The Pakistan cricket team has been greeted with warm applause and loud cheers by hundreds of Indian fans upon its arrival before the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, which starts on October 5.
The contingent landed at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad late on Wednesday and was given a raucous welcome by local fans who had lined up to catch a glimpse of the cricket stars from across the border.
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Videos posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on X, formerly Twitter, showed fans taking photographs with their phones and shouting the Pakistani players’ names to catch their attention as the squad walked past them inside the terminal.
Bigger crowds awaited the players outside the terminal and along their route out of the airport.
They let out loud cheers for Pakistan’s captain and star batter Babar Azam when he smiled and waved back while boarding the team’s bus.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) September 27, 2023
‘Indian fans are eager to see us’
The squad was scheduled to leave for the United Arab Emirates last week for a two-day team bonding session in Dubai before proceeding to India, but a visa delay meant the departure was delayed by a few days, leaving the team’s plans in disarray.
Prior to setting off for India, Azam said he expected Indian fans to support Pakistan despite decades of tense ties between the two countries.
“Most of our matches are sold out, which means Indian fans are eager to see us and support us in the stadiums,” Azam told reporters in Pakistan earlier this week.
“Former players who have toured India have told us to expect Indian cricket fans to cheer for us and greet us with warmth.”
Amazing reception from the people here. Everything was super smooth. Looking forward to the next 1.5 months 😇
— Muhammad Rizwan (@iMRizwanPak) September 27, 2023
Heartwarming scenes belie political tension
The heartwarming scenes in Hyderabad belied the diplomatic tensions that have all but stopped cross-border tourism and bilateral series due to stern restrictions on the movements of their citizens across the heavily militarised border.
Despite the strained relations between both governments, athletes from both nations have maintained friendly terms and are often seen sharing laughs before or after matches.
Star Indian batter Virat Kohli is a firm favourite in Pakistan, where fans have been spotted wearing Pakistan cricket team’s replica shirts with Kohli’s name emblazoned on the back.
Ahead of the India-Pakistan clash at the recently concluded Asia Cup, Kohli was seen animatedly chatting with Pakistan players and later went on to share jokes with them during rain delays.
India’s javelin Olympic and world champion Neeraj Chopra and Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem wrapped arms around each other after their podium finish at the World Athletics Championship in Romania last month.
Pakistan are set to play their first pretournament warm-up match against New Zealand in Hyderabad on Friday. They begin their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands at the same venue a week later on October 7.