Zaka Ashraf, right, Pakistan's new cricket board chief, with ICC president Sharad Pawar, centre, and  ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
Zaka Ashraf, right, Pakistan's new cricket board chief, with ICC president Sharad Pawar, centre, and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat.

Ashraf's first goal: Renew ties with neighbour India



The glacial pace of negotiations between Pakistan and India over resuming cricket ties has taken a significant step forward with the announcement of a forthcoming visit to India by Zaka Ashraf, the Pakistan cricket chief.

Ashraf took over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) last month and has made the resumption of bilateral ties with India - on hold since November 2008 - one of his priorities.

"I have high hopes of reviving ties with India," he said during the third ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Dubai. "I have received a positive reply from India today and hope to tour them next month."

India cut off ties with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks in late 2008, which they blamed on Pakistan-based militants. A recent political thaw between the two countries - including improved economic ties - and the replacement of the former PCB chairman Ijaz Butt has added new urgency to matters.

Ashraf hopes to meet Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief N Srinivasan in Chennai during the first week of December.

"I have high hopes of a positive meeting and when we can have sporting events like kabbadi and blind cricket with India, why not top-level cricket, which is already regarded as the most-sought-after series in the game," Ashraf said.

Though the PCB has made repeated efforts to break the impasse, the BCCI's response has been ambiguous. As per international cricket's Future Tours Programme, the two are scheduled to play a full series in March next year but a hectic schedule for both means the prospect remains unlikely - for now, at least.

Until the last series between the two - when Pakistan toured India in 2007-08 - matches had become regular for a brief period; that series was the fourth since 2003-04. Additionally, they played a bilateral ODI series in Abu Dhabi in 2006 and India toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in 2008.

Ashraf also met MK Lokesh, the India ambassador to the UAE, during the match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

"India playing Pakistan is the highlight of international cricket, and in the recent positive atmosphere between the two countries it is conducive to play cricket, and I will convey this to New Delhi," said Lokesh.

"Cricket is in the blood of people in both the countries and it can be used as soft diplomacy as it has in the past and relationship has improved in the past as well through cricket."

Jameel Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE, also welcomed the developments.

"People from both India and Pakistan want to see the teams play, and if the venue is UAE we are more than keen to host the matches," said Khan.

"It is the most followed series in the world and people should not be deprived of it."

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Three-day coronation

Royal purification

The entire coronation ceremony extends over three days from May 4-6, but Saturday is the one to watch. At the time of 10:09am the royal purification ceremony begins. Wearing a white robe, the king will enter a pavilion at the Grand Palace, where he will be doused in sacred water from five rivers and four ponds in Thailand. In the distant past water was collected from specific rivers in India, reflecting the influential blend of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology on the coronation. Hindu Brahmins and the country's most senior Buddhist monks will be present. Coronation practices can be traced back thousands of years to ancient India.

The crown

Not long after royal purification rites, the king proceeds to the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall where he receives sacred water from eight directions. Symbolically that means he has received legitimacy from all directions of the kingdom. He ascends the Bhadrapitha Throne, where in regal robes he sits under a Nine-Tiered Umbrella of State. Brahmins will hand the monarch the royal regalia, including a wooden sceptre inlaid with gold, a precious stone-encrusted sword believed to have been found in a lake in northern Cambodia, slippers, and a whisk made from yak's hair.

The Great Crown of Victory is the centrepiece. Tiered, gold and weighing 7.3 kilograms, it has a diamond from India at the top. Vajiralongkorn will personally place the crown on his own head and then issues his first royal command.

The audience

On Saturday afternoon, the newly-crowned king is set to grant a "grand audience" to members of the royal family, the privy council, the cabinet and senior officials. Two hours later the king will visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred space in Thailand, which on normal days is thronged with tourists. He then symbolically moves into the Royal Residence.

The procession

The main element of Sunday's ceremonies, streets across Bangkok's historic heart have been blocked off in preparation for this moment. The king will sit on a royal palanquin carried by soldiers dressed in colourful traditional garb. A 21-gun salute will start the procession. Some 200,000 people are expected to line the seven-kilometre route around the city.

Meet the people

On the last day of the ceremony Rama X will appear on the balcony of Suddhaisavarya Prasad Hall in the Grand Palace at 4:30pm "to receive the good wishes of the people". An hour later, diplomats will be given an audience at the Grand Palace. This is the only time during the ceremony that representatives of foreign governments will greet the king.

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