In a development that has sent shockwaves through the cricketing world, Pakistan’s preparations for the 2023 Cricket World Cup have hit an unexpected snag due to visa issues. As the cricketing fraternity eagerly anticipates the clash between arch-rivals Pakistan and India, the Pakistan cricket team remains the only squad among the nine participating teams yet to receive their Indian visas.
A total of 33 members of the Pakistan contingent, including players, three traveling reserves, and team officials, are anxiously awaiting the necessary visas from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. With their opening warm-up fixture scheduled for just two days away, the uncertainty surrounding the team’s travel has cast a shadow over their World Cup campaign.
The initial plan had been for the Pakistan squad to gather in Dubai for a two-day team bonding exercise before departing for India on September 27. However, this trip to Dubai has been canceled due to the visa delays. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has raised the matter with the International Cricket Council (ICC), highlighting the urgency of the situation.
According to sources within the PCB, officials had recently traveled to Islamabad for passport collection, but the visa issuance process is still ongoing. When it comes to granting Indian visas to Pakistani passport holders, clearances must be obtained from three key ministries: Home, External Affairs, and Sports. This intricate vetting process, although time-consuming, is expected to conclude positively.
The delay has forced the Pakistan team to modify their travel plans. They will now fly from Lahore to Dubai on Wednesday and, if their visas are granted in a timely manner, continue to Hyderabad from there. Pakistan’s first warm-up game is scheduled against New Zealand on September 29, followed by another warm-up fixture against Australia on October 3, both to be held at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad.
This delay in visa processing not only disrupts the team’s schedule but also underscores the longstanding political tensions between India and Pakistan. Travel between the two nations has been severely restricted since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, which also led to a halt in bilateral cricketing ties.
To put it in perspective, the last bilateral series between India and Pakistan took place in 2012-13 when Pakistan toured India for a short white-ball series under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq. Since then, India has not traveled to Pakistan for a bilateral series, and the last visit by an Indian cricket team to Pakistan was during the 2008 Asia Cup.
The upcoming World Cup will mark Pakistan’s first visit to India since the 2016 T20 World Cup. Among the current Pakistan squad, only two players, Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Agha, have previously toured India for cricket assignments. For the rest of the squad, this will be their maiden trip to the neighboring country.
The tension between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the PCB has been evident in recent scheduling disputes. The Asia Cup 2023, originally set to be hosted by Pakistan, had to be moved to a hybrid model with all of India’s matches, including the final, taking place in Sri Lanka. The PCB had even threatened to boycott the ODI World Cup if India did not participate in the Asia Cup in Pakistan.
Furthermore, concerns were raised about the World Cup match between Pakistan and India scheduled to be held in Ahmedabad. The ICC eventually rescheduled the match, moving it up by a day, due to security concerns related to a Hindu festival clashing with the original date.
In a bid to bolster their World Cup squad, Pakistan has called up experienced paceman Hasan Ali to replace the injured Naseem Shah. Hasan Ali, who was named the player of the tournament when Pakistan won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017, lost his place in the team as Naseem, Haris Rauf, and Shaheen Shah Afridi emerged as the primary pace attack. Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq expressed confidence in Hasan Ali’s abilities, believing he is the right choice to strengthen the squad.
The cricketing world is now keeping a keen eye on the resolution of the visa issue, hoping that the necessary approvals will be granted to the Pakistan cricket team in time for their World Cup campaign. As the clock ticks down to the highly anticipated clash between Pakistan and India, fans on both sides of the border can only hope for a smooth and competitive tournament that transcends the political tensions of the past.