The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Positive signal from PM
- Renewing one-to-one cricket ties with Pakistan

Calcutta: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “maine khel ke logon ke upar chhod diya hai” remark, on renewing strictly bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan, in the Rajya Sabha Friday, is a strong pointer towards a change in stance.

One-to-one exchanges haven’t taken place for over four years.

The Prime Minister’s comment has come within days of an ice-breaking call from his counterpart in Pakistan, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Among other things, the latter pitched for reviving bilateral sporting (read: cricket) ties. In any case, General Pervez Musharraf, who has been calling the shots since October 1999, is the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) patron.

Vajpayee, significantly, was responding to a “clarification” from the effervescent Rajiv Shukla, a former India manager and influential Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) member.

It’s not clear, however, whether New Delhi will okay Tests/ODIs on each other’s soil or first call for a series at a neutral venue. Even that will be acceptable to both the BCCI and the PCB — in fact, to the entire fraternity.

“Clearly, the Prime Minister’s response is very encouraging. Moreover, as it turns out, it couldn’t have been better timed,” Shukla told The Telegraph, when contacted in New Delhi shortly after Vajpayee’s Pakistan-specific statement, read out separately, in both Houses of Parliament.

Indeed, the Prime Minister’s remark has come on the eve of the Asian Cricket Foundation’s (ACF’s) meeting in Dubai, where BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya and PCB chairman Lt General Tauqir Zia will be present.

Whatever the formal agenda, priority No.1 is damage-control. The ACF, by the way, works under the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) umbrella.

General Zia, of course, has gone on record saying the PCB would “reconsider” its decision to boycott the (rescheduled) Asia Cup, in Sri Lanka from August 9 (not 10)-28, if there was some reciprocity from India. Vajpayee’s “maine…” comment is definitely a starting point.

Even otherwise, a move is afoot to “officially request” Pakistan’s participation in a tournament which is the ACC’s sole fund-raiser. “It’s important for the Asia Cup to be held. Equally, it’s important for both India and Pakistan to compete,” insisted ACC chief executive Syed Ashraful Huq, when contacted in Dubai.

Incidentally, besides Dalmiya (the chairman), General Zia and Huq, the ACF session will be attended by ACC president Mohammed Ali Asghar, treasurer Habibur Rehman, (both from Bangladesh), Sri Lanka’s Hemmeka Amarasuriya, the UAE’s Abdul Rehman Bukhatir and (Pakistan’s) Ehsan Mani, who succeeds Malcolm Gray as International Cricket Council president in June.

According to Huq, an “informal meeting” will be held before the session formally gets underway at a hotel. It’s an eminently sensible move.

Though set to meet for just one day, it’s possible the big guns will deliberate on Sunday, too.

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