Thatscricket - News - Tour is on, but no smiles from Indian camp

Published: Sunday, February 15, 2004, 20:47 [IST]
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New Delhi:Indian cricketers are still gripped by security fears despite the Government's go-ahead for next month's historic tour of Pakistan, reports have said.

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief Jagmohan Dalmiya assured that no player would be forced go on the Test tour, the national team's first to Pakistan since 1989.

"They are not going there for war, but to play cricket. If somebody is not comfortable, he will not be forced to go," he said after the Government okayed the tour on Saturday after a week of flip-flopping.

Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha gave the green light following a meeting called by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

India are scheduled to play three Test matches and five One-dayers in March and April.

"The Government was anxious not to appear a killjoy to the huge constituency of cricket lovers eagerly awaiting an Indo-Pak series," said 'The Times of India'. A poll in 'Outlook' magazine said 77 percent of Indians favoured the Pakistan tour.

The tour was surrounded by uncertainty after media reports last week suggested the home ministry wanted it put off until after Parliamentary polls expected from late April.

The Government's clearance, however, did not allay the cricketers' fears.

"Yes, security will be a concern," Indian batsman Venkatsai Laxman was quoted as saying in 'The Hindu'.

"It (the tour) will be tough. Another thing that will be most important is the security aspect," leg-spinner Anil Kumble said.

India captain Sourav Ganguly, who initially raised the security issue, said the players would do what the BCCI and the Government wanted them to do.

"No one has told me he's not going," he told 'The Times of India'. "But we are human beings and some players may have problems and we should respect their decision."

"In Team India, sound of silence," an 'Indian Express' headline screamed, noting that no player said he was looking forward to the biggest event in Indian cricket after the World Cup.

"That is none of my business," said paceman Ashish Nehra. "About playing in Pakistan, I think you should ask the captain, coach and the BCCI president."

Political analyst Prem Shankar Jha wrote in 'Outlook' that the Indian team would be at risk in Pakistan as Islamic extremists' "desperation has grown" after failed attempts on President Pervez Musharraf's life.

He said militants are "likely to regard the arrival of the Indian team as a gift from heaven -- a sacrificial lamb tethered in the open for their express hunting pleasure."

Noted columnist Vir Sanghvi said the controversy was not about security but about the re-election campaign of Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The BJP's current fear is this: suppose we tour Pakistan before the elections and they cream us? Suppose our team loses Test after Test; that it is humiliated in One-day match after One-day match?.... Will we still feel good?"

The media also reported that the tour could be split into two, with One-dayers to be played a month later than scheduled.

"The more volatile One-dayers could be contested a month later. A bifurcated itinerary would suit the Government because the polls would be over by the time the One-dayers begin."

'Players are very happy to go to Pakistan'

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