Tensions soar ahead of Indo-Pak series

The Indo-Pak series is going to be a tough one but for Indian cricketers, the tension of threats will only add to the pressure.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Lahore:It is being described as the biggest event in the international cricket calendar. The Indo-Pak series is going to be a tough one but for Indian cricketers, the tension of threats will only add to the pressure. Pakistan's young team is practising hard in Lahore. One hundred and fifty million Pakistanis are demanding nothing less than victory against India's fancied Men in Blue. But this time, even these team members believe they're more than just cricketers. They are diplomats in a peace process that means a great deal to their country. "Such matches should start on a regular basis. It will benefit both our teams, some new youngsters will join in and financially too it will do us good," said Inzamam-ul-Haq, captain, Pakistan cricket team. Crowd hostility For most of these Lahoris, cricket-crazy like their cousins across the Wagah border, this Indian tour is taking on symbolic overtones that go far beyond cricket. "Pakistan welcomes the Indian team. We hope that we also go to India and that they come again," said a local. Pushed to the background by the euphoria of peace are memories of crowd violence in places like Kolkata in 1999. Instead, Pakistan's manager during that tour wants Pakistani spectators to be like those at Chennai. "It depends to a great extent on the way the crowds and the public take to the contest. In 1999 in Chennai, the whole crowd stayed on and gave us a standing ovation. It was quite memorable," recalled Shahriyar Khan, PCB Chairman. The problem though for most Indians is not so much crowd hostility as the danger that jehadi groups may try to scuttle the Indo-Pak peace process by attacking the Indian cricket team. Tight security Pakistan's establishment says security will be as tight as for a visiting Head of State. "If the Prime Minister of India can be protected properly, why can't the cricket team be protected? Of course, they will be given the highest security cover," said Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, Foreign Minister, Pakistan. "The security is going to be watertight. I went with the Pakistani team to India in 1999 when a very similar situation was facing us. There were threats against us. The Shiv Sena had said it would disrupt the matches. We were tense when we went to India, but when we saw the security arrangement, we relaxed," added Shahriyar Khan. However, veterans in Pakistan's cricket establishment, who realise the passions that cricket generates here, know that the Indian team may have to cope with crowd misbehaviour. "The people are taking this series in a different way because sports is bringing the two countries closer," observed Javed Miandad, Pakistani coach. Visa rush And bringing them close will be 9,000 Indian fans with confirmed tickets, who will be given visas for Pakistan. Outside the embassy in Delhi, there are allegations about delay but Pakistan's Foreign Minister says orders have been passed. "I've suggested to them that we follow a more liberal visa regime because this is a major confidence building measure. The more people come in contact with one another, the more the peace process that we have been following will be encouraged and facilitated," maintained Kasuri. So cricket fans in both the countries are holding their breath for what will be a contest on several planes - Shoaib vs Sachin, Pakistan team vs Indian team, Pakistan's security forces vs its jehadis and ultimately, between old animosities and a new relationship.

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