ISLAMABAD, March 11, (AFP): Pakistan on Friday announced it would send its national cricket team to India for the World Twenty20 following security assurances from New Delhi, ending months of uncertainty.
The interior minister “Chaudhry Nisar (Ali Khan) has given permission to Pakistan’s team to play in India,” Najam Sethi, a senior Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) official, told reporters after a meeting with the minister.
The Pakistan team had been due to fly out on Wednesday but the government put their departure on hold, citing the threat posed by Hindu extremists who disrupted a meeting between the heads of the two cricket boards held in India last year.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Khan ruled out sending the team until special assurances were met from India.
Sethi said the government had now given its go-ahead.
“We received communication from the ICC (International Cricket Council) and BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). We received a letter from the Chief Minister of Bengal and the police chief,” he said.
“An hour ago our High Commissioner Abdul Basit met the Indian Secretary and the assurances were given.”
Diplomatic tensions have meant that the two teams have not played any bilateral series for more than three years, and their rivalry is restricted to multi-national tournaments such as the World T20.
They have not played a full series since 2007, although Pakistan did tour India late in 2012 for a short limited over series that failed to revive the ties fully.
PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said the team would leave tonight.
“The matter has been solved and after solid assurances from India the team will leave tonight,” Khan told media in Lahore. “We don’t want to give details of the flights as it could compromise the security.
“We told all the players that if anyone wants to pull out on security grounds then we can take special permission for him to be replaced but all the players are unanimously willing to go and give their best,” he said.
Pakistan will forego their first warm-up match — against a local West Bengal team — on Saturday but will take on Sri Lanka in the second practice match in Kolkata on Monday.
Their first match of the tournament will be held at Eden Gardens on March 16 against a qualifier team, followed by a clash against arch-rival India at the same venue three days later.
They will then take on New Zealand (March 22) and Australia (March 25) in their remaining Group B matches — both in Mohali.
The top two teams from each of the two pools will qualify for the semi-finals.
Pakistan team manager Intikhab Alam said the players remained focused.
“Yes, its a good news that we are going,” Alam told AFP. “The last three days caused some problems but now all the players are focused and will do their best in the tournament.”