DELHI: The Pakistan World Cup hockey team drove into Delhi on Monday after crossing the Wagah border by road for that country’s first official sporting contact in India after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
The 18-man Pakistan squad, with an unprecedented security cover, reached the capital in the evening after a six-hour drive from the border. The players were received and garlanded at the Ambedkar Bus Terminal by the Pakistani high commission and Hockey India (HI) officials before leaving for the team hotel in New Delhi.
HI secretary-general Narendra Batra said the Pakistanis are our special guests and they would be looked after as such. “We welcome the Pakistan team and any team from that part of the subcontinent gets special treatment, and they have huge following here,” said Batra.
Before boarding the bus for Delhi at Amritsar, team manager Asif Bajwa, who is also the secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, said the squad was happy with the security arrangements.
“We were the first team to say that we are satisfied with the security arrangements provided by the Indian government,” he said.“Terrorism is a global issue and it is not specific to India and Pakistan. India is a safe place for the World Cup,” Bajwa said.
At Lahore, Pakistan captain Zeeshan Ashraf promised that his team will do well in the Feb 28-March 13 World Cup.Ashraf, a dependable back, said his team will go all out to win the Cup a fifth time, their last victory coming in 1994 in Sydney. Since then Pakistan have not been able to even make the semifinals of the quadrennial event.
“We have made top class preparations and I’m very hopeful about our chances in the World Cup,” Zeeshan said.“For us, our first match against India is very important and I’m confident that we will win it to set a platform for a strong showing in the World Cup.”
Meanwhile, Australia were the first to reach Delhi in the wee hours on Monday.The New Zealand team will reach here on Tuesday (today). One of the Black Sticks players — Simon Child — has pulled out of the tournament, saying that it will not be an “ideal environment” to play under such thick security cover.
“It’s not an ideal environment to be trying to play your best hockey and to be performing for your country. I think that was the major issue that swayed me when I made up my mind,” said Child, who travelled with the 18-man squad to Western Australian for a series of build-up matches.
WAGAH: Pakistan hockey team members pose for a photograph upon their arrival here on Monday to feature in the World Cup that gets underway from February 28 in Delhi