In 2004, Sourav Ganguly-led Team India became the first Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan in 19 years. Ratnakar Shetty, who was the then Team India manager, recalls how that ice-breaking tour was possible only because of the efforts of the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 93. Also Read - IPL 2020: Virender Sehwag Pokes Fun at MS Dhoni, Says 'India May Get Bullet Trains Before CSK Skipper Bats at No 4'
“The tour happened just because of Vajpayee ji. He wanted relations to improve and cricket was a mode of doing that. The BCCI decided to send the team after the approval of his government,” Shetty told PTI. Also Read - IPL 2020, DC vs KXIP: What’s The Point of Technology if it Cannot be Used - KXIP Co-Owner Preity Zinta Critical of Umpiring Howler
“Before we were to leave for Pakistan, we got a message from the PMO that the prime minister wants to meet the team. He spent an hour with the team and spoke to each and every member,” he said remembering the meeting the team had with Vajpayee prior to their departure. Also Read - Dream11 IPL: MS Dhoni Has Left Behind Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar in Terms of Popularity: Sunil Gavaskar
That Indian team, which toured Pakistan had stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Virendra Sehwag.
“There was a navy band in the garden which was playing patriotic songs. We presented him an autographed bat and he too gave us a bat with which had a message: ‘Khel hi nahi, dil bhi jeetiye, shubhkaamnaye (win hearts too besides matches, best wishes),” Shetty recalled.
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Vajpayee had told Ganguly that it was an important tour and the team members should play their hearts out, Shetty said.”When we were about to leave, he said that we should listen to one more song – ‘Hum honge kaamyaab’.”
The Men in Blue won the Test series 2-1 and ODIs 3-2. Sehwag earned the nickname ‘Multan ka Sultan’ after scoring 309 in the first Test in Multan.
After the ODI series win, Vajpayee had called Ganguly to congratulate him.
“I had gone on a security visit to Pakistan prior to the tour. I saw people in Karachi holding Vajpayee’s pictures and posters thanking him for the revival of cricket between the two countries. I told him that,” Shetty said.
(With PTI inputs)