Pakistan's whistle stop two-week, five-match tour of India that starts on Christmas Day in Bangalore could be kicked off with the 3000 Pakistani ticket-holders for the series being issued Indian visas in less than ten days.
The Pakistan tour of India, featuring two T20 Internationals in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, and three ODIs in Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi, has been pushed through via the highest levels of the government and cricket administration on both sides of the border. The PCB will be issued the 3000 tickets and will soon finalise and announce the mechanism to be put in place for the sale of the tickets. Of the total 3000 tickets, there will be 1000 for the match in Delhi and 500 for each of the other four cities. Pakistan citizens holding tickets to all five matches will be issued five-city visas, an unusual diplomatic practice in itself. An announcement on a quicker visa-issuing process for the cricket is expected in a few days' time.
A four-man PCB recce team concluded its visit of India on Thursday, after travelling to each of the venues where the matches will be held. Ehsan Sadiq, the PCB's director of security and vigilance is the head of the delegation which includes Usman Wahla, manager international cricket, Sohail Khan, senior police officer of the Punjab Police and Nadeem Sarwar, general manager, media. Sarwar said that the issue of security will largely be left in the hands of the hosts. "What we expect is fool-proof security for our players, and we expect that the capability that these cities have will provide that."
The PCB recce team's chief concerns were more related to practice facilities and net bowlers, and ensuring that team hotels clear out mini-bars. There was, Sarwar said, no strict 'ban' on players socialising or attending private parties. "We would discourage individuals from socialising because it's going to be a very busy tour - five matches in 14 days. It's not like there's a ban or a restrictive list [of activities] on the tour, because there is very little time for socialising."
He said the future of Indo-Pak cricketing relations depended on India: "The ball will now be in their court." As for international cricket in Pakistan, Sarwar said that the PCB was confident that teams would start visiting Pakistan "very soon". "It is, at the moment, just a question of perception. We are in negotiations with several boards. Teams will start coming to Pakistan, hopefully soon."
On this tour, the Pakistan team, Sarwar said, wanted to redress their recent poor record against India: India had won the previous four games between the teams - two Asia Cup ODIs, the 2011 World Cup semi-final and a World T20 group match in September.
The PCB team met with BCCI president N Srinivasan in Chennai and were in Kolkata two days before the Test match between India and England. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former BCCI president and president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, told the PCB team that he appreciated the role played by PCB chief Zaka Ashraf's in pushing the series through.
The May and June meetings between Ashraf and Srinivasan led to the announcement of a schedule for the series, which is sandwiched between England's Test and ODI tour of India. In September, Ashraf met with the-then Indian foreign minister, SM Krishna, in Islamabad and two months later, the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan travelled to Lahore for discussions on visa issues with PCB officials.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo