues such as the United Arab Emirates, where they hosted England in 2012 and 2015.
Earlier this year, Australia toured successfully for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. The PCB said the Australia series “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 will remain 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, Islamabad was fighting armed rebels in several areas of the country. The security situation has vastly improved since, but there has been an uptick in attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In March, an ISIL (ISIS) suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 64 in the deadliest armed attack since 2018.
Most of the incidents of violence are confined to the porous border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Karachi and Lahore were however targeted recently by Baloch separatists. In April, four people, including three Chinese nationals, were killed in Karachi.
The tour comes as Pakistan also grapples with catastrophic flooding that has left nearly a third of the country under water and affected at least 33 million people.
“I am super excited and look forward to watching England and Buttler in Pakistan,” said Masum Rizvi, an electrician in Karachi.
Last month, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the team was “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 Rob Key, managing director of men’s cricket.
England will return in December to play three five-day Test matches.