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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 13:26 GMT
Long wait almost over for India fans
By Ayanjit Sen
BBC in Delhi

India's Anil Kumble and Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq
Six years is a long break - we have been starved
India fan Surender Singh

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then Pakistan can expect to be greeted with open arms when they arrive for their first tour of India in six years.

Cricket matches between India and Pakistan are hailed as the mother of all sporting contests on the sub-continent.

The easing last year of political tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir allowed Pakistan to host India for the first time in 14 years.

Now it is India's turn, and the fans can't wait for the Test and one-day series in March and April.

"Six years is a long break. We have been starved of seeing Inzamam bat and the entire Pakistani team out in the middle," says Surender Singh, a sales agent in the Indian capital Delhi.

"Come what may, I shall go to watch the one-day international in Delhi," says Parikrit Sharma, a college student.

"I have exams in April but I shall somehow manage to go and watch it. I want to see the way Virender Sehwag hammers the Pakistani bowlers, who are without their star Shoaib Akhtar."

A friend of Parikrit's, Abhijit Chakrabarty, feels Shoaib should have made it to India despite the hamstring injury which forced the fast bowler to rule himself out.

India fans Ravi Tikku and Surender Singh
Not everyone in India is looking forward to the series, but almost

Shoaib's absence undoubtedly robs the series of some glamour, but it won't stop the fans coming out in droves.

"I am a great fan of Shoaib, the Rawalpindi Express," admits Chakrabarty.

"I wish he was coming. It would have been a great sight to watch him bowl at our batsman, But I shall still go to the match along with all my friends."

Devender Bhasin, a 34-year-old who travelled to Pakistan for last year's series, says the tour should act as a friendship bridge between the two sporting and political rivals.

"When we had gone to Lahore to see the match last year, we got a warm welcome," says Bhasin, a resident of Calcutta.

"We should reciprocate now and make the stay of the Pakistani fans memorable.

"This tour should also help make relations better between the two countries."

The Indian High Commission in Pakistan has decided to open special visa offices in Lahore and Karachi for the thousands of fans who want to travel across the border.

And additional bus and train services are also being planned between the two countries.

Cricket authorities in the venues for the series say they are expecting full houses for the matches.

But Ravi Tikku, a grocery shop owner, is not bothered about the tour of the Pakistani cricket team.

"Yes, I heard they are coming. So, what's the big deal? Can they solve Kashmir?" Tikku asks.

That seems unlikely, but one thing is for sure - politics will get serious competition from cricket for headline space when Pakistan come to town.


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