ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan men’s cricket team left for India late Tuesday night to participate in the 50-over World Cup, which kicks off on Oct. 5.
It is the first time in seven years that the South Asian country is sending its cricket team to India. The last time Pakistan’s men’s cricket team set foot on Indian soil was in 2016 to take part in that year’s T20 World Cup.
Political tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors mean they only play against each other at international venues. Skipper Babar Azam’s side will play two warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29 and Oct. 3 respectively before they begin their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6.
“Pakistan cricket team are at the Lahore airport to depart for India to participate in the World Cup,” the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement.
A short video clip shared by the PCB showed Azam, vice-captain Shadab Khan, and the other cricketers enjoying snacks at the airport lounge before their departure.
“The travel contingent consists 18 players and 13 player support personnel,” the PCB said, adding that South African bowling coach Morne Morkel will join the team in Dubai while former Pakistan coach and current Team Director Mickey Arthur will join the squad in India.
“Pakistan are scheduled to land in Hyderabad, India at 8:15pm (local time) on 27 September,” the PCB said.
In his pre-departure press conference, Azam told reporters the team was enjoying a “very high morale” heading into the showpiece tournament.
“We are leaving tonight for the World Cup and as a team our morale is very high, there is confidence,” Azam said. “We will try to play our best cricket.
“We could not deliver up to the mark [in Asia Cup], but we learned from it. We just don’t point out our errors, but we also talk about how to improve those sides.”
Pakistan started the Asia Cup on a high note, beating minnows Nepal and Bangladesh and also bowling India out for 266 in the group fixture match between the two sides on Sept. 2.
However, the hosts suffered a mammoth defeat of 228 runs at India’s hands in the Super Four stage of the tournament before a last-ball defeat against Sri Lanka meant they couldn’t qualify for the final.
Only two players from Pakistan’s current squad have traveled to India before: Mohammad Nawaz, who was part of Pakistan’s 2016 T20 World Cup squad, and Agha Salman, who was in the Lahore Lions’ squad for the Champions League T20.
“I’m very excited to play in Ahmedabad. It is the biggest stadium in the world and will be jam-packed for the India-Pakistan clash,” Azam said about playing in India for the first time in his years-long career.
“I have spoken to former cricketers about the condition and they are not that different … I will try to perform to the best of my ability. I can’t exactly tell you how I will do since I’m not an astrologer.”