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December 12, 2008
India's sports minister, MS Gill, has said India should not tour Pakistan in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai. While voices on both sides of the border have lobbied for and against the tour, Gill's statement is the first direct statement on the issue by a member of the Indian government.
"Is it possible for one team to arrive in Mumbai and indulge in mass murder, and have another team go and play cricket in the winter afternoon sun at Lahore, immediately after?" Gill told PTI. Sporting contact, he said, was meant to enhance friendship, and the cricket series was not a commercial drama to go ahead under the surveillance of thousands of security personnel.
The final decision, as he pointed out, rests with the government.
Gill's Pakistan counterpart, Aftab Jilani, however, remains optimistic and said there "was a ray of hope" that the tour would go ahead. "Cricket has a huge popularity in both countries and it will help ease out the tension if the Indian cricket team tours Pakistan next month," Jilani told AP.
He, however, steered clear of Gill's statement and was hopeful that Butt's meeting with the BCCI and ICC officials would be constructive. "I can't comment on what Mr. Gill has said, it's his opinion," he said. "But I am very hopeful that something positive will come out of Ijaz Butt's meeting with officials of Indian cricket board.
"The government of Pakistan does not want tension with India and if we play cricket with each other it will be a step in the right direction," he said. "If India is not satisfied with the security situation [in Pakistan] there's a possibility of playing the series at a neutral venue. In my opinion sports should move on and we should play at whatever place it's possible."
The statements came on a day when PCB chairman Ijaz Butt had a meeting with Asian Cricket Council (ACC) officials and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat in Chennai, with the hope of salvaging the series. However after the meeting, the ACC said the decision on whether India should tour Pakistan or not was a matter that should be sorted out by the two countries and that it had no say in the issue.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni refused to comment on the issue and said the team's focus was firmly on the two-Test series at home against England. "I don't want say anything about it right now," he said. "It is up to the government and the word has been sent across to the board. We still have time to decide whether to go or not. We are pre-occupied with the England series right now."
Saleem Altaf, the PCB's chief operating officer, remained hopeful that the series would take place. "The situation was very tense back in 2004 and all the wrong signals were coming (from India)," he told the News. "But diplomacy helped save that series and India toured Pakistan back then. I'm hopeful that it will happen again this time."
Sunil Gavaskar, the former Indian captain, had earlier echoed Gill's sentiment, saying it will be "impossible" for India to tour Pakistan given the deterioration in political relations between the two countries following the Mumbai terror attacks.
India are scheduled to tour Pakistan from January 6 to February 19 for three Tests, five ODIs and a Twenty20 international. However, doubts over the tour emerged after evidence linked some of the terrorists in the Mumbai attack to Pakistan.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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