State guest security for Zimbabwe team
Pakistan is set to host a Full Member opposition for the first time in six years, hoping to "change the perception" of the country. Zimbabwe, who confirmed the tour on Sunday, might be travelling to Lahore against the advice of the country's Sports and Recreation Commission, but the PCB and the Punjab government have promised adequate security measures to make the series successful.
Zimbabwe are to be given state guest importance, and can certainly expect to see more visible security measures than usual in the country. Over 4000 policemen will be deployed for the safety of the visitors across the city while two companies of Rangers - Pakistan's paramilitary forces - will be on standby throughout the series.
A dress rehearsal was carried out on Saturday, with police commandos escorting two empty buses from the team hotel to Gaddafi Stadium and back. The route between the hotel and stadium was cleared of traffic and shielded by armed policemen at 100m intervals. Every road leading to the stadium and hotel was patrolled.
The route between the hotel and the stadium covers seven kilometers, and the team will be escorted through it with zero traffic impeding it. Helicopters will hover overhead during training and match days all over the routes and the stadium while 20 snipers will be deployed at undisclosed positions.
The Inspector General of Punjab province, Mian Mushtaq Sukhera, will head the security and safety plan for the Zimbabwe team. The entire Nishtar sports complex, which houses the Gaddafi Stadium, will be under surveillance by 81 close-circuit cameras and the restaurants and shops around the outer layer of the stadium have already been vacated ahead of the series.
No vehicle will be allowed within the sports complex, and public entry will be on foot from the Liberty roundabout, through extensive security layers. The complex has already been locked down ahead of the series. Journalists intending to cover the series have had to get their accreditation cleared by the law enforcement agency.
The series, according to the provisional government, is a great opportunity to improve Pakistan's image in the world. "We don't want to waste this opportunity," Col (retd) Shujah Khanzada, Punjab's minister for interior, said. "After this series, the sports teams from other countries will also take inspiration from the Zimbabwe cricket team, which would definitely be a great success for Pakistan.
"These are most difficult times of Pakistan, we all know this. We have to use all the means to ensure it's safe. It will send a good message and we will build a strong image internationally. If we organise these matches successfully, there are lots of other teams, which are monitoring it and will play in Pakistan too."
The tickets for the series are already on sale with Gourmet - a Lahore-based bakery and confectionery chain - the main merchant. The advertisements for the series had not covered the northern and eastern parts of the city until Sunday but according to the PCB the entire city will be covered in the branding of the series by Monday. The hoardings around Gaddafi Stadium carry the words "Igniting a passion which brings a nation together" with the hashtag #cricketcomeshome.
Gaddafi Stadium is the sole venue for the entire tour, which includes two T20s and three ODIs. Over 60,000 spectators packed the stadium for the 1996 World Cup final won by Sri Lanka, but the capacity, after renovation, has come down to around 24,000. Tickets prices for the series will range from PKR 150 to 1000 for the ODIs and between PKR 300 and 1500 for the T20s.
Since the Lahore attack on Sri Lankan team - almost six years and two months ago - Pakistan have had to play their home series at offshore venues, mainly in the UAE. Before Zimbabwe, the PCB had tried to negotiate with Bangladesh for a tour but they withdrew after committing twice. The Zimbabwe tour, after lengthy talks, was confirmed by all the cricketing stakeholders, including the International Cricket Council.
The tour, however, suffered an early blow when Zimbabwe initially suspended their visit following an attack on a Karachi bus by gunmen who killed at least 43 people.
The Zimbabwe team, however, is set to fly from Harare with a stopover in Dubai en route to the Alama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore. The 15-man squad will land in Lahore on May 19 at 2.40am. "The tour is going ahead and we leave tonight," Dav Whatmore, Zimbabwe's head coach, told Reuters.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson