Cricket: Vandals fail to stop tour

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OFFICIALS FROM both countries are adamant Pakistan's first Test series on Indian soil in 12 years will go ahead as scheduled despite Hindu militants' vandalism of the New Delhi venue for the first match.

About 25 supporters of the extremist leader Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena party stormed the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium on Wednesday and dug up the pitch. But the Delhi cricket secretary, Sunil Dev, said the damage is "minimum and repairable" and is confident the wicket will be ready before the Test starts on 28 January.

"Cricket lovers all over India are waiting for this tour, and we will make sure it takes place," said Sunil. "We cannot be taken to ransom by fanatics not interested in the game."

Police tightened security around the ground after the incident, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India ordered other grounds staging Pakistan's matches to follow suit.

"All the venues will be protected with immediate effect," said the BCCI secretary, Jayawant Lele, adding he is in constant touch with the Indian government and Pakistani cricket officials. "We will not fail to provide adequate security. I am keeping the Pakistani officials posted of the situation. As of now, the tour is on," said Lele.

Pakistan, who last played a Test on Indian soil in March 1987, are due to arrive on 21 January for a two-Test series, the Asian Test championship opener against India and a triangular one-day series featuring Sri Lanka.

The vandals, four of whom were arrested, struck late on Wednesday night. "Luckily, it was very dark and also raining," said Sunil. "They probably could not see properly. There are only small holes on the wicket."

A leading official of the Hindu group that vandalised the pitch has warned touring Pakistan players that they risk physical assault during the tour.

Jaya Bhagwan Goel, head of Shiv Sena's Delhi unit, was adamant the party would do its utmost to disrupt the tour. "Games are played between friends and not enemies. How can you play with a country that is bent on destroying you?

"It is now for Pakistan to think about the safety of its players. Everything is possible in this charged atmosphere," he warned.

However, the Pakistan Cricket Board's chief executive, Majid Khan, said the tour to India was in no danger and would go ahead. "We are monitoring the situation and since the Indian government have given the clearance there are no fears," he said.

The Pakistan captain, Wasim Akram, insisted the tour must go ahead. "It's very sad to hear that some people are bent upon mixing sports and politics. It's very sad they have showed their anger on a pitch whereas it should have been left for play only," he said.

"We are going there to better the relations between the two countries, and I hope the Indian Government will not allow a handful of people to deprive cricket lovers."

"Both governments have given the go-ahead for the tour, and the Indian premier has been very keen to see the tour go through so it should go on," added Wasim.

Wasim added security concerns will increase after last night's incident but said he has never felt insecure playing in India.

"People in India are very loving and caring and they want to see Pakistani players in action," he said.