LAHORE // India and Pakistan resumed cricketing ties after three years - albeit not on an elite level - by fielding their blind teams for an international series in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pakistan has hosted no major international cricket owing to security fears posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban since 2009, and India stalled direct cricketing ties after gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in late 2008.
But Pakistan hopes that hosting a limited-over series for blind and partially-sighted players, with three Twenty20 and three one-day international matches from Saturday through November 26, will convince others that the country is safe.
The fixtures come amid signs of a thaw in diplomatic and economic relations, although the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, remain deeply wary.
Zaka Ashraf, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, is set to meet his counterpart in India later this month as the countries try to settle a series as early as next March despite a hectic schedule for India, the world champions.
The countries share language, culture, history, a 2,880km border and a love for cricket.
"It's a historical day for us," said Syed Sultan Shah, the chairman of the Pakistan Blind Cricket Council (PBCC), while at the Lahore Gymkhana cricket ground in the Bagh-i-Jinnah park, where the first match took place.
It is the first time in three years that an Indian team is in Pakistan - the main cricket team last toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in 2008 - and the first time in five years that the Indian blind team is playing Pakistan.
"This series will be helpful to resume sports ties and friendship," said a statement on the PBCC website.
Pakistan has been forced to play all its international fixtures abroad since a militant attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in March 2009 killed eight Pakistanis and wounded seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach.
The two main cricket teams last met in the World Cup semi-final in India this March when both countries' prime ministers put aside hostilities to attend the match. India may have beaten Pakistan in the World Cup, but Pakistan are expected to fare better this week, having won the two previous Blind Cricket World Cups, the last one at home in 2006. The Indian blind team is ranked No 2.
A blind team comprises of four totally visually impaired players, three partially blind and four partially sighted players.
Totally blind players are helped by a runner whose one run is counted as double, two as four and four as eight.