Return of Shoaib may weigh India dow
Kapil: Is Darrel Hair feeling guilty?
Warne may miss India tie
Golmard edges Hantschk
Indians falter in final
Must-win match for EB: Bhowmick

Brisbane, Jan. 9 
In international cricket, it�s come to be known as the Akhtar-factor. It was there for much of 1999 but, now, its presence is even more intimidating.

Indeed, Shoaib Akhtar could well cast the biggest spell in tomorrow�s Carlton and United Series match against India, the second for Pakistan and India�s first.

Put it whichever way but Akhtar�s return, more than anything else, inspired Pakistan to a superb win this evening.

Greeted by a handsome round of applause by a packed Gabba, Akhtar reciprocated with a furious first over and, in the fourth, was on a hattrick. Moreover, each time he sprinted in, hundreds of flash bulbs went off.

Incredibly, not (only) in the photographers� enclosure, but the terraces. Akhtar won�t forget today in a hurry and, come tomorrow, will truly be on overdrive. India could have done without this scenario.

Asked by The Telegraph what his feelings were, Akhtar responded at near 100 mph: �Oh, I�m excited about tomorrow... I was excited today, too.�

In the morning, coach Kapil Dev had declined to talk about Akhtar. �I�m more interested in looking at my own team,� was his response. By the evening, though, Akhtar would have monopolised every minute devoted to strategy.

Sure, the Indians have faced Akhtar � but never with supreme confidence. And to suddenly contend with him, yet again, seems a tall order.

On paper, at least, India do boast enough ammunition to neutralise Akhtar and Pakistan. But the batsmen have been struggling and while the priority, as captain Sachin Tendulkar put it, is �to turn a new leaf�, not many may bet on that being an effortless exercise.

So remarkable has been Akhtar�s influence that captain Wasim Akram, buoyed in any case by today�s stunning victory, boomed: �Against India, we can bounce back at any time.�

But would there be a shade more tension given the many non-cricket incidents which have marred Indo-Pak relations since the last meeting (World Cup, in early June)?

Akram was at his diplomatic best: �It shouldn�t be so. It ought to be treated as just another game and let the best team win.�

Kapil, who caused quite a stir with his �no-cricket-with-Pakistan� appeal, during the Kargil war, declined to say anything. Seeing the coach keep mum, Sachin followed suit.

Sachin did, however, insist that the World Cup victory (in Manchester) would remind his players of what they are capable of. �It can only serve as a psychological plus.�

Incidentally, in Australia, India hold a 3-0 advantage over Pakistan: Two wins in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket and one in the 1992 World Cup.

To add to that, though, India will have to play out of their skin. A trip to the alluring Gold Coast beaches, yesterday, would have helped relax even the Devang Gandhis. But, tomorrow, it will mean being positive like never before.

Towards that end, Sachin may prefer to open, a change from the already-announced move to bat at No. 4, after vice-captain Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid. A good start is half the job done.

Clearly, a �review� has become necessary after Pakistan�s annihilation of the world champions. That Pakistan could still pull it off with lots to spare, even though it�s Saqlain Mushtaq who finished as top-scorer, reinforced just how lethal their attack is.

Though winning combinations are rarely disturbed, Pakistan should bring back Shahid Afridi who, against India, has had more success than failure. Mohammed Wasim will then be dropped.

As for India, there�s been some debate over including Debashish Mohanty, but it appears Ajit Agarkar will get the nod.

Incidentally, Sachin has asked for his shirt to be numbered 99. �I have something for the 9s... My cars, for instance, have that registration number,� he quipped.

Samir Dighe, by the way, will make his debut. Only, it�s unlikely a full house will see him with his first India cap: Till this evening only 18,000, or just 50 per cent of the tickets, had been picked up.


INDIA (likely): Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Robin Singh, Samir Dighe, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kum- ble, Jawagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.

PAKISTAN (likely): Saeed Anwar, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzak, Ijaz Ahmed, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Moin Khan, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

Umpires: Steve Davis and Simon Taufel.    

Brisbane, Jan. 9 
The Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chief executive, Malcolm Speed, has called for a �full report� on the sensational umpires� letter to Match Referee Cammie Smith. Smith himself has decided not to place it before the ICC.

All that was yesterday.

Today, Indian coach Kapil Dev broke his silence. �Did anybody from either the Indian or Pakistani team talk about Australian umpires being racist? As the answer is �no,� is (Darrell) Hair then himself feeling guilty?� Kapil asked, this morning.

Good question that, but it�s unlikely that Hair, who acted as the spokesman for five Australian umpires, will answer that in a hurry.

In any case, Hair is off to South Africa to officiate in the last Test there, versus England, but will return in time for the final stages of the Carlton and United Series.    

Brisbane, Jan. 9 

Shane Warne, who suffered a side strain in the opening Carlton and United Series match, against Pakistan, may miss the next game � versus India, in Melbourne Wednesday.

There has been no official announcement, but chances are that Warne will be �rested,� assuming it�s only a strain. It could be a different story if a further examination, tomorrow, reveals something more serious.    

