LAHORE: Pakistan's women cricketers will leave for India late Saturday to compete in the World Cup, with their batting coach hoping the team will 'build bridges' between the two nations despite recent tensions.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) was forced to shift Group B matches involving Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa from Mumbai to the eastern Indian city of Cuttack after the right-wing Indian Shiv Sena party threatened to disturb the event.
Their protest followed a rise in tension between India and Pakistan following a series of cross-border exchanges in the disputed Kashmir region with both countries accusing each other of violations along the de facto border known as the Line of Control.
Nine Pakistani hockey players had to be withdrawn from the inaugural Hockey India League after protests from the party in Mumbai earlier this month, casting serious doubts over the women's World Cup matches.
Coach Basit Ali, a former Pakistan batsman, said the women's team will try their best to pacify things.
“We are not afraid of anything,” Ali told AFP, hours before the team's departure to New Delhi.
“We will try to build bridges through cricket and I think there is no such thing as animosity in sports.”
The World Cup starts from January 31 with Group A matches, involving defending champions England, India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka, to be played in the original venue in Mumbai.
Pakistan will stay in Cuttack, in the Indian state of Orissa, if they qualify for the second round, but will still have to travel to Mumbai if they make the final, the ICC said in a statement on Friday.
Ali, who played 19 Tests and 50 one-day matches for Pakistan during the 1990s, lamented threats from the Shiv Sena.
“Sports should never be disturbed, because Pakistan through its cricket board chief Zaka Ashraf had revived bilateral relations with India last month and it should progress rather than going back,” said Ali.
India had suspended all bilateral ties with Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, blamed on militants based across the border.
However, New Delhi cleared a short, limited-over series, paving the way for the Pakistani team to play two Twenty20 and three one-day matches in India in December and January -- the first series between the arch-rivals in five years.
Ali said the women's team will play without any fear.
“People in Pakistan and India share a unique bond and we will have no fear in playing in India where the fans want to see Pakistan play,” said Ali.
“Our chairman had sent a bouquet to the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray last year and had requested to him that cricket should go on without any trouble.”