Multan will host international cricket after a gap of over 12 years when Pakistan's three-ODI series against Zimbabwe is held there from October 30 to November 3. This will be followed by a series of three T20Is, all in Rawalpindi, before the visitors return home after a three-week stay in Pakistan, a tour that Zakir Khan, the PCB's director of international cricket, said "strengthens Pakistan's reputation as a safe and secure country but also a healthy one after having successfully overcome the Covid-19 pandemic". All the matches will be played behind closed doors.
Apart from signalling cricket's resumption in Pakistan after the Covid-19-enforced hiatus, the series will mark the beginning of the World Cup Super League campaign - the pathway for direct qualification to the 2023 50-over World Cup - for both teams.
"The confirmation of the series schedule against Zimbabwe after having successfully hosted Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as Marylebone Cricket Club and HBL Pakistan Super League V, in the 2019-20 season not only strengthens Pakistan's reputation as a safe and secure country but also a healthy one after having successfully overcome the Covid-19 pandemic," Khan said in a PCB statement. "This series is critical to Pakistan as it aspires to qualify directly for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 and, as such, every point in the Super League will count.
"Our last ODI series was against Sri Lanka, 12 months ago, so the boys will have to hit the ground running and try to pocket maximum points."
The choice of Multan, which has hosted five Tests and seven ODIs over the years but none since an ODI against Bangladesh in April 2008, is an interesting one.
"We have strategically scheduled Zimbabwe's matches in Multan and Rawalpindi, the venues which will be hosting the National T20 Cup from 30 September to 18 October," Khan said. "By the time Zimbabwe arrives, we would have gained enough experience on bio-securing hotels, player transportation, the venues and the players' dressing rooms as delivery of this series will be under strict Covid-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of all participants."
According to the PCB statement, Zimbabwe will have a 32-member playing squad travelling to Pakistan, to take part in both the series as well as some intra-squad warm-up matches. They will reach on October 20.
"The squad will undergo two Covid-19 tests within a space of 48 hours prior to their departure in Harare, while the second tests will be conducted as soon as they arrive in Islamabad," the statement added. "Players and Player Support Personnel testing negative in Islamabad will be eligible to resume training at a venue, which the PCB will confirm in due course.
"Players and player support personnel testing positive during the tour will have to observe a five-day self-isolation and will only be allowed to re-integrate with the side after two negative tests."
In 2015 Zimbabwe were the first team to visit Pakistan after the terror attacks on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in 2009, paving the way over the next five years for a number of teams to return. Last year Pakistan hosted ints first Tests in the country since 2009 and earlier this year hosted the entire Pakistan Super League for the first time.