Australia arrive for first Pakistan tour in 24 years with security tight

Heavy security will surround the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium for Australia's visit

Australia flew into Pakistan Sunday for their first cricket tour in nearly a quarter of a century and into a high-security bubble that will envelop them throughout their six-week stay.

Senior batsman Steve Smith posted a picture on Twitter of the 35-strong Australia tour party inside their charter flight’s cabin after it touched down in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. Local officials confirmed their arrival.

Pakistan have struggled to attract visiting sides since a fatal terror attack on the visiting Sri Lanka team’s bus in 2009. Australia pulled out of a tour five years earlier after a suicide blast at a Lahore church. They last played in Pakistan in 1998, winning the three-Test series 1-0 and blanking the hosts in the three one-day internationals.

Having been forced to play their home games abroad, mostly in the United Arab Emirates Pakistan appeared to have reassured international cricket authorities last year with both New Zealand and England scheduled to tour. But the Black Caps hastily departed in September just minutes before their first match was due to start, citing security fears, and England postponed tours by both their men’s and women’s teams soon after.

The decisions incensed Pakistan cricket authorities, who felt they had done everything possible to ensure safety and security. They say they are again leaving nothing to chance, with nearly 4,000 police and military personnel guarding the team hotel in Islamabad and the cricket stadium in the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi.

“The squad will be given ‘head of state-level security’,” a spokesman for Pakistan’s interior ministry told AFP. “Such arrangements are only made for high-level foreign delegations, (and) the president and prime minister of Pakistan.” Roads will be blocked off when the Australians make the 15-kilometre (11-mile) commute, with their team bus to be shadowed by army helicopters.

Snipers will be positioned on buildings surrounding the stadium, while nearby shops and offices have been ordered to close on match days, the interior ministry said. Similar arrangements will be in place for matches in Karachi and Lahore. The Australians will be confined to quarters for 24 hours after arrival for Covid-19 tests, before intense training ahead of the first Test starting March 4. “We’ve got to a place where everyone hopping on the plane is comfortable with where it’s all sitting,” Australian skipper Pat Cummins said ahead of the team’s departure from Sydney.

“It’s been a really thorough body of work that the security and the logistics teams have worked through.” More than half Pakistan’s 220 million people were not even born the last time Australia toured with the median age around 22.8 but stadiums are expected to be packed as the country emerges relatively unscathed from the Omicron stage of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The teams will play three Tests, three one-day internationals and one Twenty20 match before the Australians depart on April 6.

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