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Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Cricket series reaches feverish pitch in Pak

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004, 20:17 [IST]
 
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Lahore:With just two days left for the ultimate cricketing rivalry to get underway, the cricket frenzy reached a feverish pitch with the arrival of the Indian team for their first full tour of Pakistan in nearly 15 years.

Banners, festoons and billboards have sprung up in some of the important thoroughfares as the city rolled out the red carpet for the Indian cricketers, most of whom have crossed the border for the first time for a sporting contest to be staged under unprecedented security cover.

The city, considered the cultural capital of the country, has greeted the Indians with great warmth and cricket fever seems to have gripped everyone -- from the customs officer at the swanky Allama Iqbal International airport to the bell boy at the hotel.

Sourav Ganguly and his men, seeking to create history by recording their first ever Test series win on Pakistan soil, got a taste of the passion and emotions surrounding the series minutes after their arrival by a special Indian Airlines flight on Wednesday.

As soon as the Indian players emerged from the VVIP lounge following a brief welcome ceremony, hordes of cameramen jostled with one another to capture the momentous occasion, also being billed as a Goodwill Mission.

"It is not often that we get to see the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid in our country. It is good for the game of cricket. There is a lot of interest for the series all over Pakistan and everyone wants to be a part of this historic moment," Zahid Khan, a travel agent said.

There were many others in this picturesque city who shared Zahid's views and wanted cricket to bridge the gap between the two nuclear rivals.

"Cricket is a passion in both Pakistan and India. But I cant understand why we don't play more often. Now that the Indians have come, we can expect some entertaining cricket," Nazir, who runs a cyber cafe, said.

The ice-breaking tour, which was almost thrown into jeopardy because of the Parliamentary elections in India, was put on track only after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayees go-ahead, putting to an end to weeks of speculation among cricket fans in both countries.

And when the first ball is bowled in front of a capacity crowd in Karachi on Saturday, life is expected to come to a standstill in both the cricket-crazy nations.

The local administration in Karachi has already declared a holiday on that day and all the other staging venues are likely to follow suit.

"I will be glued to the television during the series. I have purchased a small TV set so that I can watch the matches sitting at my shop," a shopkeeper said, reflecting the tremendous interest the series has generated.

The cash-strapped Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is expecting to earn 20 million dollars from India's 40-day tour and has gone out of the way to accommodate the Indian concerns to ensure that the tour goes off smoothly.

Despite the stifling security cover thrown around the team, the PCB is eager to take the Indian cricketers out and show them a "little bit of Pakistan" so that they enjoy their stay in the country rather being confined to the hotel rooms.

The Indian team is accompanied by four security officials headed by Yashovardhan Azad, the security expert who was part of the Indian delegation which assessed the security arrangements ahead of the tour and had given a thorough briefing on the Dos and Don'ts during the series. Pakistan has appointed a senior police official Sohail Khan to coordinate the security arrangements.

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