Hyderabad, September 28
"Zabardast. Maza aa gaya," said Pakistan pacer Haris Rauf as he walked into the main nets of the Hyderabad Cricket Association ground and asked about "the overwhelming" welcome his team received at the airport barely 12 hours ago.
Indians' love for the game is unmatched; therefore, fans chanting Pakistan skipper Babar Azam's name at the Hyderabad airport should not come as a surprise.
After all, one of the leading batters in the game had set foot on Indian soil for the first time alongside most of his teammates, marking Pakistan's return to India after seven years.
The perpetual tension between the nations was clearly forgotten as fans were left in awe of Babar and Co. Within no time of their arrival, the Pakistan cricket team was "trending" in India.
Babar was clearly the fans' favourite but the entire Pakistan squad was floored by the unexpected welcome. Barring Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Agha, it is the first visit to India for the rest of the squad.
"We did expect people to turn up at the ground but a proper welcome at the airport from fans, we did not see that coming. They had lined up for the team. It was wonderful to witness that, even the players got emotional about it," a team source told PTI.
Insta stories from Babar and Shaheen Afridi upon their arrival in the heavily guarded team hotel in Banjara Hills summed up their emotions.
"Overwhelmed with the love and support here in Hyderabad," wrote Babar. Shaheen added "great welcome thus far".
Pakistan hit nets 12 hours after arrival
Pakistan arrived here less than 48 hours before their opening World Cup warm-up fixture against New Zealand on Friday and fully aware of the task at hand, as many as 10 players including two travelling reserves turned up at the ground for the optional training session.
After warming up in the field of play, Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed were the first batch of batters to hit the nets. Bowling to them were the fearsome pace duo of Shaheen Afridi and a fit-again Haris Rauf, who bowled for the first time since the game against India in Asia Cup on September 10.
The experienced Hasan Ali, making a comeback into the team following Naseem Shah's injury, also hit his stride under the supervision of bowling coach Morne Morkel.
The pace trio was in good spirits and was seen joking with the net bowlers provided by the local association HCA.
Notwithstanding the diplomatic tensions, the cricketers from both India and Pakistan get along really well and that was evident when Rauf was curious to know about the cricketing structure in India. And he knew that rival pacer Mohammad Siraj was also from Hyderabad.
The team spent close to two and a half hours at the ground.
With all eyes understandably on Pakistan cricket, the optional session of the New Zealand team was a sideshow. With a second batch of Black Caps' cricketers arriving here on Wednesday night, only Daryl Mitchell and Mark Chapman came for practice.
Butter chicken, mutton curry part of Pakistan's diet plan
With beef not available to all 10 participating teams in India, Pakistan will rely on chicken, mutton and fish for their daily protein intake.
The team's diet chart, which is in PTI's possession, includes grilled lamp chops, mutton curry, and hugely popular butter chicken and grilled fish.
For their carbohydrate intake, the team has asked the stadium caterer for steamed basmati rice, spaghetti in Bolognese sauce, a favourite of the great Shane Warne, and vegetarian pulao.
As Pakistan are here for almost two weeks, the cheat meals could include the famous Hyderabadi biryani.
If the first 12 hours are an indication, irrespective of what happens on the field, it will be a memorable first trip to India for Babar and his team.
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