Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Lahore prepares to welcome Indian cricketers

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004, 20:17 [IST]
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Lahore:Brisk preparations are underway to welcome Indian cricketers arriving in Lahore for the first showdown on Pakistani soil in 14 years with many people hoping it will spur the bilateral peace process.

Lahore's main Gaddafi Stadium is receiving a facelift and the kiosks and makeshift food stalls which are normally thronged with crowds during the evening have been removed.

The clean-up operation was ordered by Punjab Province's Governor Khalid Mahmood for security reasons. Security will be "very tough" inside and outside the grounds, police said on Tuesday.

The 15-member Indian team led by master batsman Sourav Ganguly is to fly into Lahore on Wednesday afternoon to play five One-day matches and three Tests in Pakistan. The tourists will play a practice game in Lahore before flying to Karachi for the first One-day match on March 13.

Some 2,500 policemen will be stationed outside Lahore's stadium while 800 others, including plain clothes officers, will be inside it. A contingent of 250 police officers and security men will guard the Pearl Continental hotel where the Indian cricket team will stay, they said. "This is being done to avert any incident, including 'acts of terrorism'," Mayor Mian Amir Mahmood said.

But food stalls in the old parts of the walled city will remain open late into the night, allowing vendors to cater to the visiting spectators. "We hope that the Indian visitors will enjoy our traditional hospitality," said Muhammad Aslam, a shopkeeper in the newly established Anarkali food street.

"Our fried fish will attract Indian guests," said Ali Hussain of Lahore's popular Sardar Fish Shop. "The foreigners can taste a variety of spicy and sweet dishes. They can also find dishes for vegetarians."

Lahore will host two day and night matches on March 21 and 24 while the Test match will start on April 5. More than 8,000 Indian fans are expected to arrive in Lahore, mostly through the nearby Wagah border crossing, as cricket frenzy grips the sub-continent.

Officials said the Government had accepted an Indian request to run special trains and buses for the Indian sports fans, and room rents have skyrocketed with all the hotels in Lahore fully booked.

Posh hotels in the city are charging an exorbitant 20,000 rupees (330 US dollars) a day, up from the usual 100 to 120 dollars, while smaller hotels have also increased their daily room rates from 30 dollars to 150 dollars.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to sell some 16,000 tickets for each match. Thousands are expected to queue up when the booths formally open in the city of seven million people on March 17.

There is every possibility that many fans will be frustrated, as tickets will be sold on first come, first served basis and are likely to disappear fast, officials said.

"We have decided to install giant screens at several places in the city for those who fail to get tickets," PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said. "We are consulting the local administration where to install the TV screens," he told state television on Monday.

One screen will be at the Minar-e-Pakistan, the sprawling ground where in 1940 the first resolution was adopted for a separate homeland for Muslims that ultimately led to the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan in 1947.

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