Shahid Afridi-led Pakistan receive warm welcome in Kolkata

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International Cricket Council (ICC), Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) officials heaved a collective sigh of relief as the 15-member Pakistan squad, led by Shahid Afridi, arrived in Kolkata on Saturday evening to take part in the World T20 championship.

The Pakistan cricket team arrived in Kolkata amid tight security © Getty
The Pakistan cricket team arrived in Kolkata amid tight security © Getty

The Pakistan team, which was originally scheduled to land in New Delhi on March 9 and arrive in Kolkata the same evening, took an Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi that touched down at the NSC Bose International airport at 7:45 pm on Saturday, ending speculation over their participation in the high-profile WT20 event in India, the pinnacle of glory in the game’s shortest format.

Hundreds of fans, who had waited for hours to catch a glimpse of their heroes from across the western border, chanted ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ as Pakistan players trooped out of the airport building and got into the team bus. Afridi acknowledged the cheering fans along with Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Irfan, who was easy to spot because of his 7’1″ frame. The team bus was escorted to the hotel amid tight security. Afridi addressed the media at the team hotel on Sunday before hitting the nets at the Eden Gardens.

Pakistan will have to make do with only one warm-up match – against Sri Lanka, today, at the Eden Gardens – after they failed to arrive in time to take on a Bengal XI in a practice tie scheduled on Saturday.

Pakistan open their WT20 campaign at the Eden Gardens on March 16 against the winner of Sunday’s Bangladesh-Oman qualifier. Afridi’s brigade will face India next in a high-voltage clash on March 19 after the match was shifted from Dharamshala to Kolkata by the ICC because of security issues. Pakistan will play their last two Super 10 Group I league matches – vs New Zealand (March 21) and vs Australia (March 26) – in Mohali.

Veteran Mohammad Bashir, the self-proclaimed cheerleader of the Pakistan cricket team for over four decades, arrived in the city, via New Delhi, on Saturday afternoon to support his team. Fondly known as ‘Chacha’, the Pakistani veteran with flowing white beard is sure to be in the stands, waving the Pakistan flag to boost the morale of his team in what should be a cracker of a contest.

Pakistan Women’s team arrived almost unnoticed

With the entire hype around the arrival of Shahid Afridi & Co. in Kolkata, the Pakistan women’s team landed in Chennai on Saturday to take part in the women’s World T20, almost unnoticed. A day after the government gave them green light, the Pakistani women flew in to Chennai from Dubai. Led by Sana Mir, it took almost an hour for the 15-member squad to clear immigration before they came out of the airport.

The Pakistan women’s team will start their campaign at the Chepauk against West Indies on Wednesday before playing their last match on March 27 at the same venue.

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