As the countdown to the 2023 World Cup continues, cricket enthusiasts from around the globe are already buzzing with excitement. However, what makes this year’s tournament even more intriguing is Pakistan’s return to India after a seven-year hiatus. The tension that often characterizes the relationship between these neighboring nations seemed to evaporate as fans warmly welcomed the Pakistan cricket squad at Hyderabad airport. In this blog, we explore the heartwarming reception that awaited the Pakistani players, their immediate response, and their preparations for the upcoming World Cup.
A Warm Welcome in India
Upon arriving at the Hyderabad Cricket Association ground, Pakistan’s premier pacer, Haris Rauf, couldn’t contain his joy. “Maza aa gaya” he exclaimed, referring to the overwhelming reception his team had received just hours earlier at the airport. The enthusiasm and love for cricket among Indians are unmatched, making the chants for Pakistan’s skipper, Babar Azam, at the Hyderabad airport a delightful but not entirely surprising spectacle.
Babar Azam’s India Debut
Babar Azam, one of the game’s leading batters, stepped onto Indian soil for the first time alongside most of his teammates, marking Pakistan’s return to India after seven years. The political tensions between the nations seemed to fade away as fans celebrated the arrival of Babar and his team. Within moments of their touchdown, the Pakistan cricket team was trending across India. While Babar was clearly the fans’ favorite, the entire squad was moved by this unexpected welcome. For most players, except Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Agha, this was their maiden visit to India.
Emotions Shared on Social Media
Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi took to Instagram to convey their feelings upon arriving at the heavily guarded team hotel in Banjara Hills. Babar expressed feeling “overwhelmed with the love and support here in Hyderabad,” while Shaheen described it as a “great welcome thus far.”
Preparations Begin in Earnest
Despite their whirlwind arrival, Pakistan got down to business promptly, with their first World Cup warm-up fixture against New Zealand just around the corner. A dedicated group of ten players, including two traveling reserves, showed up for an optional training session at the Hyderabad Cricket Association ground.
The session started with fielding drills, followed by Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed being the first to step into the nets to face the formidable pace duo of Shaheen Afridi and the fit-again Haris Rauf. Hasan Ali, making a comeback, also bowled under the watchful eye of bowling coach Morne Morkel. The camaraderie between the players was evident as they exchanged friendly banter with the local net bowlers.
Cricket Unites, Diplomacy Aside
Notably, the cricketers from India and Pakistan share a strong camaraderie despite diplomatic tensions. Haris Rauf’s curiosity about India’s cricketing structure, coupled with his knowledge of rival pacer Mohammad Siraj’s Hyderabad connection, exemplified this unity. The team spent nearly 2.5 hours honing their skills on the field.
New Zealand’s Low-Key Practice
While the focus was understandably on Pakistan cricket, New Zealand’s optional practice session remained low-key. With a batch of Black Caps’ players arriving late the previous night, only Daryl Mitchell and Mark Chapman attended practice.
Special Dietary Considerations
As the participating teams in India often face beef-related dietary restrictions, Pakistan’s menu primarily consists of chicken, mutton, and fish for their daily protein intake. The team’s diet plan also includes grilled lamb chops, mutton curry, the ever-popular butter chicken, and grilled fish. For carbohydrates, they’ve requested steamed basmati rice, spaghetti in Bolognese sauce, and vegetarian pulao. And, of course, they may indulge in the famous Hyderabadi biryani as a delightful cheat meal during their nearly two-week stay.
The first 12 hours of Pakistan’s visit to India have been marked by a heartwarming welcome, showcasing the unifying power of cricket that transcends political boundaries. As the team gears up for the 2023 World Cup, fans on both sides of the border eagerly anticipate memorable moments on the field and hope that this tournament will serve as a reminder of the shared passion for the game that brings nations together.