Pakistan's T20 champions Faisalabad Wolves will finally play on Indian soil. In less than a year, the Wolves will be the second Pakistani team to tour India. The Pakistan national squad had played three ODIs and a couple of T20s between December 25, 2012 and January 6, 2013 as part of the International Cricket Council's Future Tour Programme.
Media reports said the Prime Minister's Office played a key role in helping Faisalabad players obtain visas for the Champions League T20 qualifiers to begin in Mohali on September 17. Due to the current political climate prevailing between India and Pakistan and apprehending security problems, the Ministry of External Affairs was reluctant to give the Faisalabad team a go ahead.
"As a matter of abundance precaution and caution in terms of safety and security, the government did not give green signal for the cricket team's visit," government sources had said. But everything changed on Friday with the PMO stepping in and senior Board of Control for Cricket in India official Rajeev Shukla assuring that all care will be taken.
Haroon Rasheed, the Wolves manager, welcomed the development, calling it a "positive sign". "I think it will be the first step towards reviving Indo-Pak cricket which is so cruelly suspended." India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are already planning a tri-series in December in case the tour of South Africa fell through.
"All the players are very excited and we have no fears as the focus will only be on cricket. We have enough experience in Misbah-ul-Haq, Saeed Ajmal, Asad Ali and Ehsan Adil and we will do our best to reach the main rounds," Rasheed said.
Faisalabad coach Naveed Anjum said on Friday: "It's a victory for cricket. After days of uncertainty, we can now focus on cricket. The boys were sent home but now they have to quickly pack and assemble at Lahore."
Led by Misbah, the Wolves will feature in the four-team qualifying rounds starting in Mohali from Tuesday. Two teams will join eight other teams - three from India, two from South Africa, two from Australia and one from the West Indies - to compete in the event which ends on October 6.
New Delhi stalled all bilateral cricket with Pakistan after Islamist gunmen attacked Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people in an assault blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistanis featured in the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008, before the attacks, but Sialkot Stallions were allowed to feature in the CLT20 last year as the event was held in South Africa.
Subhan Ahmed, chief operating officer of the Pakistan Cricket Board, is in India to attend the Asian Cricket Council meeting in Chennai on Saturday and is expected to talk to his Indian counterparts about reviving ties. India last played Pakistan in an ICC Champions Trophy match in Birmingham in June this year.
(with inputs from AFP)