New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs has cleared an India-Pakistan ODI and T20 cricket series, to be played during the Christmas week and over the New Year, when touring England return home for a break.
The series is likely to be played between December 25 and January 7 - three one day internationals and two T20 matches will be played at Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Kolkata.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India or BCCI had announced in July that, "It was decided to resume cricketing ties with Pakistan by inviting the Pakistan cricket team for a short series in December 2012 - January 2013." The modalities would be worked out shortly, the BCCI had said in its statement then. Those modalities, primarily the security concerns and clearances required in cricket with Pakistan, were worked out today, senior BCCI official Rajiv Shukla said.
England, who are already in India, will finish playing four Test matches and will fly back for Christmas. They will then be back in the New Year to play ODIs and one T20 match. In that time, the Pakistan team will fly in and play India. For Team India, it will mean back to back games without a breather, but there is huge interest likely since India and Pakistan will resume cricket ties after five years.
The tour has been organised at the behest of the Pakistan Cricket Board, which has been seeking resumption of cricketing ties for some time now. The two countries last played a Test and ODI series in 2007. Then came the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 plunging bilateral ties between the two countries to an all-time low. Cricket suffered. India were scheduled to tour Pakistan in January 2009, but most players said they were reluctant to go.
Sri Lanka stepped in and agreed to tour Pakistan instead, but a terror attack on the visiting team in Lahore on March 3, 2009, saw an end to international cricket in Pakistan. Since then, no international team has toured Pakistan. Even World Cup 2011 matches scheduled to be played in Pakistan were shifted to other venues in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
On the sidelines of efforts to revive bilateral ties between the two nations, the Pakistan Cricket Board has been pushing hard to resume cricketing ties with India and also bring back international cricket to Pakistan. Earlier this year, the foreign secretaries of both the countries had talked about resuming sporting contact and PCB chief Zaka Ashraf made three offers - that India could tour Pakistan, or play them at a neutral venue, or then it could allow PCB to host their home series in India. The PCB chief has held several meetings with BCCI president N Srinivasan.
For the last five years, India and Pakistan have only played each other in multi-team series and in the famous semi-final of the 2010 World Cup when India defeated Pakistan at Mohali.
When the tour was announced in July, it was welcomed by cricketers, including Indian skipper MS Dhoni who had said, "It will be good for us if Pakistan team comes here to play." But former India captain Sunil Gavaskar had warned that India would at that time be in the middle of playing England, one the world's top teams, and would need the rest that the Christmas holidays would afford before going back headlong to the one-dayers.
He had also said, "As a Mumbaikar I feel what's the need of playing cricket with Pakistan? What's the urgency of playing cricket when there has been no co-operation from the other side? If you get away by doing a wrong thing once then you tend to do it again."
Kirti Azad, former India cricketer and now a BJP MP, also slammed the decision to resume ties with the neighbours. "What has changed that the government now wants to play cricket, and the BCCI and the government say that they want to improve ties? How have the ties improved since 1977-78 when India and Pakistan started playing cricket?"
The Maharashtra Congress too had asked the BCCI to reconsider the decision to restart cricket ties with Pakistan. The Congress in New Delhi, however, said that it had always maintained that cricket and politics should be kept apart.