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Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s diplomatic craft shone through with what he had to say to former India captain Sourav Ganguly before the historic tour of Pakistan in 2004. Khel bhi jeetiye, dil bhi jeetiye, the late Prime Minister had told Ganguly and his team on the eve of a cricket series to be played on Pakistan soil after 15 years.

India had played some remarkable cricket on that tour and beat arch-rivals Pakistan fair and square in both the Test and ODI series by margins of 2-1 and 3-2, respectively. But what was more important was the goodwill the team created wherever they toured in Pakistan that year. The players who toured that year to the neighbouring country also speak fondly of the warmth they received from the people of Pakistan on the tour.

There were reportedly around 20,000 visas that were granted for fans to witness India play in Pakistan. A book by Rahul Bhattacharya, Pundits from Pakistan detailed the experiences of the touring Indian team to the neighbouring country through some interesting stories. The side was star-studded — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan among others.

The then Indian team manager Dr Ratnakar Shetty cited what the former PM had to say when the Indian team met him before embarking on the month and a half long tour. “Vajpayee met the players for an hour before the team left (for Pakistan). He said that your motto on this tour has to be to win matches and also win hearts,” the former team manager recalled.

Vajpayee then presented the Indian team captain, Ganguly, a cricket bat with a message, saying, “Khel bhi jeetiye, dil bhi jeetiye.” The former PM died on Thursday, August 16 after prolonged illness. He was 93.