England’s “excited” cricket squad touched down in Karachi on Thursday for their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years, a lengthy absence brought about by security fears.
England last played in Pakistan in 2005 and were due to visit last year, but cancelled at short notice after New Zealand pulled out of a tour citing safety concerns.
The move infuriated the Pakistan Cricket Board, who called it “disrespectful” and had been desperate to show the country was safe again following a deadly attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009.
A 19-man England squad captained by Jos Buttler will play seven Twenty20 games against Pakistan in Karachi and Lahore from September 20 to October 2 as both teams tune up for next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
“We are excited to be here, it’s my first experience of Pakistan,” Buttler said.
“Some of the players who featured in the Pakistan Super League have shared positive things about Pakistan and how much the public like the game.”
Following the attack by Islamist militants on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, Pakistan were forced to play international matches at neutral venues such as the UAE, where they hosted England in 2012 and 2015.
Over the past five years international cricket has gradually returned to Pakistan and earlier this year Australia toured successfully for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.
The PCB said that the Australia series “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 Islamist militants, including its own domestic chapter of the Taliban.
The security situation has vastly improved since, but there has been an uptick in attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In March an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a minority Shiite mosque in the north-western city of Peshawar, killing 64 in the deadliest terror attack since 2018.
Most violence is confined to the porous border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has long been a hive of militancy.
Karachi and Lahore have however recently been targeted by Baloch separatist militants. In April four people, including three Chinese nationals, were killed in Karachi.
The tour comes as Pakistan also 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 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 Rob Key, managing director of men’s cricket.
England will return in December to play three five-day Test matches.
“I am super-excited and look forward to watching England and Buttler in Pakistan,” said Masum Rizvi, an electrician who never misses a match in Karachi.