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7 January 1999
India insist Pak tour on as Hindu militants dig up pitch
NEW DELHI, Jan 7 (AFP) - Indian cricket officials pledged Thursday Pakistan's first Test series on India soil in 12 years would go ahead as scheduled after Hindu militants opposed to the tour damaged one of the venues.
About 25 supporters of firebrand Hindu leader Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena party stormed New Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla stadium, the venue of the first Test, on Wednesday night and dug up the pitch.
Delhi cricket secretary Sunil Dev said the damage was "minimal and repairable" and was confident the wicket would be ready before the Test starts on January 28.
"Cricket lovers all over India are waiting for this tour, and we will make sure it takes place," Dev said. "We cannot be taken to ransom by fanatics not interested in the game."
The Shiv Sena, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said they would "go to any extent" to prevent the Pakistani cricketers from playing in India.
"Games are played between friends and not enemies," said Jaya Bhagwan Goel, the head of the party's Delhi unit. "How can you play with a country which is bent on destroying you."
Goel also threatened physical assault on the tourists, saying "it was now for Pakistan to think about the safety of it's players. Everything is possible in this charged atmosphere."
Police tightened security around the Kotla ground after the incident and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ordered other centers staging Pakistan's matches to follow suit.
"All the venues will be protected with immediate effect," BCCI secretary Jayawant Lele said, adding he was in constant touch with both the Indian government and Pakistani cricket officials.
Pakistan, who last played a Test on Indian soil in March 1987, are due to arrive here on January 21 for a two-Test series, the Asian Test championship opener against India and a triangular one-day series also featuring Sri Lanka across India.
In 1991, Thackeray's men vandalised the pitch at Bombay's Wankhede stadium two days before Pakistan were to play a one-day series in India.
Pakistan cancelled that tour, and two more in 1993 and 1994, because of security fears. They however played in India during the 1996 World Cup and the Independence Cup the following year without any problems.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has personally pledged to protect the visitors this time, although Pakistani cricket chief Khalid Mahmood warned last month that the tour could still be called off if the safety of cricketers could not be guaranteed.
Pakistan are not scheduled to play in the Shiv Sena-controlled western state of Maharashtra, including the cricket-mad state capital of Bombay, during the two-month tour.
Four persons arrested for damaging the Kotla wicket admitted they were carrying out instructions from Thackeray, who said on Monday his "boys" were taking steps to prevent the tour from going ahead.
The vandals struck late on Wednesday after scaling the walls of the stadium from an adjacent petrol pump. Police officials on the spot did nothing to stop the damage.
"Luckily, it was very dark and also raining," Dev said. "They probably could not see properly because there are only small holes on the wicket."
Lele ruled out a shift in venues, saying the government had approved all staging centers. But cricket fans were still apprehensive about the tour going ahead.
Many wondered whether the Pakistanis would take kindly to such an attack taking place in the Indian capital, the seat of the Hindu nationalist government which has pledged to protect the cricketers.
Source :: AFP