New Delhi: Pakistan International’s flight PK 270 arrived just seven minutes behind schedule (at 4.17pm) on Thursday, but it took three quarters of an hour for immigration to clear Shoaib Malik and Co.
The process would’ve been quicker, but for confusion over speedster Mohammed Asif.
The authorities, as it turned out, weren’t informed that he hadn’t boarded the flight from Lahore and, so, they only needed to stamp 23 passports and not 24 as listed in an official communication.
All the while, the visitors were seated in the somewhat cramped Reserved Lounge and the furniture had to be moved when the Muslim members of the contingent wanted to pray.
“Paschim (west) kidhar hai'” somebody asked the security personnel. Briefly, that caused confusion, but the “kidhar hai” debate didn’t last long.
Once prayers were said, Malik and manager Talat Ali chose to visit the duty-free section of the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The captain looked around, but the manager bought a few things.
“It’s a nice feeling... Coming as captain accha lag raha hai,” Malik told The Telegraph, as he walked back to the lounge. He seemed tense, though. A couple of hours later, however, Malik appeared pretty relaxed during an interaction with the media.
Coach Geoff Lawson, on the other hand, was at ease throughout. “Look, I want two wickets from you in every match... Runs too,” is how he joked with Misbah-ul Haq, as the latter waited for Umar Gul to emerge from the lounge’s washroom.
Then, turning to this Reporter, Lawson asked: “Is Rahul Dravid’s exclusion still such a big issue'” He didn’t wait for the answer. “Actually, it doesn’t really make much of a difference to us...”
Malik’s views, though, are different.
Lawson, who has toured India thrice in the Australian colours (from 1979 to 1989), made his last visit in 2005. “That’s when I brought a university side... Being the coach of a national team is different but, at the end of the day, it still is just cricket...”
Also seeming totally relaxed was the temperamental Shoaib Akhtar, who shared a sofa with Younis Khan, a stand-in captain who is now vice-captain.
Given his fondness for drama, Shoaib was the last to emerge from the terminal building and was mobbed by camerapersons as he headed for the team bus.
“When Shoaib turned up at the (Lahore) airport, I saw he’d come with a sensible hair cut... So, that’s a beginning... If he’s managed well, he could be our most powerful weapon (on the tour)... The hair cut is a great start!” quipped Lawson.
A shade over a year ago, Shoaib had to fly out of New Delhi in disgrace. That was hours after the doping scandal. Much, of course, has happened since.
Incidentally, there were few fans to greet the visitors (both at the airport and the hotel), perhaps because of too much Indo-Pak cricket after the second Revival Tour, in 2003-04.
For the contest to be bigger than the Ashes, a point made by Lawson, the administrators need to tread cautiously.