Pakistan Twenty20 squad leaves for India
The Pakistan Twenty20 squad, led by Mohammad Hafeez, has left Lahore for Delhi to play their first bilateral series against India since 2007. The players selected in the ODI squad - Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Wahab Riaz, Imran Farhat and Anwar Ali - will depart Pakistan on December 26.
"We are ready and prepared for the India challenge," Hafeez had said at the end of a training camp in Lahore. "We have trained so hard to get ready for the India series. India might be low at the moment [after losing to England in the Test series] but it's a new format and they have a very balanced T20 team.
"Nobody can deny the fact that a Pakistan-India series carries intense pressure. The contest is always full of pressure and full of expectations of people of both countries. We will try to express ourselves without any pressure."
Although it was Pakistan's turn to host a bilateral series, India were not keen to play at a neutral venue. There has been no international cricket in Pakistan since March 2009, when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan team bus. Bilateral ties between the two countries, however, had been suspended even before that incident, because of the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.
The longest gap in bilateral series between Pakistan and India was from 1962 to 1977, in the wake of wars in 1965 and 1971. The Kargil conflict in 1999 led to another break, until 2004. India's home ministry cleared the way for the upcoming series on October 30, four years after the Mumbai attacks.
"Cricket has always played its role in toning down the tensions," Shaharyar Khan, an ex-PCB chairman, told ESPNcricinfo. "There should have a series of Test matches as well but anyways its better to have something rather than nothing."
Shaharyar was the PCB chairman who brought India to Pakistan in 2004 for their first full series in 14 years. "Both countries have to play on regular basis," Shaharyar said. "No matter who wins, this cricket diplomacy will improve the relationship of both countries. It's a meaningless debate whose turn it was to host; the foremost intention was to revive the ties."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent