Create love for cricket matches

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The names of cricket stars are on the front pages of the papers. The candidates for the election of the 14th Indian Parliament are mentioned at most in the lower part of the first page. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's decision to "send" the Indian cricket team to Pakistan was preceded by weeks of controversial discussion.

Cricket is the national sport in the countries of South Asia. The fate of the Indian team is followed so closely that public life is sometimes paralyzed during the games. At the World Cup in South Africa last year, Delhi, with a population of 14 million, was transformed into a "ghost town". Almost everyone watched the games, in homes, shops and offices. If the Indian team won, there would be no match for fireworks. India and Pakistan already met at that time. India won this game with six wickets. At that time it was only defeated by Australia in the final and became vice world champion.

The decision to play a series of Tests against Pakistan came after the Conference of South Asian Nations for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad in January this year. India and Pakistan agreed to resume the broken bilateral dialogue and want to bring the populations closer together. The visit to cricket stands in this context.

However, there was heated debate in India as to whether the players were safe in Pakistan. They themselves had expressed their doubts publicly. A spokesman for the Pakistani foreign minister then assured that the Indian team would receive the same protection as a US president. Countries like New Zealand canceled their scheduled tests in Pakistan due to safety concerns. After Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed the issue personally, the Indian team was given the opportunity to travel to Pakistan for cricket. Soon after the decision, many Indian media linked the success of the cricket team with the electoral success of the governing coalition. If anything happens to the team, Vajpayee's days as prime minister are numbered. If India loses Pakistan in the total number of games, the elections could be exciting. Should India, on the other hand, leave Pakistan as the winner, then Vajpayee could look forward to five more years as prime minister.

But the first thing to do was to ensure that Indian fans could watch the games live in the stadium. The two countries have resumed train and air connections, but so far only a few citizens have been able to cross the border because the embassies continue to issue very restrictive visas. Pakistan agreed to unbureaucratically so-called "cricket visas" for Indian ticket holders at a price of 15 rupees (approx. 30 cents). The purchase of the tickets for 1000-2000 Pakistani rupees (approx. 14-28 euros) could be processed very easily over the Internet. However, the Pakistani embassy in Delhi was hardly able to cope with the rush. Over 80,000 applications were received within a very short time. The line in front of the embassy never stopped. That is why it was decided, as an exception, to issue visas at the border so that no Indian ticket holder has to turn back disappointed.

All or nothing in Rawalpindi

There are two variants of cricket. There are one-day games in which a winner is determined in the evening. In the classic version, however, a game can last up to five days. Games often end in a draw. The cricket federations of the two countries agreed on the following procedure: The beginning was made with five "one-day games" in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and twice in Lahore. Then there are three "five-day games" on the schedule, first in Multan, then in Lahore and finally in Rawalpindi.

The spectators in both countries followed the one-day games with great enthusiasm. India, the bookmaker's favorite, won the first game on March 13 in Karachi. It was waited with great nervousness whether the authorities of the "crime stronghold Karachi" were up to the task of adequately protecting the players. The fear of attacks prevailed in both countries. After the first match, all doubts were dispelled. The joy of the first victory of the Indian team was overwhelming, the players around Captain Ganguly were already national heroes. But after the games in Rawalpindi on March 16 and Peshawar on March 19, the Indian team were suddenly 2-1 behind. From now on, the entire Indian public reacted nervously, because now it was a matter of winning the last two games in Lahore in order to avert a defeat in the overall standings of the one-day test matches. But the Indian team kept their nerve. In the first game in Lahore on March 21, it equaled to 2-2. On March 24th, the last game, victory was preceded by a fierce battle. And after the game, all of India cheered the team.

The five-day tests began on March 28th. In Multan, the Indian team won with a sensational performance after just three and a half days. This victory was called historic because of the clear result. Indeed, India has never won a five-day Test against Pakistan in its cricket history. The Indian team took part in the penultimate test on April 5th in Lahore with great euphoria. It presented itself confident of victory. Contrary to expectations, Pakistan was on the podium as the winner after just three and a half days. Since it is a 1-1 draw, Rawalpindi is all or nothing for both teams. At the time of going to press, the outcome of the game was still open.

The decision to send the Indian team to Pakistan has given the Indian government a tailwind. Relations with the neighboring country will benefit greatly from the "cultural exchange" and will bring people from both countries together. The decisive factor, however, is the dialogue between the populations, which must continue even after the game. It is already being considered to invite Pakistan's team to India for next year.