After a long wait of 15 years, a rousing welcome awaits the Indian cricket team when they travel to Pakistan tomorrow (Wednesday). The last time I remember any host country looked forward to welcome a cricketing nation was when I was the member of the touring Indian squad to South Africa in 1992. The South Africans were witnessing international cricket after a gap of 23 years and India was the fortunate one to be a part of thathistory.
The reception that we received on our arrival in Durban was fantastic. I felt that the entire city had lined up enroute from the airport to the hotel and one could see the enthusiasm and the genuine love of the people. The series was termed as the 'Friendship Tour' and the relationship has only become stronger between the two countries after that tour.
I am sure the team could expect a similar kind of a reception from the people of Pakistan and I feel that I am missing something special here.
A young boy of 15 years travelled with the Indian team on our last visit but this time around, he is the only member in the squad to have had the experience of playing in Pakistan on a full tour. Sachin's inputs on the conditions prevailing will be invaluable to the team.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since that time and he has grown to an iconic status not only in India but also all over the world. Knowing him, I am sure he would step-up his game that he has always done whenever we have played our archrivals.
Although, a few of the other players have also toured Pakistan, some as a part of a three-match One-day series while the others at the India 'A' and Under-19 levels; this tour will have a sense of anticipation, caution and purpose.
Our batting has been the mainstay and again this series will revolve around our batsmen to put runs on the board or to back themselves in getting the required runs in the event of a run-chase.
I feel that the conditions in Pakistan would not be drastically different from the conditions prevailing in the North of our country and going by the wickets that were prepared in the recently concluded One-day series with New Zealand in Pakistan, it is going to be a run-feast.
If the two young fast bowlers Balaji and Irfan Pathan can carry their One-day form of the recent VB Series in Australia to this Samsung Cup, along with Zaheer and Ashish Nehra, now fully fit, our fast bowling department looks in able hands.
With Murali Kartik assuming the role of a senior spinner for the first time on tour, I am confident that he will live up to the expectations of carrying this responsibility with the other young off-spinner Ramesh Powar.
I also think the other all-rounders (not part-time bowlers) Sourav, Sachin, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Badani's contribution with the ball will prove crucial to our success in this tournament.
A lot of advice has come about as to how India needs to handle the pressure of playing Pakistan on its home soil from various quarters but I know for a fact that Sourav Ganguly, John Wright and the team management which includes Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar would ensure to keep everyone's focus on the job at hand and back their abilities and remindeveryone about our last encounter against Pakistan in the World Cup.
When Shoaib or Zaheer take the new ball, ready to bowl the first delivery in this historic series, all eyes will be on cricket while all other issues pertaining to security and other concerns will be put to rest.
While a billion Indians and a few million in other parts of the world would be hoping for an Indian victory, one Indian, yours truly, will be eagerly awaiting to get back into action soon to join his teammates in this historic journey.