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Shoaib at nets, Sourav’s boys take day off
- Prayers and punishment for hosts, no jubilation for guests

Islamabad, March 14: Defeat sent Inzamam-ul Haq’s boys back to the nets while victory allowed Sourav Ganguly’s men the luxury of a break after the nerve-wracking cliffhanger at Karachi.

But if there was penance in the Pakistan camp, there were no celebrations in the Indian side either. Like his Pakistani counterpart, Sourav appeared concerned about trying to find ways to deal with the bowlers’ erratic line and length.

Billed as a face-off between Indian batsmen and Pakistani bowlers, the series is turning out to be a contest between the bowlers of both teams. While Karachi’s status as a cricketing venue has improved considerably after yesterday, the Shoaib Akhtars are facing the heat ahead of the second match at Rawalpindi Stadium on Tuesday.

No wonder then that the home team was back at the nets less than 24 hours after the high-voltage clash. Even Inzamam-ul Haq’s brilliant hundred has almost gone unnoticed in the face of the loss.

Javed Miandad knows well that if the local hero can set the pace, other things will fall into place automatically. While the rest of the side did not forget to offer prayers before the session, Miandad spent an hour with the Rawalpindi Express making him bowl to targets on the off stump line.

“Down, down,” screamed the coach as Shoaib charged in for another of his thunderbolts. He pointed out that Shoaib was straightening too much on his run-up and not bending his back enough at the point of delivery.

“I’m punishing myself,” said Shoaib, aware of the responsibility and the fact that it will be difficult to tame the Indians in the five-match series unless parity is restored in Rawalpindi. It will be up to him to show the way.

The common belief here is that the pressure of playing at home seems to have weighed heavily on the players’ mind in Karachi. The high expectations and the fear of a backlash in the event of defeat seemed to have undone their natural abilities.

Indian coach John Wright said today: “A player is the best judge of pressure and his attitude comes into the forefront. It is up to an individual to remain calm. It’s very good to have passion but that has to be well directed. The calmness will be the key to handle pressure.”

Sourav Ganguly and Co., who arrived here late last night, took a day off except for those who did not play in Karachi. The skipper is down with mild fever but he insisted that will not stop him from playing on Tuesday.

The think tank had a session with the team’s video analyst late in the evening for Zaheer Khan and Co. “In Australia, it was the first 15 overs that let us down. Now the middle overs are turning out to be our drawback,” said Wright.

The way the Indians almost surrendered the advantage of scoring 349 did not call for any celebration and none took place.

President Pervez Musharraf, though, has invited both sides for tea on Wednesday. Team manager Ratnakar Shetty said the “team has been told that there would be a meeting with the President on March 17. We believe it is a get-together over tea. The timing is yet to be confirmed”.

The teams will fly out to Peshawar for the third one-dayer on Thursday morning.

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