The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Boxed in but back in play
- Madrid casts long shadow

Karachi, March 12: As a fallout of the high-casualty Madrid blasts, credit for which has been taken by al Qaida, the Indian cricketers have been “internally advised” to stay put in their hotel rooms during their short stay here and next week in Peshawar.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, the advisory was verbally intimated as it’s widely believed that some owing allegiance to al Qaida, who sneaked in after the Afghan war, have managed to survive Islamabad’s crackdown. And, yet again, it’s better safe than sorry.

For the record, Team India’s itinerary has been so planned to limit exposure both in Karachi and Peshawar.

One understands that IG Yashovardhan Azad, assigned by the home ministry to function as the chief security liaison officer, was contacted by agencies back home early in the day once reports began coming in about al Qaida’s possible involvement in Madrid.

“A panic scenario hasn’t been created, but the players were reminded of the blasts and cautioned against stepping out of their hotel room except to head for the ground,” is how a source put it. He added this was conveyed in Lahore itself, this morning, before the team boarded a PIA 747 for the 90-minute flight here.

As expected, security in Karachi — which now has more cars and private protection firms — is choking. In fact, speaking generally, captain Sourav Ganguly even termed the cover “suffocating at times” in an interaction with the media, ahead of the first ODI, at the National Stadium tomorrow.

“I’m just seeing security and more security.... It’s up to the throat and suffocating at times…. Right now, we’re coping with it but, then, I can’t say how we may feel after seven-eight days,” Sourav responded to one of the many questions on security.

As part of the arrangements, almost exclusively handled by the paramilitary Rangers, the 747 was taken to an isolated bay before the players disembarked to a red carpet welcome. The other passengers waited till Sourav and Co. walked the 100 metres to the VIP lounge and the carpet had been rolled up.

Nobody slipped up during the two days in Lahore, but the security personnel here appear more reasonable and much less on edge. While Punjab Police’s elite commandos looked after the team’s immediate security in stop No.1, Anti-Terrorist Force commandos are doing the same in Karachi.

The crowd here doesn’t have the best reputation — particularly notorious has been the students’ enclosure — but the federal government has taken the unprecedented step of asking fans to be on their “best behaviour”. It’s a directive, no less.

In a nice gesture, the City District Government of Karachi has placed a number of banners welcoming the “Indian cricket team” and “Indian guests” besides proclaiming “Games and Sports for Peace and Love”.

The National Stadium will, clearly, be packed to its 33,000 capacity. And, in an unusual move, the local administration has “permitted” two movie halls to screen the ODI live.

In any case, the Sindh government has declared a public holiday — it’s the best way of celebrating the first full tour by Team India in over 14 years.

As a moment, it’s going to be huge when Sourav and Inzamam-ul Haq go for the toss. Most feel it will be the proverbial defining moment for quite some time.

Much has been made of the goodwill bit but, frankly, it’s going to be a hard series and tour. Both captains, by the way, noted nothing much should be made of Pakistan A’s stunning win over India yesterday. The business-end of the trip begins tomorrow.

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