Chennai, Jan. 9 
It took the crafty Jerome Golmard two and a half hours to wear down the amazing resilience of Markus Hantschk. In the end, the 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3 victory in the final of the Gold Flake Open was a just reward for the fourth seed who picked up a cheque for $54,000. The French southpaw had won a Tour title before, conquering big names like Tim Henman, Carlos Moya and Nicolas Kiefer in Dubai last year. But this one was really special as he was returning after a seven-month lay-off necessitated by an injury on the right knee. �The last tournament I played was in June, so it feels great to win straightaway after coming back. Actually, it hasn�t sunk in as yet,� Golmard said in broken English, with some help from girlfriend Cecille. For the first time this week, the Nungambakkam Stadium was full. And though the quality of play didn�t quite match the exotic heights it scaled last night, the French-German confrontation had enough masala to keep the 5,000-strong audience in thrall. Golmard, the clear favourite despite Hantschk�s stunning upset of Cedric Pioline yesterday, made the right moves at the start. He launched into his masterly double-handed crosscourt drive to break the German in the very first game and then escaped from 15-40 on his serve to go 2-0 up. The pony-tailed French, who had climbed to No. 22 before being sidelined by the knee injury, dropped serve when he rushed a backhand return only to guide it into the net. But he quickly recaptured the initiative. The 22-year-old Hantschk erred on his forehand to lose serve in the seventh game. And then, serving to stay in the set, Hantschk was left rooted at the net as Golmard ran in and essayed an effortless forehand pass. If the first set saw four breaks , the second set saw none. With both six-footers serving strong and accurate, not a single game went to deuce. The tie-breaker brought the best out of Hantschk. The German won a big point, controlling a swift rally and then coming in to play a perfect drop-volley. Serving to level set scores, Hantschk was a trifle unlucky as a forehand crosscourt missed the line by the proverbial whisker. The next chance he got, the world No. 127 made sure his whipping forehand found its destination. The German had steered the final into the decider. Like he did against Pioline, Hantschk fought as if his life depended on this match. With Golmard raising his game a notch � predictably, after another toilet break � Hantschk faced one crisis after the other. And he weathered each with the true grit of a German. After saving his ninth break-point, Hantschk finally caved in � but only courtesy a double-fault. It came in the seventh game after deuce had been called five times. The match as a contest was over at that moment, as it would be almost impossible for the German to turn it around from being a break down in the final set. In the event, Golmard closed out the match on Hantschk�s next service game. The German had lost but not without a fight.    

Chennai, Jan. 9 
In the end, it was a fairytale too good to last. The stage was set for Prahlad Srinath and Saurav Panja to reproduce some magic moments their illustrious peers Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had conjured in the previous three years. But Julien Bouter and Christophe Rochus had other ideas, spoiling the party with a 7-5, 6-1 win in the final of the Gold Flake Open final tonight. The first set between the two wild card pairs was a close affair. None of the four players, with an experience of just two Tour matches between them before this week, showed any nerves. The Indian pair had a break-point on Bouter�s serve early in the match. But the tall Frenchman, the biggest server of the quartet, wriggled out of trouble with a big one down the middle. Srinath and Panja didn�t have a second chance to break. Playing in front of their families who had been flown in by the sponsors, the Indians did well to hang in. Just when it seemed the tie-breaker was inevitable, Panja cracked. Serving to stay in the set in Game 12, the Indians committed three errors to surrender the first set. Bouter and Rochus, who had knocked out top seeds Paes and Byron Black in the quarter finals, then ran away with the second set. Srinath, who had hardly played much doubles prior to the Chennai meet, tried his best coming up with some good returns. But his younger partner lost rhythm on his favourite forehand to concede too many cheap points. As Panja said, �it was a great experience but quite heartbreaking in the end.� Heartbreaking it may have been, but Panja and Srinath can take credit for reviving interest in a tournament which lost all but one of its superstars by the third day. By reaching the final against all odds, they showed that doubles in this country had taken off on the heels of Paes-Bhupathi�s magical deeds. As Panja and Srinath observed, the runner-up�s cheque for $15,630 would help them enter more travel on the circuit and enter more tournaments. Indian tennis needs more �breaks� like this.    

Calcutta, Jan. 9 
East Bengal will meet Dempo tomorrow in what the former�s coach described as a �must win� match of the Coca-Cola National League. Subhas Bhowmick�s title aspirants have seven points from five matches and the men from Goa have only two from five. But the East Bengal coach knows he can�t take things lightly. �Now we are under pressure, so their poor record or the match being held at Rabindra Sarobar and not Salt Lake doesn�t matter,� Bhowmick said. His team will be handicapped in the absence of striker Raman Vijayan (injured) and defensive mainstay Jackson Egygpong (two bookings). Chances of fielding Bijen Singh, by the coach�s own admission, too are quite slim. But Bhowmick said it was not the time to rue such things and play positively with whatever resources he has. He didn�t say who will play in place of Bijen but chances are, he has to start with Sheikh Sanjeeb, who has been disappointing so far. Dempo, who suffered a 1-7 drubbing against Mahindras in the last match, are here with four Iranians. Two of them have been imported after the Mahindra debacle. The other foreigner in their ranks is Nepali goalkeeper Man Singh. Their Iranian coach Sanjari said his team will go for three points. In other matches, FC Kochin take on JCT in Kochi and Mahindra and Mahindra meet SBT in Mumbai tomorrow.    

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