Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Cricket the winner as Pak awaits Team India

Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2004, 19:55 [IST]
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Islamabad:India is the flavour of the month in Pakistan as the South Asian neighbours put aside their political differences to resume what is regarded as the ultimate rivalry in cricket.

When Sourav Ganguly's Team India lands in the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday for their first full tour of Pakistan in 15 years, they will be overwhelmed by the generous reception being put on by the hosts.

"This will be a moment like no other, the long wait is over," Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive Ramiz Raja said. "Pakistan is known for its hospitality and we will not be found wanting when it comes to taking care of our guests."

The common man was equally excited at the prospect of watching the likes of India's Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly in action on Pakistani soil.

"I can't wait for the series to start," an immigration officer at Lahore's plush new Allama Iqbal airport told visiting Indian journalists. "Welcome to Pakistan. You have come here to write history."

Asked how fans would react in victory or defeat, he said, "Neither India nor Pakistan will win. The only winner will be the game of cricket."

The hype surrounding the tour is not out of place. India has not played a Test match on Pakistani soil since 1989 as political agendas put a sport regarded as a religion in the sub-continent on the backburner.

Tendulkar, who made his debut on that 1989 tour, is the only player on either side to have first-hand experience of an India-Pakistan Test match on Pakistani soil.

India begin the tour with five One-day Internationals from Saturday followed by three Tests at Multan, Lahore and Rawalpindi. When the first ball is bowled, it will be forgotten that barely two years ago the armies of the two countries were locked in eyeball-to-eyball confrontation on the borders.

But the recent thaw in diplomatic relations saw India end a three-year ban on bilateral cricket ties on October 22 last year. Five months later, cricket is back in business.

The PCB hopes to earn 20 million dollars from India's tour as sponsors queue up to put their name on the most eagerly-awaited cricket series outside the World Cup. "The past is behind us and on Wednesday both Pakistan and India will start a new phase in their cricket history," PCB's Raja said.

"A series between the traditional rivals with not only billions of people involved but also both the Governments taking a keen interest in it is something very unusual."

A four-member Indian security delegation will accompany Ganguly's men all through the 40-day tour, while Pakistan has appointed senior police official Sohail Khan as the security co-ordinator.

Pakistan is not taking any chances. Any untoward incident could scuttle not only future cricket ties between the two countries but also the ongoing peace process. That is another reason why this tour has sent cricket-obsessed fans into a frenzy.

"I want to make the most of it, who knows when India will play Pakistan next," said software executive Sohail Ali on the flight from Lahore to Islamabad. "Don't be so surprised at my reaction. When cricket is at the mercy of politicians, one has to be pessimistic."

There were no Tests played between India and Pakistan from 1961-1978, and again from 1989 until now, due to political tensions.

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