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Pull-out decision not ours, Indian cricket officials tell Pakistan

NEW DELHI, March 26 (AFP) - India's cricket officials on Monday reacted angrily to Pakistan's threat to snap cricketing ties after New Delhi's refusal to take part in next month's Sharjah tri-series.

"It has to be understood that the decision not to go to Sharjah was taken by the government and not by cricket officials," Jayawant Lele, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) told AFP.

"The Board cannot go against the wishes of the government. If Pakistan does not want to play against us again, what can we do?"

Pakistan said on Sunday it would never play India again at cricket in response to the Indian government's decision to pull out of the April 8-20 one-day tournament also featuring Sri Lanka.

"Pakistan will not play India anywhere in any event in the future and that's it," Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Tauqir Zia said.

"Enough is enough and we now don't want to get bothered about India anymore."

High-level sources in the Indian home ministry told Star TV on Monday that the cricket team had been asked to pull out of the Sharjah tournament -- but not because Pakistan were also playing.

"Intelligence reports say that the cricket played in Sharjah had it's connection with the underworld," Star TV quoted the sources as saying.

Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, chairman of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS), which organises one-day matches in Sharjah, flew here on Monday to discuss the crisis with government officials.

"We are here to know first-hand what the problem is," CBFS spokesman Bikram Vohra, who is accompanying Bukhatir, told AFP.

"Is it that India does not want to play against Pakistan, or they do not want to play in Sharjah?" Vohra said.

Lele said the BCCI had been confident that permission would be granted to play in Sharjah after India joined Pakistan for a nine-nation field hockey tournament in Bangladesh earlier this month.

This is the fourth time in the past two years that India has refused to play senior-level cricket against Pakistan, even though the two countries have met in other sporting events recently.

Pakistani players took part in the Asian junior squash championships in the southern Indian city of Madras in February.

Pakistan's tough stance could ruin India's chances of hosting the International Cricket Council's knock-out tournament next year featuring the 10 Test-playing nations.

India cancelled the annual Sahara Cup series against Pakistan in Canada twice in 1999 and 2000 following the Kargil conflict in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Last December, India's scheduled Test tour of Pakistan was called off and in February this year India refused to play Pakistan in Sharjah to raise funds for the Gujarat earthquake.

It was not immediately clear if the CBFS will go ahead with the April tournament in India's absence.

Sharjah has hosted more one-day internationals (167) than any venue in the world.

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