Pakistan cricket team arrive in India for first time in seven years after visa issues

Pakistani players arrive in India to cheering fans, but faced a nervous wait for visa approval to enter country for Cricket World Cup

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 28 September 2023 11:26 BST
Pakistan cricket team arrive in India for first time in seven years after visa issues

Pakistan’s cricket team arrived in India after a gap of almost seven years to cheers from fans and messages of welcome from their Indian counterparts, as they prepare to participate in the 13th edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup starting from 5 October.

It comes after the team faced what officials described as an “extraordinary delay” in securing visas for the players to enter India, with permission only being granted hours before they arrived on Wednesday night.

Pakistan and India have a long history of hostility since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, marked by three wars and restrictions on the movement of their citizens across the border. Despite the two countries being neighbours there are no direct flights, with journeys between the two typically taking a long detour via Dubai.

It all makes for one of the world’s fiercest sporting rivalries, with India-Pakistan matches considered must-see events across South Asia. They are all the more hotly anticipated because of their rarity, with the two sides only facing each other in international tournaments. Pakistan last played in India during the T20 World Cup in 2016.

Star Indian cricketer Virat Kohli wrote on X: “I warmly welcome Pakistan Cricket Team on their arrival in my country after a long time period of 7 years.”

He added that he would host a party “for my friends, especially for (all-rounder) Shadab (Khan) at my house.” He added: “Love you all, always spread love and joy.”

Photos and videos shared on social media showed Pakistan’s players trooping out with a cheering crowd waiting for them outside the airport in the Indian city of Hyderabad.

The 2023 Cricket World Cup will take place in India between 5 October and 19 November. Arch-rivals India and Pakistan will play at the Narendra Modi Stadium at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Sports Complex in Ahmedabad on 14 October.

It is expected to be one of the most-watched matches of the tournament.

The original match date of 15 October coincided with the commencement of the Hindu festival of Navratri and local police said they would be unable to provide adequate security. The match was subsequently rescheduled to be held on 14 October.

Former foreign minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari wrote on X: “The Pakistan cricket team reached India last night for the World Cup to a heartwarming reception by the Indian people. Good luck Team Pakistan, make us proud!”

“Although we have not played in India before, we are not taking too much pressure. We have done our research and we have heard the conditions are similar to how they play out in other Asian countries,” Babar Azam, the captain of the team, told the media before leaving for India.

“I am excited to play in Ahmedabad as it will be jam-packed. I will try my best to perform up to my potential. I am not worried about my individual accolades, I want to make sure whatever I do helps the result for the team,” he added.

The head of the Pakistan Cricket Board management committee Zaka Ashraf said: “The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has assured the ICC (International Cricket Council) that all teams will be provided the best security and will be well looked after so I don’t expect anything different for our team. I don’t think our team will face any issues in India.”

Upon their arrival in Hyderabad, Pakistan’s cricketers took to social media to share their reactions to the welcome they received. “Amazing reception from the people here. Everything was super smooth. Looking forward to the next 1.5 months,” wrote Muhammad Rizwan.

The official handle of PCB also shared a video of fans cheering for the Pakistan team on their arrival on X. “A warm welcome in Hyderabad as we land on Indian shores,” the handle wrote.

Direct flights between India and Pakistan have remained suspended for over four years due to deteriorating relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, primarily stemming from New Delhi’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Shahid Afridi, former Pakistan cricketer wrote on Instagram: “Great welcome, thus far.” The post soon went viral.

In the spirit of camaraderie, one fan wrote: “Thanks to Indians for a warm welcome of Pakistan Cricket Team That was totally unexpected & so mesmerising.”

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