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 Islamabad. Local officials confirmed their arrival.
Australian Test skipper Pat Cummins and the Cricket Australia also shared development on Twitter. "Great to be here in Islamabad. Excited for the series!" says Cummins
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.
'Head of state-level' protection
"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 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 -- the median age is 22.8 -- but stadiums are expected to be packed as the country emerges relatively unscathed from the Omicron stage of the Covid epidemic.
The teams will play three Tests, three one-day internationals and one Twenty20 match before the Australians depart on April 6.
Pakistan are due to host eight Tests, 11 ODIs and 13 Twenty20 internationals in the next 13 months.
The PCB and Cricket Australia on February 4 announced the revised itinerary of the 2022 Australia men’s cricket team’s tour of Pakistan for three Tests, three ODIs and one T20I. "The tour will now start and end in Rawalpindi with the opening Test to be played from 4-8 March and the four white-ball matches to be played from 29 March to 5 April," it read, adding that the change in the first test venue meant that the second Test would be played in Karachi from 12-16 March and the third in Lahore from 21-25 March.
- 27 Feb – Arrival in Islamabad
- 4-8 Mar – 1st Test, Rawalpindi
- 12-16 Mar – 2nd Test, Karachi
- 21-25 Mar – 3rd Test, Lahore
- 29 Mar – 1st ODI, Rawalpindi
- 31 Mar – 2nd ODI, Rawalpindi
- 2 April – 3rd ODI, Rawalpindi
- 5 Apr – one-off T20I, Rawalpindi
- 6 Apr - Departure
The Pakistan Cricket Board on Friday confirmed ticket prices for the three-Test series match, which will be played in Rawalpindi (4-8 March), Karachi (12-16 March) and Lahore (21-25 March).
For the Rawalpindi Test, only two enclosure categories are available. The PKR500 VIP enclosures comprise Imran Khan, Javed Akhtar, Javed Miandad and Azhar Mahmood, whereas Premium enclosures include Shoaib Akhtar, Sohail Tanvir, Miran Bakhsh and Yasir Arafat, and the price per ticket has been fixed at PKR100.
There will be four enclosure categories in Karachi and Lahore, the ticket prices are as follows:
- General – Rs100
- First Class – Rs200
- Premium – Rs350
- VIP – Rs500
"In the first phase, the PCB has released 50 per cent of tickets with further tickets to be made available online and nearest M&P Courier outlets after further guidance is received from the National Command and Operation Centre," read a statement.
Australia on February 8 named a full-strength line-up for next month's three-Test tour of Pakistan in their first squad announcement since the resignation of Justin Langer as coach.
Fast bowler Josh Hazlewood returns from injury while Scott Boland, one of the stand-out performers during Australia's 4-0 Ashes series win over England earlier in the season, retains his place in the Pat Cummins-captained squad.
Pakistan, on February 9, announced its Test squad for the home series against Australia – which will be played in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore from next month – with three players returning to the longest format of the game.
Chief selector Muhammad Wasim said selectors have opted for consistency for the home series against Australia and changes have only been made where it was “absolutely” necessary. “This is to give boys confidence, reward them for their impressive performances in the longer version of the game in 2021 and continue to build the side for the future,” he added.