Lahore, Pakistan: With security measures so far holding up, international cricket returns to Pakistan on Friday for the first time in six years when it hosts Zimbabwe in a Twenty20 match.
Thousands of policemen have been busy over the last three days providing protection to the Zimbabwe team as Pakistan tries to avoid a repeat of 2009 when gunmen attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.
"It's very positive and we guys have been waiting for this for the last six years," Pakistan Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi told reporters on Thursday. "I especially want to thank the Zimbabwe government ... and I hope their players do enjoy their trip here."
Zimbabwe cricketers volunteered to tour Pakistan for two Twenty20s and three one-day internationals in the same city where gunmen killed six police officials and a van driver in an ambush on the Sri Lanka team.
Pakistan has deployed at least 4,000 policemen and paramilitaries to protect the visitors, whose team bus has been surrounded by vans with armed guards on its daily trips for evening training sessions at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Hundreds of armed policemen also stand on alert on the roadsides during the team's travel to the stadium from its hotel, which takes not more than seven minutes. All other traffic has been diverted along the route.
The six-year home isolation has seen Pakistan players like Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal making their international debuts abroad. Only five players on the Twenty20 squad — Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Malik — have previously played in front of home fans.
Despite Zimbabwe sitting 12th in world Twenty20 rankings, Afridi said he's not underestimating his rivals.
"It's only a three-hour game, you can make a comeback in test matches but it's difficult to do so in shorter formats and we have to take our opportunities," he said.
It will be the first time in seven years that Zimbabwe plays without Brendan Taylor as he retired from international cricket after the World Cup in Australia.
Charles Coventry is among seven changes Zimbabwe has made from its World Cup squad. Graeme Cremer, Chris Mpofu, Vusi Sibanda, Brian Vitori and Richmond Mutumbami are the others making their way into the squad, while 23-year-old allrounder Roy Kaila might also get his debut during the series.
"It's not (about) having new guys in the team, (it's about) having the guys on the day and win the game," Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura said.
Chigumbura also hoped coach Dav Whatmore would pass on valuable information on the opposition after the Australian spent two years with the Pakistan team before his contract ended last year.
"It's always good to have an insight and hopefully we will be using this to our advantage," he said.
A packed crowd of 27,000 is expected to witness the return of international cricket and the Pakistan Cricket Board said all the tickets for the two Twenty20s have been sold.