International cricket to return to Pakistan

Pakistan is set to host international cricket for the first time in six years when Zimbabwe tours the country for a limited overs series later this month.

Zimbabwe is the first full-member International Cricket Council (ICC) nation to agree to tour Pakistan since the Sri Lanka team bus was targeted by a terrorist attack in 2009. Security concerns stemming from that incident in Lahore have led Pakistan to play ‘home’ series elsewhere, predominantly in the United Arab Emirates.

The Zimbabwe team will arrive in Pakistan on May 19 and play the first of two Twenty20 matches three days later before the start of the three-game one-day international series on May 26. All fixtures will be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to satisfy the concerns of the touring party, which will depart on June 1.

“We vigorously tried to convince Cricket Zimbabwe to split the matches between Lahore and Karachi but the visiting team’s members expressed concern on extensive travelling, and their request had to be accommodated,” a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) spokesman said.

PCB chairman Shaharyar Mohammad Khan added: “This would be an auspicious moment for Pakistan cricket and I am positive that it would open doors of international cricket in Pakistan. Kenya have already been here for five matches against Pakistan ‘A’ and I am indeed confident that Zimbabwe’s incident-free tour shall be the harbinger of more and more associate and full member nations visiting us in the months and years to come.”

The series is the start of a bilateral agreement between Pakistan and Zimbabwe, with a return tour in the southern African country pencilled in for August. “I am not in any doubt that the PCB will be looking after us well,” Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Wilson Manase said. “That has been assured. I have been in touch with the PCB chairman Mr Khan, whom I have the greatest respect for.”

Manase offered assurances that a full-strength Zimbabwe squad would be available, although the ESPN Cricinfo website reported that some national team players - speaking on the condition of anonymity - harboured concerns over the trip but recognised the necessity for arranging top-level cricket amid the country’s sparse schedule for the remainder of 2015.

Manase is confident that Zimbabwe, which has not toured England since 2004 or played the same opponents on home soil since 2003, will be able to secure a full schedule in future under the ICC’s often-criticised Future Tours Programme.

"As part of the Future Tours Programme, Zimbabwe has a duty to tour other nations, just like they have a duty to tour us," he said, according to ESPN Cricinfo. "In the past we have had constraints, some of them political and some of them hinging on sanctions - countries who felt that although sport is a not a political issue, they could not have sporting relations with us. I believe that is in a thing of the past. We have held discussions with most boards; everyone wants to come to Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe will be touring their countries."

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