NEW DELHI, 11 March 2004 — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee added a new color to Indo-Pakistan ties as well as cricket diplomacy by asking cricket players to also win hearts during their tour of Pakistan.
“Khel hi nahi, dil bhi jitye, Meri shubhkamna aapke saath (Win not only the matches, but the hearts as well. My best wishes are with you),” Vajpayee said when the cricket team called on him yesterday before its departure for Lahore.
Symbolizing a new turn to Indo-Pak diplomatic ties, the cricket encounter between the old foes is for the first time not overshadowed by any anti-Pak or anti-India war cry from either side. Instead, before its departure for Pakistan, the team was instructed on how to play the role of ambassadors with the most crucial tip coming from Vajpayee, a pioneering force behind the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process that has made the present cricket series possible.
The team presented to Vajpayee a cricket bat autographed by all players. Vajpayee presented a bat to them with the handwritten sporting message.
On behalf of the cricket team, BCCI joint secretary and team manager, Ratnakar Shetty assured the prime minister that the team would play with utmost sportsman spirit. In addition, it would play its part in further strengthening friendly relations between people of India and Pakistan, Shetty said
To wish the Indian team good luck, a large number of schoolchildren with placards lined up at the Prime Minister’s official 7 Race Course residence. Earlier addressing a press conference, Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly said that the team would try to put in their best performance in the historic cricket series beginning on Saturday.
An Indian team is visiting Pakistan after a gap of 15 years.
Notwithstanding the security situation, Ganguly said, “Our (security) concerns will be there right through the 40 days, but we will try and give our best and hope for the best.”
Reminded of India’s performance in Pakistan in the past, Ganguly said, “Past has no meaning. There are two new teams and two new sides.”
On the previous day, while replying to a similar question, Ganguly said, “This time we will change history.”