LAHORE: Zimbabwe said on Saturday it will continue its cricket tour of Pakistan despite an apparent suicide bombing leaving two people dead outside the stadium during a match between the two sides.
Friday’s explosion — which the information minister said was a suicide attack, though police insist it was an accident —threatened to torpedo cricket-mad Pakistan’s first series on home soil since an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009.
The blast, which did not affect the match itself, triggered a news blackout in Pakistani media and came despite heavy security in and around Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.
The visitors’ decision to play on means the two sides will face off in the third and final one-day international at the same venue on Sunday.
Pakistan has so far won all of the matches in the series — two Twenty20 meets and two earlier one-day internationals.
“The Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan ends tomorrow,” Zimbabwe Cricket said in a statement on Saturday. It said that Lahore police met with the Zimbabwe team, and told them that “what occurred was a cylinder blast which killed two people, and that their forensics experts are examining remains from the explosion to ascertain the cause”.
A senior city police official “assured the travelling party of continued safety on the tour, and said the fact that the blast occurred outside their red zone means that the security measures put in place for the tour were not breached”.
Lahore police have insisted that the incident was caused by an accidental blast, initially attributing it to a transformer explosion before later saying an auto rickshaw’s gas cylinder was to blame.
Pakistan’s information minister, however, said on Saturday that the explosion was in fact a suicide bomb. “The suicide bomber failed to enter the stadium due to the bravery of our police,” Pervez Rashid told private broadcaster Geo.
The attack took place about 1.5 kilometres from the venue at “the outer security cordon of the stadium”, Rashid said.
News of the explosion was blacked out in Pakistani media until the conclusion of the match in order to prevent panic, a decision Rashid praised in his remarks to Geo.
Security has been ratcheted up for the series with around 4,000 policemen guarding the stadium itself, and a further 2,000 along the route from the Zimbabwe team hotel to the venue.
Zimbabwe’s tour is the first by a Test-playing nation to Pakistan since the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore left eight police and civilians dead and seven players wounded.
Pakistan have in recent years played their “home” matches at neutral venues such as the United Arab Emirates, resulting in financial losses amounting to $120 million, while several top-flight younger players were never able to experience the lifting effect of home crowds and pitches.