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India and Pakistan resume sporting ties

NEW DELHI, April 14 – India and Pakistan have agreed to resume direct sporting ties, reports said Thursday, and an Indian cricket tour of its neighbour could be on the cards.

The decision comes two weeks after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani watched together as their teams played in the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup in northwest India.

Several Indian newspapers cited unidentified government sources as saying the question of precisely when and where the first cricket series between the rivals might take place would be decided by the two national cricket boards.

Although the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams have played each other in international and regional tournaments in recent years, their last series was in 2007-08, when the Pakistani team visited India.

India broke off diplomatic and sporting links after 10 Islamist gunmen launched coordinated attacks on targets in Mumbai, killing 166 people in November 2008. India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the assault.

The head of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Thursday welcomed the "positive signals" from India and said series details would be finalised by June.

"Getting positive signals on the resumption of a bilateral series is a good omen and prime minister Gilani has directed us to arrange the series as soon as possible," Ijaz Butt told local media.

India last toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in 2008, despite reservations about security in a country where more than 4,200 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks since July 2007.

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"We have to find a time slot and the series can be held in two phases, Twenty20 and one-day matches first and then the Test matches," said Butt, who ruled out any question of staging the series at a neutral venue.

"The prime minister has directed us to host this series in Pakistan so we are not looking at the option of a neutral venue," said Butt, hoping India’s visit would pave the way for more teams to tour Pakistan.

In India, the Mint newspaper quoted one government source as saying India’s cricket team would tour Pakistan next year, with a return series in India the year after.

No international cricket team has visited Pakistan since militants launched a gun and grenade assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3, 2009.

The attack saw Pakistan stripped of its right to co-host the just-concluded Cricket World Cup.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said it had yet to be formally notified of the decision to resume cricket ties.

"We have not received any government announcement as yet, so the board has not discussed the matter," BCCI chief administrative officer Ratna Karshetty told AFP.

I.S. Bindra, principal adviser to the International Cricket Council, said the resumption of direct cricket ties was a "welcome step."

"It’s a nice thing not only for India, but for world cricket as a whole that Pakistan will come into the mainstream of world cricket," he said.

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Former Indian all-rounder Madal Lal also welcomed the move, but said the authorities would have to guarantee the safety of players touring Pakistan.

"It is always good for the game when India and Pakistan play each other," Lal said.

"But the Indian government must be very careful. They must ensure that the situation is conducive for cricket in Pakistan."

Separately, the ICC has formed a task force to find ways to restore international cricket in Pakistan.

Sri Lanka has also hinted they may tour Pakistan for three Tests and five one-day matches in October, but only after getting clearance from their government and the ICC’s Pakistan task force.

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