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England, Pakistan build for T20 World Cup in long-awaited series

KARACHI (AFP) – Pakistan and England continue their build-up for next month’s Twenty20 (T20) World Cup in Australia when they begin a seven-match series in Karachi tomorrow – the tourists’ first visit since 2005.

The long-awaited return of England comes five months after a trouble-free tour by Australia, their first in 24 years, which helped Pakistan’s rehabilitation as a safe place to play cricket.

International cricket has gradually returned to Pakistan following years where they were forced to play home matches in neutral venues after a deadly attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009.

England had been originally scheduled to arrive in October last year but cancelled at short notice after New Zealand pulled out of a tour citing safety concerns.

England’s withdrawal infuriated the Pakistan Cricket Board, who called it “disrespectful” as they made strides to show the country was a secure destination.

England, the current 50-over world champions, are also scheduled to play a Test series in Pakistan in December followed by the return of New Zealand.

Photos show Pakistan and England cricket players practising during a training session at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi. PHOTOS: AFP

The tourists are looking to bounce back from recent T20 series defeats to the West Indies (3-2), South Africa and India (both 2-1).

Pakistan are looking to recover after losing the T20 Asia Cup final to Sri Lanka in the United Arab Emirates last week.

New England skipper Jos Buttler, who took over after the retirement of long-time captain Eoin Morgan this year, is nursing a calf injury that could keep him out of the series.

“It’s an important series for the build-up towards that World Cup,” said Buttler, who felt it was vital to travel with his side despite only having a chance of being fit for the final two matches.

“Obviously the main aim for everyone is to turn up fully ready for that World Cup,” said Buttler.

“Pakistan are a very strong team and will give us a really tough challenge,” added Buttler.

Moeen Ali will lead the side in his absence.

The return of explosive opener Alex Hales from three years in the wilderness after testing positive for a recreational drug will bolster England batting, according to Pakistan’s top order batsman Shan Masood.

“I think England are one of the best white-ball teams,” said Masood, who will make his T20 debut for Pakistan as a reward for scoring heavily for Derbyshire in the English T20 Blitz.

“England will pose a very good challenge for us and it’s probably the ideal preparation to play one of the best sides before the World Cup.”

The first four matches are in Karachi on September 20, 22, 23 and 25 with the final three in Lahore on September 28, 30 and October 2.

A head-of-state style security cordon is being thrown around the England entourage, similar to that successfully employed for the Australia tour.

Officials said 4,000 police and paramilitary personnel will be on duty to guard the teams and stadium on match days.

Spectators will have to park at least a mile from the venue and be brought to the stadium in special secure shuttles after undergoing thorough bag and body searches.

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