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General fires his shots like Sachin

Islamabad, March 17: Colin Powell might have missed the match by a couple of days, but if the US secretary of state had arrived around six hours earlier, he would have witnessed cricket diplomacy from short range.

President Pervez Musharraf laid on his charm thick when he spent with Sourav Ganguly and his team nearly an hour on the fifth floor of his official residence in the Sadar area at noon, picking out individual players for informed praise and friendly banter.

“He was just amazing. He is dynamic and seemed well-versed in every bit of information on this series,” Sourav told The Telegraph.

The Indian and Pakistani teams were received in the Aiwan-I-Sadar banquet hall, where visiting heads of state and government are hosted, in the presidential mansion.

At the Rawalpindi Stadium yesterday, the general had asked for Sachin to be identified to him when Pakistan was batting. Today, he sought the master out for praise. “He congratulated Sachin on his 37th hundred and for completing 13,000 runs in one-day cricket,” manager Ratnakar Shetty said.

On behalf of the team, Shetty presented the President with an autographed bat and a silver salver.

Musharraf had left the stadium at the break and regretted having missed Sachin’s glorious knock.

“You almost won the match for India,” he told Sachin, appearing familiar with some of his previous innings as well.

“The President also spoke highly of (Laxmipathy) Balaji’s efforts towards the close,” Shetty added.

The Indians were treated to high tea later. “He mingled with the players freely,” Sourav said.

“Whatever may be the result, when the long series finally ends, it would have helped the two countries to forge more friendly ties and brought people of the two countries closer,” Musharraf said.

Cricket has grabbed the attention of American Powell, too, as he travels in South Asia, if not for the game itself, then for its diplomatic value at least.

“Let’s hope that the spirit of cricket that we have seen the last few days affects the whole comprehensive dialogue between the two sides,” he said in an interview.

Powell and Musharraf meet tomorrow.

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