England cricket team arrives for first Pakistan tour in 17 years

KARACHI: England’s cricket team touched down in Karachi Thursday on their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years — a lengthy absence brought about by security fears following the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team.

An airport official told AFP the England squad — 19 players plus support staff — landed at Karachi airport on a commercial flight.

England last played in Pakistan in 2005 and were due to visit again last year until pulling out at short notice after New Zealand also cancelled a tour citing undisclosed safety concerns.

Following the attack by militants on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, Pakistan was forced to play international matches at neutral venues in the UAE.

Cricket has gradually returned and earlier this year Australia toured successfully for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

England will play Pakistan in seven T20 games in Karachi and Lahore from September 20 to October 2, before returning in December for three Tests.

STRICT SECURITY

The PCB said that the Australia series had “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 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, the government was waging a desperate battle with militants, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), based in Afghanistan.

The security situation has vastly improved since then, but there has been an uptick in attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Most violence is confined to the porous border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has long been a hive of fighting.

RAIN DOES NOT STOP PLAY

The tour comes as Pakistan grapples with catastrophic flooding that has left nearly a third of the country under water and affected at least 33 million people.

Last month, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the team were “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 managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key.

The 19-man England squad is captained by Jos Buttler.

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