Babar Azam says India ‘feels like home’ after Pakistan World Cup visa controversy

Pakistan team’s trip to India overshadowed by controversy after they only got visas at the last minute

Sakshi Gupta
Friday 06 October 2023 08:50 BST
India’s captain Rohit Sharma and Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam during captain’s press conference on the eve of ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in Ahmedabad
India’s captain Rohit Sharma and Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam during captain’s press conference on the eve of ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in Ahmedabad (AP)

Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam acknowledged the generous hospitality his side received in India ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, despite controversy over the players’ visas to enter the host country.

Azam talked about the last few days he and the Pakistan team have spent in India at the Captains’ Day event at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium on Wednesday, on the eve of the 2023 cricket tournament.

He said that after his team landed in Hyderabad city, it did “not feel like we are in India; it was like we are at home”. The Pakistani skipper also said on Instagram that his team was left “overwhelmed with the love and support” they received in the city from the Indian public.

Cricket matches between India and Pakistan often become an intense spectacle closely watched in the subcontinent due to the rivalry of their teams, owing to the tense relations shared between the countries themselves. The two teams no longer play each other in bilateral cricket matches and compete only at multi-team events.

And Azam’s statement at the event comes in the backdrop of a controversy over visas, where the entire Pakistani side received visas to travel to India – the host country of this year’s World Cup – only at the last minute.

“We received good hospitality, and we were not expecting this, but I think the way people responded to us, everyone enjoyed it,” he said.

“We are here for a week in Hyderabad, so we do not feel like we are in India; it was like we are at home. We enjoyed and had a lot of fun. It’s good, and I think it’s a golden opportunity for everyone to give 100 per cent and enjoy the tournament,” he said at the event, which included the captains of all the 10 teams participating at the World Cup.

This was the first trip to India for a majority of Pakistan’s players, he said, and they were in awe of the crowd’s response towards them when they arrived.

Other cricketers who appreciated the warm welcome they received from India included Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan and fast bowler Shaheen Afridi.

The comments seemingly allayed fears of tense scenes during the Pakistan team’s India visit, as the run-up to the tournament has been less than amicable.

Controversy had erupted when Pakistan’s national team announced they had not received their visas with hours to go until they were due to travel.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was forced to write to the International Cricket Council (ICC), complaining about the visa delay. The PCB claimed this had disrupted the team’s preparations for the tournament.

Azam and his team had planned to take a two-day team bonding trip to the UAE before travelling to India. But the visa delay meant their passports were at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, causing Pakistan to cancel their UAE trip.

The team reached Hyderabad less than 48 hours before their first warm-up game against New Zealand. The match took place behind closed doors after local police reportedly failed to provide assurance about arranging adequate security for the game.

India’s first match will be on Sunday 8 October, while Pakistan’s is on Friday against the Netherlands. The opening match of the 2023 World Cup was between England and New Zealand at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Thursday.

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