Zimbabwe flanked by armed guards and helicopters as they arrive for practice ahead of first series in Pakistan since 2009

Zimbabwe players were given a heavy security escort to their first training session in Pakistan as they prepare to take part in the first international cricket match in the country since 2009.

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The players travelled by coach to the Gaddafi Stadium, flanked by armoured vehicles, gunmen and surveillance helicopters to begin preparations for their five-match limited-overs series.

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All five Tests will take place at the same stadium, and at least 4,000 policemen have been assigned to protect the visitors. Pakistan has promised VIP security, and an armed fleet of vans will surround the team bus when they travel from their hotel to the stadium.

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Pakistani police offers and cars escorted the Zimbabwe team bus to the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday

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Over 4,000 policemen have been drafted in to protect the Zimbabwe cricket team in Pakistan

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Surveillance helicopters take off to monitor the surrounding area while Zimbabwe train in Lahore

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Pakistan is hosting top level cricket for the first time since gunmen in Lahore attacked the Sri Lanka team convoy in 2009, killing six police officials and a van driver.

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Ozias Bvute, head of the Zimbabwe delegation, said his government’s Sports and Recreation Commission, which authorises all sports tours, had indicated in a letter to Zimbabwe Cricket that ZC had the final decision on whether to tour Pakistan.

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‘Our chairman Wilson Manase took the decision and we agreed to tour Pakistan,’ Bvute said.

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‘The board and players were supportive of his decision, and ultimately we are here. This is testament to the fact that cricket is the ultimate winner.’

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Bvute said ZC had weighed ‘the pros and the cons (of the tour), and ‘what we wanted to achieve is to come and play against our brothers.’

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Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura endorsed Bvute’s comments.

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Zimbabwe are the first team to play an international cricket match in Pakistan for six years

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Zimbabwe coach Dav Whatmore (right) speaks to his players during their practice session on Wednesday

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The players train at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium ahead of their five-match limited-overs series vs Pakistan

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‘For us, as players, it’s an opportunity and we took it,’ Chigumbura said. ‘Obviously, cricket is our job, and we are here to do a job and play cricket.’

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However, the international players’ federation has advised Zimbabwe against the tour, saying earlier this month that security was ‘unmanageable’ in Pakistan.

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The Federation’s executive chairman Tony Irish renewed that warning in an email on Tuesday.

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‘We understand that ZC’s own security consultants have also advised against the tour based on their security risk assessment,’ Irish wrote.

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‘We sympathise with the fact that Pakistan has had no international cricket for six years, but it’s a matter of grave concern that the advice of the experts is being overlooked.’

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Security is tight for Zimbabwe's trip to face Pakistan; in 2009 the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore

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Pakistan is providing VIP security for their visitors, who will flank the team bus when it leaves the hotel

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Brian Vitori bats during a nets session on Wednesday

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Chris Mpofu stretches with a coach

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Brian Vitori bats during a nets session on Wednesday, as Chris Mpofu stretches with a coach

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Bvute said the 15 players in the party had volunteered to become the first test-playing team to land in Pakistan since 2009.

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‘Our players were offered the opportunity to voluntarily come to Pakistan,’ Bvute said. ‘They accepted, and that’s why we have a full-strength team.’

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Ahsan Raza will umpire Pakistan’s match against Zimbabwe, putting behind him the morning when he was shot twice in an attack that slammed the door closed on international cricket in Pakistan.

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The 2009 ambush on Sri Lanka’s team and match officials on their way to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium killed six and one of the bullets left Raza with a damaged lung.

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‘I don’t want to look back and recall what happened six years ago, it was dreadful,’ Raza said on Wednesday. ‘It was not easy (to recover) with so many stitches all around my stomach and one of the bullets even damaged my right lung.’

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Pakistan players also took part in a practice session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday

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Ahsan Raza will umpire the match, putting behind him the attack in which he was shot twice in 2009

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He has officiated in a number of Pakistan’s international matches in the United Arab Emirates over the last five years after the Gulf country became Pakistan’s ‘home’ venue.

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But Zimbabwe will revive international cricket in Pakistan on Friday when the limited-overs series begin with the first Twenty20 game.

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The ICC has declined to send its match officials for the series in Pakistan on the security advice of its own experts, although the games will have formal international status.

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Raza has been chosen by the Pakistan Cricket Board to officiate as an on-field umpire in two Twenty20s and in one of the three one-day internationals.

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‘It’s never easy to convince people (to come to Pakistan), but I am happy to live with my family in my own country,’ Raza said. ‘I’m really feeling proud to be part of the series and the credit goes to the PCB, which worked hard to convince Zimbabwe.’

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And Raza hopes Pakistan will succeed in showing the world that his country is once again safe to organize international matches, despite fears that terrorists will seek to take advantage of attacking a foreign sports team again.

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‘We have waited for this event for six years and I hope many more teams will come after this series,’ he said. -Daily Mail