Pakistan hosts India for blind series

India and Pakistan resumed cricketing ties Friday after three years -- albeit on a low level -- by fielding their blind teams for an international series kicking off with a fast-paced Twenty20.

Updated: November 18, 2011 17:33 IST
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Lahore: India and Pakistan resumed cricketing ties on Friday after three years -- albeit on a low level -- by fielding their blind teams for an international series kicking off with a fast-paced Twenty20.

Pakistan has hosted no major international cricket over security fears posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban since 2009, and India stalled direct cricketing ties after Islamist gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in late 2008.

But Pakistanis hope that a trouble-free, limited over series for blind and partially-sighted players from November 18 to 26, will convince others that the country is safe enough for mainstream sporting giants to return.

"It's a historical day for us," chairman of the Pakistan Blind Cricket Council (PBCC), Syed Sultan Shah, told AFP at the Lahore Gymkhana cricket ground in the eastern city of Lahore where a crowd of 250 cheered on play.

The event is also the latest sign of a thaw in diplomatic and economic relations, although the two nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947, remain deeply wary.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf is set to meet his counterpart in India later this month as both countries try to settle a series as early as next March despite a hectic schedule for world champions, India.

The countries are united by nothing if not their fanatical love of cricket.

At the cricket ground, one fan waving a massive Pakistan flag and wearing an "I love Pakistan" green top circled the perimeter of the ground, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Attendance was largely limited to children who cheered: "Long live Pakistan" and "Pakistan will win".

It is the first time in three years that an Indian team is in Pakistan -- the main cricket team last toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in 2008 -- and the first time in five years that the Indian blind team is playing Pakistan.

One of Pakistan's stand-out players was Mohammad Jamil, a partially sighted school teacher from Kashmir -- the divided Himalayan region that triggered two Indo-Pakistan wars -- who excited the crowd by clocking up run after run.

It was in Lahore that gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009, stripping Pakistan of its 2011 World Cup co-hosting rights and forcing Pakistan to play all subsequent international fixtures abroad.

Punjab provincial governor Latif Khosa, whose predecessor was shot dead in January for advocating blasphemy law reforms, said the blind series would help put matters on a better footing.

"I think this will go a long way... For other teams to follow suit and feel comfortable that there's nothing to be scared of," Khosa told AFP.

The two main cricket teams last met in the World Cup semi-final in India this March, watched by both prime ministers.

Afterwards there were calls by players and politicians for the resumption of cricketing links, as millions of fans were missing out due to the nuclear-armed neighbours' strained political ties.

On its website, the PBCC said it hopes the blind series helps "resume sports ties and friendship" with India and "highlight the safe image of Pakistan and (show) the other countries that Pakistan is safe for sports".

India may have beaten Pakistan in the World Cup, but Pakistan is expected to fare better this week, having won the two previous Blind Cricket World Cups, the last one at home in 2006. The Indian blind team is ranked number two.

"We're trying our level best. All the players are fit and very anxious to play. We're very happy to be here," said John David, the manager of the Indian team that has prepared for the match with a 12-day training camp in New Delhi.

A blind team comprises of four totally visually impaired players, three partially blind and four partially sighted players.

Totally blind players are helped by a runner whose one run is counted as double, two as four and four as eight.

The ball is larger than in standard cricket and is filled with ball bearings to help batsmen, bowlers and fielders sense its approach.

Two other Twenty20 matches will be played in Lahore on Saturday and Sunday, with one-day matches scheduled for November 22, 24 and 26 in Islamabad.

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