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General plays the gentle game

Islamabad, Feb. 10: Face to face with an Indian Air Force officer at the front, it’s anybody’s guess what General Pervez Musharraf the soldier might have had to say.

Standing before Wg Cdr Baladitya and his men at the presidential palace, a day before India and Pakistan do battle for pole position in the one-day series, President Pervez Musharraf the politician exhorted them to show “fighting qualities”.

If Inzamam-ul Haq’s “obstructing the field” dismissal in Peshawar has soured relations between the two teams, Pakistan’s head of state today tried to broker the peace treaty.

He asked both the sides to play the game in “sportsmanlike spirit”. But if anybody had smelt in this a whiff of support for Inzamam’s complaint against the Indians, he would have stood quickly corrected.

The President pointed out to the Pakistan captain that he had been standing outside the crease when he blocked the fielder’s throw with his bat (and so, at least in theory, may have pre-empted a possible run-out).

Musharraf spent about an hour with the teams this morning at the Aiwan-i-Sadar banquet hall, where visiting heads of states and governments are hosted, at his official residence. He laid on the charm thick as he picked out players for informed praise and friendly banter.

Musharraf brimmed with admiration for Irfan Pathan, congratulating him for his hattrick in the Karachi Test.

“At 39 for six on the opening day, I thought it was all over. I switched off the television and went back to work. Pakistan showed great spirit in making a comeback and winning the series,” the President declared.

“There is no reason why the Indians cannot show the same fighting qualities. You shouldn’t lose heart. You may be 0-1 down in the one-dayers, but can always bounce back.”

Musharraf addressed each player ' including rookies R.P. Singh, Suresh Raina and Sreesanth ' by name even before Rahul Dravid could introduce them to him.

Greg Chappell, laid low by a throat infection since yesterday, wasn’t there, though, to hear what the military ruler had to say to the Indian skipper: “The captain should be the sole leader and in command.' You cannot have two/three leaders.”

“He seemed aware of what has been happening in the series. Nice to talk to him. We enjoyed the session very much,” Dravid later said.

Musharraf, a fan of Sachin Tendulkar, spent some time talking to the maestro.

“We spoke generally.' About my hundred in Peshawar and how I am looking forward to tomorrow’s game,” Sachin told The Telegraph.

The assistant manager, too, kindled interest in the general. As manager Raj Singh Dungarpur introduced Baladitya, Musharraf looked at him with curiosity. “I am always comfortable talking to people in uniform,” he quipped.

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