Thousands of police are on duty at a Pakistani cricket stadium as cricket fans prepare for the first international game since a terror attack in 2009.
Fans waited at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in temperatures of 43 degrees Celsius and faced frequent security checks as they prepared for the start of the first Twenty20 international between Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
The game marks a return of international cricket to Pakistan for the first time since gunmen attacked buses carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team and match officials in this eastern city six years ago.
Zimbabwe coach Dav Whatmore, who coached Pakistan until last year, wrote in a tweet: “5.5hrs till game time & can’t wait to experience the return of in’tl cricket to Pakistan… Go Zim!”
Both teams arrived at the stadium in a fleet of vans carrying armed guards more than two hours before the start of the match. Two helicopters hovered over the stadium.
Pakistan has pledged blanket security to the visitors, with at least 4,000 police and paramilitaries deployed to avoid a repeat of the 2009 attack, which killed six police and which resulted in the suspension of international cricket in Pakistan.
Dozens of CCTV cameras have been installed in the surroundings of Nishtar Park, where the Gaddafi Stadium is located. Spectators have also been asked to bring identity cards.
The extraordinary security will also see spectators passing through at least three checkpoints before entering the stadium after a walk of at least 800 metres.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for six years and just can’t wait for the real action to begin,” said Ahmed Ali, a 21-year-old university student as he took his seat in one of the spectators’ stand.
Hundreds of home team fans – mostly youngsters – were still looking for tickets.
Farhan Ishaque, who had come from Faisalabad, was not sure of getting hold of a ticket but said he would not go home.
“It’s a historic moment for Pakistan and I don’t want to miss the atmosphere,” he said.