Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- VIP~~s head to Pakistan for high-voltage series

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004, 18:30 [IST]
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Mumbai:India's opposition leader Sonia Gandhi's two children led a team of cheerleaders to Pakistan ahead of the eagerly awaited opening One-day International cricket between the two sides, an official said.

Gandhi's daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, joined her younger brother Rahul and her husband Robert on a flight for Karachi, where India and Pakistan meet at the Gaddafi Stadium on Saturday in the first of their five One-dayers.

Priyanka is seen as the natural successor to the political legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, often referred to as India's Kennedy clan. She is the great-granddaughter of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

"Priyanka and Rahul are going for the first match but they could prolong their stay in Pakistan if 10 Janpath decides," a family source in New Delhi said, referring to the Gandhis' home address.

Airport officials in Mumbai said many of those aboard the same Karachi-bound flight were Indian executives of the South Korean electronics firm Samsung, the official sponsors of the 40-day cricket series.

Islamabad has promised to reserve 8,000 seats for Indian fans at various stadiums for the series, which will also feature three Test matches.

State-run carrier Indian Airlines, which flies twice weekly to Pakistan, announced plans to operate additional flights beginning March 19.

"Over 1,450 additional seats between New Delhi and Lahore will be added from March 19 to March 25 to meet the rush of fans," an airlines spokesman said.

He said on the first two dates, the airline would fly its wide-bodied Airbus 300 instead of its 145-seater A-320 aircraft to provide 100 additional seats on each flight.

Pakistan International Airlines has also decided to double to 12 the number of its weekly flights to India from March 25 -- too late for the One-day series but in time for the three Tests.

Since January, 1 when air links were restored as part of a peace process, it had been operating two weekly return flights between Mumbai and Karachi and four to Delhi -- two each from Karachi and Lahore.

Officials, meanwhile, said that among those planning to fly to Karachi is Federal Law Minister Arun Jaitley and flamboyant liquor baron and Parliamentarian Vijay Mallya, who will be travelling on his private Boeing 727.

Indian tennis stars and Davis Cup teammates Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes said they would also go, but only for the Test matches, which begin on March 28.

At least seven Bollywood stars, among them Sunil Shetty, Preity Zinta, Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty, have confirmed their participation at a March 25 concert in Lahore, after seeing the final One-dayer there the day before.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, an avid cricket fan, presented skipper Sourav Ganguly with a bat before India's departure for Pakistan earlier this week which said in Hindi: "Win not only the game, but hearts also. Best wishes."

India have been winless in their 20 Tests in Pakistan, losing five and drawing 15.

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