| A commando from the elite wing of Punjab police on guard at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore during the warm-up match between India and Pakistan A on Thursday. (Reuters)
Lahore, March 11: It was a warm-up for both Team India and the agencies providing an unprecedented security cover. By evening, officers of the Police Service of Pakistan were thumping each other’s back, while Sourav Ganguly was left with a headache not many hours from the first ODI.
The Indians, to quote coach John Wright, suffered a “jolt” when Pakistan A finished on 336 for four and handed out a six-wicket humiliation at the Gaddafi. The police officers on duty, though, were “fully satisfied” that their security operation went off without a hitch.
“It was a full deployment, of 2,500 officers and constables.… It was a trial run for us, in the tour-opener, and the exercise went off perfectly,” one of the SPs involved with the deployment told The Telegraph. He wished to remain anonymous as, officially, he shouldn’t have said anything.
Of course, as Team India’s chief security liaison officer, IG Yashovardhan Azad, put it: “The efficacy will truly be tested when the stadium is packed.…” Indeed, despite considerable local enthusiasm, no more than around 3,000 spectators turned up. Apparently, nobody “marketed” the game well enough.
Whatever, the Taufeeq Umar-led lads certainly marketed themselves superbly and mighty pleased must be chief selector Wasim Bari — now he has smart ODI options in Umar himself (who captained from the front with an excellent 104) and Imran Nazir, hailed as a potential great not many years ago.
The day, mind you, began well for India as the A bowlers were taken to the cleaners by Rahul Dravid (92 not out), Sachin Tendulkar (76) and Virender Sehwag (75). The match, it appeared, was over at the break itself as nobody expected Umar and the rest to surpass 335 for six.
However, with Nazir treating Zaheer Khan and Lakshmipathy Balaji as bowlers in a mohalla game, the unbelievable began to take shape: runs came quicker than the fastest Hondas on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway and the Indians were quickly on the defensive.
Zaheer went for 31 in his first three overs, while Balaji conceded 39 in as many. As for Irfan Pathan, who had dream figures in an U-19 match here not many months ago, his first over cost 24! The 100 came in under eight overs and by the end of the 15th, Pakistan A had creamed off as many as 179 for the loss of Nazir only.
“On any wicket, a total of 335 should be defended.... The bowlers bowled a poor line…. If we had any illusions over how tough this tour would be, what lies ahead has been laid bare,” observed a visibly disappointed Wright.
Sourav, though, chose not to take a despondent line. He said: “We never seem to begin well.... Even in the last World Cup, we lost to a Natal selection just days before the start of our campaign.... In any case, we must remember that Zaheer is coming off a long layoff. Personally, I never read much into the opening game as there’s lots of cricket left.”
Incidentally, Sourav got out to one which took off (from Umar Gul) and his dismissal would have whetted the appetite of the Shoaib Akhtars. It’s up to him, now, to not concede even one more point in the psychological battle.
Team India leaves for Karachi tomorrow morning and, if anything, security is going to be tighter. On the cards is protection from the sky as well, via helicopters. However, one hopes the personnel won’t be as tense as they appear to be in Lahore.