Indian cricket fans fear for historic tour

India and Pakistan are scheduled to play cricket again after a 14-year break, but visa problems are giving traveling fans pre-match jitters.

Five one-day matches and three tests will be played between the longstanding nuclear rivals from 13 March to 17 April.
More than 10,000 Indian cricket fans are expected to cross the border to Pakistan to watch the matches over the coming months.

According to one Indian fan planning to make the journey, Jasleen Singh, it is "an opportunity of a lifetime."

"You never know when the next series between our countries might take place," he said.

However, a possible shortage of visas from the Pakistan High Commission could spell problems for thousands of Indian cricket fans wishing to watch the games.

Pakistan's High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan says the final decision about extending the number of available visas would be given in consultation with PCB and BCCI.

Those granted visas would, however, be exempt from reporting their arrival to local police - which is otherwise mandatory for all Indians in Pakistan - the Pakistani High Commission has pledged.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has already begun the sale of tickets for the upcoming series with prices ranging from Rs680–Rs1,700 (US$15-$38); available through the PCB's website and at the Wisden website, cricinfo.com.

At the same time, the board has warned that purchasing tickets does not guarantee Indian fans will be granted access visas, leaving uncertainty hanging over the event.

Several travel agents in Delhi and other cities are offering packages for the Pakistan tour with prices between Rs20,000-Rs50,000 (US$441-1,104).

One Bangalore-based agency, Xsports, is offering a Rs45,000 (US$993) package deal for a eight-night package to Lahore, including all-important tickets.

The visa issuing process takes about one week.

Due to Pakistani visa delays, many Indian fans will not be able to reach Pakistan before 12 March, one day before tour begins.

The Pakistan Government has said it plans to set up a special cricket visa centre in the border town of Amritsar in India to help stem the expected influx.

Thawing relations

Despite administrative issues, Mr Khan said that the tour would improve relations between the neighbours and Pakistan would extend its hospitality to visiting Indian fans.

Some 1,000 Indians traveled to Australia for the cricket series there last year and the number to Pakistan is expected to swell due to its proximity.

Pakistani officials are also bracing themselves for massive jump in demand for train and bus services from Delhi during the period.

Another Indian cricket fan, Kriti Goyal, added "it might be easier to go Australia to watch cricket then going to neighbouring Pakistan."

At present, there are only about 240 bus seats (DTC service), 700 train seats (Samjhauta Express) and 700 airplane seats (PIA and IA) from India to Pakistan per week, creating a total capacity of less than 9,000 seats over the five-week period.