The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Face-saver hunt in tour backout

New Delhi, Feb. 12: The home ministry has made it abundantly clear to the Indian cricket authorities that it does not want the tour of Pakistan to take place before the polls, setting in motion various salvage attempts.

Official sources confirmed today that the ministry, headed by L.K. Advani, has advised the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to put off the tour till after the Lok Sabha polls, expected any time between mid-April and early May.

The ministry strongly believes that the security concerns informally expressed by some players should not be “overlooked” and that any unpleasant occurrence during the tour could vitiate the atmosphere for polls the government is nursing with a great deal of care and cash.

In Calcutta, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya said: “Whatever advice we receive from the government, we will abide by that.” But he added: “As of now, I have not received any communication, written or verbal, from the government.”

The options being considered range from postponement to a curtailed trip to avoiding “sensitive” venues.

Deferment is the most favoured option with the palliative that the BCCI announce the decision along with a set of fresh dates. “Not to disappoint the cricket fraternity, the tour could take place soon after the elections. India was supposed to play Bangladesh after the Pakistan tour. This could be cancelled and the team could go ahead with the Pakistan tour,” said sources.

Government sources said this course of action takes two wickets with one delivery. “One, it will not throw a spanner in the peace works and two, even if the tour creates some controversy, the new government will not have to look over its shoulder before coming to grips with it,” they explained.

It would also help the players “recoup” from the long tour of Australia that has left some senior members with injuries, and “regain their morale” after the one-day series defeat.

If the tour were to at all start in March, as scheduled, the suggestion is to play only Test matches and not one-dayers, which cause fan frenzy.

Although for the record the BCCI is saying a decision will be taken after the three-member team, which has a government official in Yashovardhan Azad — the IGP in charge of the elite security division — now in Pakistan reports on security, Dalmiya has made it clear the board will follow government advice. The team returns on Monday.

That would, as of now, mean postponement. As to how the team will play in the killing heat of May/June will be for the BCCI to ponder. After that, monsoon will set in and India is supposed to go to England in September.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said it believed that the tour would take place but hinted that it might approach the ICC for remedy if the Indians backed out at the eleventh hour on grounds of security.

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