It started with nine Pakistani players being sent home during the inaugural Hockey India League earlier this year following uproar over the killing of Indian soldiers near the Line of Control.
And, now, escalating tensions between the neighbours has forced the Indian government to
scrap the bilateral series, which was scheduled to kick off in the first week of April. The first leg of five matches was to be played in India from April 5-15, after which Pakistan would have hosted its neighbours for the second leg from April 22-May 7.
"We were informed about the decision yesterday evening by the external affairs ministry. We were told that the ministry would not grant permission for the series. I spoke to the Pakistan Hockey Federation president this morning and conveyed the message," said Narinder Batra, secretary-general, Hockey India.
Initially, the government had given permission for the series, but the recent attack on a CRPF camp in Srinagar and the passing of a resolution in Pakistan parliament against Afzal Guru's hanging prompted India to take the step.
Asked if the cancellation would impact hockey in the two countries, Batra said, "The respect of the country comes first and hockey is not bigger than that. I am sure the government has taken it (the decision) in the best interest of the country."
The series would have also served as preparation for the next round of the World Cup qualifiers scheduled in June.
"We are now working on some alternatives. Tomorrow, we will speak to some countries and see who responds positively," said Batra, adding, "Australia, Spain, Holland and Germany are busy, so we will look at some other nation."
Pakistan were supposed to play in Ranchi, Lucknow, Delhi, Mohali and Jalandhar, while during the Pakistan leg India would have been played in Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi and Sialkot. The two countries last played a bilateral series (three matches each) in 2006 with Pakistan winning 3-1. The cancellation has come as a shock to India skipper Sardar Singh. He had made his debut during the 2006 series.
"Sports can play a big role in bringing peace. But, whatever the decision of the government, we have to go by it," said Sardar.