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Pakistan hosts India for blind series

India and Pakistan resume cricketing ties Friday after three years -- albeit on a low 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 Islamist 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 internationals matches from November 18 to 26, will convince others that the country is safe.

The fixtures come amid tentative signs of a thaw in diplomatic and economic relations, although the two nuclear-armed rivals who have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 remain deeply wary.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf is set to meet his counterpart in India later this month as both the countries try to settle a series as early as next March despite a hectic schedule for world champions, India.

The two countries share language, culture, history, an 1,800-mile (2,880-kilometre) border, and a fanatical love for cricket.

"It's a historical day for us," chairman of the Pakistan Blind Cricket Council (PBCC), Syed Sultan Shah, told AFP at the Lahore Gymkhana cricket ground in the Bagh-i-Jinnah park where the first match was to take place.

He called it a "milestone" for hopes of reviving international cricket in Pakistan, where "people are suffering" with cricket stadiums lying empty.

India won the toss for the first match -- a Twenty20 -- on Friday.

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 through sports for peace and harmony between the two countries," 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 Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009 killed eight Pakistanis and wounded seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach.

"PBCC hopes that this series will highlight the safe image of Pakistan and (show) the other countries that Pakistan is safe for sports," the statement said.

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.

Afterwards there were calls by players and politicians for the resumption of cricketing links, as millions of fans were missing out due to the nuclear-armed neighbours' strained political ties.

India may have beaten Pakistan in the World Cup, but Pakistan is 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 number two.

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.

The ball is larger than in standard cricket and is filled with ball bearings to help batsmen, bowlers and fielders sense its approach.

The series will allow the two teams to test themselves prior to the inaugural blind cricket Twenty20 World Cup in India next year, where Pakistan will be looking to win another crown.

The other two Twenty20 matches will be played in Lahore on Saturday and Sunday, with one-day matches scheduled for November 22, 24 and 26 in Islamabad.

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