Imran says team should not play in Ahmedabad

Published: Wednesday, February 16, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Islamabad:Former cricket great Imran Khan has deplored attempts by a group of Hindu hardliners to spoil a Test pitch in a bid to disrupt Pakistan's forthcoming tour of India.

"Attempts to dig pitches by the extremists to disrupt Pakistan's tour of India and statements calling for cancellation of the tour are disheartening and uncalled for, fans in Pakistan and India are really hurt over such reports," he said.

"Cricket can further the peace process. Indian team and spectators were received so warmly last year and people here expect the same in India," Khan said referring to India's 2004 tour of Pakistan, their first for 15 years.

Pakistan are due to pay a reply visit, their first tour to India since 1999 to play three Tests and five One-day games but the tour faces an imbroglio over Pakistan's refusal to play a Test match in Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad is the main city in the western state of Gujarat where at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in communal riots in 2002.

The dispute has delayed the announcement of the schedule even though only 10 days remain before Pakistan land in India around February 25.

Pakistan's refusal has sparked calls for the tour to be cancelled and some suspected activists of the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena party were arrested attempting to dig up the pitch at Mohali, proposed venue of the first Test.

India's main Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has urged the government and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to cancel the tour if Pakistan insists on avoiding Ahmedabad.

"If Pakistan refuse to play in Ahmedabad it will be better to call off the tour," said BJP spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra.

The Shiv Sena party also wants the tour cancelled, saying India should not play cricket against Pakistan in protest at what it said was Islamabad's alleged support for militancy in the disputed Kashmir valley.

But Khan said the majority of Indians want to tour to go ahead.

"It's not a major threat, the vast majority of Indian public is looking forward to this tour, I was in India recently and everyone said they look forward to the tour," said Khan.

Khan, who is now an MP, played 82 Tests for Pakistan between 1971 to 1992 before taking up politics as head of his own party, Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaaf).

Khan, who led Pakistan to their first series win in India in 1987, backed the Pakistan Cricket Board's stance of not playing in Ahmedabad.

"I think Pakistan's stand is understandable, in 1987 I had to ask the players to wear helmets on the boundary line, we didn't want the team to come out of the ground but it was threatening the safety of the players."

"We were ambassadors of peace at that time, so we did not want to mar the tour because General Zia-ul-Haq, then Pakistan president, had done cricket diplomacy by visiting India during a match," said Khan.

A final decision on venues is expected by Thursday.

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