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Gilani welcomes cricket team

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani meeting cricket team members.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani hosted a reception for the Pakistan Cricket Team, returning from India after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, at his official residence in Islamabad on Monday.

Team members of Shahid Afridi’s 15-member squad were given Rs1 million each by the prime minister as a reward for what has been viewed as an honourable performance by a side that nobody had expected to reach the semi-finals. Other officials affiliated with the team were given Rs500,000 each.

The event also gave the team’s captain an opportunity to patch things up with Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who had warned the team members to stay away from match-fixing. Afridi had reacted angrily to the statement, saying that it did not help team morale.

But Lala – as Afridi is fondly known by his fans – was all smiles and cordiality on Monday, and tried to put his spat with the interior minister behind him.

“We do not hold a grudge against Malik,” said Afridi.

The prime minister, for his part, was keen to play the role of peacemaker, emphasizing the opportunity that the semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali had opened up for negotiations and further contacts between the two estranged South Asian rivals.

Gilani said that his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, had agreed in principle to allow the Indian hockey team to play on Pakistani soil, though the details had yet to be worked out.

The prime minister stayed away from trying to give any advice to the players and simply congratulated them for having played well.

For his part, Lala seemed focused on the future, thanking the prime minister for his graciousness as a host and promising that the team would play even better in the upcoming tour of the West Indies.

Gilani also talked about the need for sport as a means to channel the energy of Pakistan’s youth, saying that “the youth should fill the sports grounds of the country, not its hospitals.”