Indian, Pakistani captains bat for cricket diplomacy

By Abhishek Roy,IANS,

Mohali : Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his Pakistani counterpart Shahid Afridi batted for “cricket diplomacy” on the eve of their much-awaited World Cup semiclash here Wednesday.

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The match is also being used as a diplomatic tool by both the countries to improve bilateral relations, which dipped all time low after the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists.

The two prime ministers, India’s Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s Yousuf Raza Gilani, will watch the match from the President’s Box at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium here and then exchange ideas on improving relations.

Addressing a press conference here, Dhoni said the game should be seen as a simple cricket match and not a war.

“Somebody has to lose, irrespective of all the political talk and cricketing hype. At the end of March 30th , one team will lose. It does not happen in cricket alone, it happens in all sports,” Dhoni said.

Dhoni, however, admitted that the presence of the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan could be as distraction.

“That will be a distraction if I think of how we can help in bringing about a political change. I have been given the job to lead the side and I have to do that to the best of my ability,” he said.

As Dhoni got up to leave, Afridi came onto the dias to give his sound bytes and the two captains briefly hugged.

Afridi said it is good that the sport is being used to bridge relations between the two countries.

“We always wanted to come and play in India. We enjoy playing in India because fans here love us. It is a big match for both the countries. We want to re-build the ties with India through cricket and hopefully things will improve in future,” said Afridi.

Asked whether he is also a diplomat besides being the captain, Afridi said: “I am cricketer first and diplomat next. I am the ambassador of my country as well, since I am the captain. I am happy to play both the roles.”

Afridi criticised the India media for souring relations between the two countries.

“Every small thing I say has been blown out of proportion. It is because of media the relations between the two countries have been spoiled,” said Afridi, when asked about his comments of denying Sachin Tendulkar his 100th international century.

“I am a captain of Pakistan team, my job is not to allow any opposition batsman to score against us. Sachin is a great batsman but what you expect me to say that I will let him score a hundred against my side? Which rival captain will say that and why make it is such a big deal,” he asked.