Australia’s cricket team has flown into Pakistan on their first tour of the country in nearly a quarter of a century – and into a security bubble that will envelop them throughout their six-week stay.
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 a three-Test series 1-0 and blanking the hosts in the three one-day internationals.
“They have landed,” a Pakistani security official said while Australia batsman Steve Smith posted a picture on Twitter saying the team had arrived.
Australia will play three Tests, three one-day internationals, and one Twenty20 match before leaving on April 6
Having been forced to play their home games abroad – mainly 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. England postponed tours by 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.
‘Head of state-level’ protection
“The squad will be given ‘head of state-level security’,” a spokesman for Pakistan’s interior ministry told the AFP news agency.
“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 15km (9-mile) commute, with their team bus 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.”
Almost half of Pakistan’s 220 million people were not even born the last time Australia toured, but stadiums are expected to be packed as the country emerges relatively unscathed from the Omicron stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan are due to host eight Tests, 11 ODIs and 13 Twenty20 internationals in the next 13 months.