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Cricket plane to Pak taxies, waits for overflight to take off

Calcutta, Sept. 8: It’s not official, but the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government appears to have linked the renewal of Test and ODI level contacts with Pakistan to that country’s unconditional clearance of overflights by India.

There have been none from both sides after the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament. Moreover, the just-ended talks (featuring civil aviation officials) in Rawalpindi failed.

“We have been keen to resume overflights, but Pakistan has tied its own approval to a guarantee that New Delhi won’t ever again enforce a ban,” explained a well-placed source.

Apparently, owing to rerouting, Air India is losing “ten times” more than Pakistan’s national carrier (PIA) and this hasn’t amused many in the corridors of power. So….

“In principle, the government has no problems okaying bilateral cricket ties. However, some officials have made a strong case for no big-league action till Air India’s bleeding is stopped. It’s unlikely, then, that New Delhi will clear a series till Islamabad acts on overflights,” the source told The Telegraph.

Though participation in mega tournaments like the World Cup and Champions Trophy is allowed, there has been no one-to-one engagement since early 1999.

While the overflights business may take some time, the government today approved a “package-application” forwarded by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The “package” had three components and all included Pakistan: An academies’ meet in Sri Lanka this month; an U-19 tournament in Pakistan, probably in the first half of November, and an A series in India, around the middle of December.

[New Delhi, by the way, has also okayed Pakistan’s presence in the Afro-Asian Games.]

Predictably, the government’s decision has been welcomed by BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya and Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Lt General Tauqir Zia.

“All along, the signals have been positive…. Now, I’m hopeful of a speedy clearance at the seniors’ level,” is how a distinctly happy Dalmiya greeted the announcement.

Speaking exclusively from Rawalpindi, General Zia said: “It’s good news…. But, New Delhi must appreciate that only the resumption of Tests and ODIs, between the two countries, will help improve our cricket….”

Incidentally, Dalmiya is understood to have recently met foreign minister Yashwant Sinha. Rajya Sabha member Rajiv Shukla, a former Team India manager, has been pitching in as well.

According to Shukla, General Pervez Musharraf has promised to personally “guarantee” security at every venue. This assurance was handed out during his trip to Pakistan a few weeks ago.

After all, once exchanges resume, it will be India’s turn to tour Pakistan.

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