Mantri's goodwill Pakistan tour
On a day the governments of India and Pakistan resumed talks, and the possibility of a cricket series lingered in the background, there emerged this story of an Indian tour of Pakistan in 1961. Not a Test tour but one by a corporate team led by the late Madhav Mantri and including at least five other Test players. The tour itself was born out of a series of coincidences, as Mantri explained in a book brought out by ACC Limited, where he was employed for 30-odd years. ''We were accumulating all the money in Pakistan and could not bring it to India," Mantri wrote. "In 1961, ACC's manager in Pakistan, an Englishman named Banks, wrote to our MD, suggesting that we send over a cricket team to Pakistan and use the money accumulated to fund the visit. Now Banks used to follow cricket and was aware that the ACC had a very good cricket team. There were many players in the company's team who had represented the country both in India and abroad - Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni, Ramakant Desai, Rusi Modi, Dilip Sardesai, among others. Banks also knew that cricket was keenly followed in Pakistan and a team that had well-known Indian players would be widely welcomed."
Mantri wrote that he was called by the MD and asked to take a team over to Pakistan. "He said, 'Go and spend the money.'" The team spent a month in Pakistan playing matches against teams comprising Test players, at their Test centres - Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, and even Dhaka, right across India in what was then East Pakistan. "Everywhere, there were large crowds cheering the teams," Mantri wrote. "The newspapers too would cover the matches in detail because so many Test-level players were playing on both sides…The goodwill and publicity that was generated for the company by this tour was much more than we could have ever achieved if we had spent the money on advertisements and publicity.'' An early, if informal, version of cricket diplomacy, it seems.