Pakistan and Zimbabwe will seek to improve their limited-overs cricket rankings in the first of two Twenty20 matches held in Lahore Friday, the first internationals in Pakistan since 2009.
No Test-playing country has visited Pakistan since militants attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore six years ago, killing eight people and injuring seven players.
Zimbabwe agreed to the tour, which also includes three one-day internationals, only after being promised a level of security usually reserved for heads of state, involving 6,000 policemen and paramilitary troops supported by helicopters.
Pakistan’s captain Shahid Afridi stressed it was time to rebuild the team ahead of next year’s World Twenty20 in India.
“Cricket coming back to Pakistan is great news and we thank (the) Zimbabwe team for coming here,” he said.
“When you are focussing on the World Twenty20 you have to experiment and tweak your team wherever you see your weak areas and improve on them,” he added.
Afridi, who retired from one-day internationals following the 50-over World Cup, said he was delighted to finally play in Pakistan again.
“It’s a big thing for me, I am honoured to play in Pakistan as I will be leaving cricket after the World Twenty20. I have always taken up challenges, these are talented players and I hope a good team will be made,” he said.
Besides Afridi, batsman Shoaib Malik and paceman Mohammad Sami (both recalled after long absences), Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed are set to feature in the new-look side.
Pakistan need to win both matches — the second on Sunday — to retain their fifth spot in the Twenty20 rankings.
In the case of a drawn series, Pakistan will drop to seventh spot while Zimbabwe can gain three places to ninth if they win one match and seventh if they win both.
That, Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura said, was an incentive.
“It’s a good thing about cricket that any team playing good cricket on a given day can win, it’s not about countries but it’s about the eleven guys to go out and play good cricket,” he said.
Zimbabwe will miss ace batsman Brendon Taylor who quit international cricket to play county in England and spearhead Tendai Chatara who is out with a broken leg.
The Twenty20s will be followed by one-dayers on May 26, 29 and 31.