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Sourav chain for Shoaib

Lahore, March 10: The most eagerly awaited touchdown in these parts occurred at 1.45 pm (local time) and the cynosure was an Indian Airlines Airbus 320, bearing Sourav Ganguly’s team, on a special flight numbered 1845 from New Delhi. For a million reasons, that moment is going to remain special.

Sourav, who was seated next to John Wright in the first row — the partners across the aisle were Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid — took his time getting up once captain A.K. Malhotra directed his crew to “disarm the doors”.

Perhaps, Sourav was reflecting on his aggressive “we will rewrite history” remark in Calcutta yesterday. Or, he could have been marvelling at the very contemporary Allama Iqbal International Airport. The old facility, after all, had been anything but international.

Whatever, Sourav walked off ramrod-straight and even if the Inzamam-ul Haqs were not around, made a statement with that confident body language. Later, at the first media conference in Pakistan addressed by a (senior) India captain in almost seven years, he struck the right notes.

The opening question — “who is responsible for no Test cricket between the two countries, in Pakistan, for over 14 years'” — was intended to be a vicious bouncer. Sourav, though, coolly let it pass: “I’m not sure... Let the manager (Ratnakar Shetty) answer that... But, yes, it’s good to be here.”

Shetty advised the media to focus on cricket only. That did not go unheeded.

Talking of the two teams, Sourav insisted “consistently better cricket” would determine the winner. Of course, he declined to be drawn into the debate over favourites. Yet, he promised intensity that would match what had been on display in the classic four-Test series in Australia.

Given his own passionate approach, it is not surprising that Sourav disagreed with Pakistan coach Javed Miandad that “goodwill” is going to be the favoured flavour over the next five-six weeks. “Both teams will be competing to win,” he said.

Predictably, there were questions about Shoaib Akhtar and the impact he may have. In a departure from his customary so-very-serious answers, Sourav had the huge turnout in splits when he responded to one query (“how are you going to derail the Rawalpindi Express'”) by saying: “Pulling the chain, perhaps!”

Earlier in the day, Sourav and his players were wished “good luck” by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the lawns of 7 Race Course Road. The 45-minute interaction also saw bats exchanged. Team India gave one (plus the tour tie) to Vajpayee, who, in turn, offered one with a message which mirrored his sentiments: “Khel mein jeetna hai, lekin dil bhi jeetna hai (Games must be won, but so must hearts).”

Vajpayee spent some time speaking to Wright and, as a result, the coach was subjected to leg-pulling by his wards: “So, John, have you been offered a ticket somewhere'”

However, it wasn’t carried too far as the coach is known to slap fines without much provocation.

Wright, who has toured Pakistan once before (as a player in the mid-eighties), later candidly told The Telegraph: “In an Indo-Pak contest, losing definitely isn’t an option...

“Irrespective of the pressure on the hosts, he knows Team India’s task is cut out.

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