| Ashish Nehra
Karachi: Forget the rhetoric, the hype and the emotions that have preceded the last couple of months. Leave aside the ‘feel-good’ factor and all the talk of spirit and friendship.
Come Saturday, diplomacy and politics, which once threatened to hijack cricket in this series, will be reduced to the coffers and the animosity of a fierce battle will rule the National Stadium. The odd word will be exchanged and passion will run high on both sides of the Wagah. This will never be fun.
A good 20 hours before the ‘war’, things weren’t much different, though, every Pakistani made it a point to make you feel at home. From the lady immigration officer at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport to the air hostess on the PK 305 flight to Karachi to the bellboy at the hotel, everyone wants to be a part of history in their own inimitable styles.
The city is waiting with bated breath to survive the elaborate security scrutiny. Like the outcome of the match, which will set the tone and tenor for the rest of the tour, an incident-free encounter will enliven Karachi’s prospects vis-a-vis staging international matches. Memories of the last Indo-Pak match here in 1997, which saw crowd trouble, have not faded.
The Indians should expect very little support. It will be a test of character and of survival in alien conditions. As Sunil Gavaskar once said, every Pakistan tour makes men out of boys.
Pakistan will also have to cope with the pressures of playing at home. The fear that a loss will not be taken kindly will weigh heavily on the back of their minds.
Sachin Tendulkar’s ominous form in the warm-up match in Lahore should be a warning to the hosts. The batting prowess of the Indian top-order will have to be tamed if Inzamam-ul Haq’s men want to harbour any hopes.
In fact, the memories of an Indian victory here, courtesy a Rajesh Chauhan six in the last over in 1997, are still fresh in the Pakistan skipper’s mind. Sourav Ganguly, too, will not forget that match in a hurry, his 89 having earned him the Man of the Match award.
The Achilles heel in the Indians’ armoury is their bowling. The Pakistan A players made merry of it the other day and how well and soon the visitors have learnt their lessons in these conditions will be put to the sternest test. The series has been billed as a Shoaib Akhtar versus Sachin duel but the contest could well turn out to be the one between the Indian bowlers and Inzamam and Co.
Though both captains refused to read too much into Thursday’s outcome, John Wright must have spent sleepless nights reworking tactics. The warm-up tie has served as a wake-up call to the Indians.
The Indians are likely to effect one change from Thursday’s team — Ashish Nehra coming in for Irfan Pathan. Murali Kartik will get one more chance to prove his worth. The pitch is expected to have some carry in the first session and Shoaib and Co. will try to reap the maximum benefits. Sourav, though felt it will be a “batsman’s game”.
The Indians will be at their aggressive best. Sourav had spoken openly about it and there is no sign of a climbdown from his words. “We will rewrite history,” seems to be the theme song on this tour.
The Pakistanis are still undecided on their combination, Shabbir Ahmed’s finger injury being a cause for concern. He is still being monitored and a decision will only be arrived regarding his availability in the morning.
If Javed Miandad has been able to imbibe a little of his street-fighting qualities and his hysterical desire to win into the players, Pakistan will match the Indians eyeball to eyeball. The Pakistan coach, though, highlighted the “goodwill factor” at the press conference on Friday but Inzamam was quick to point out that they too can “win playing attacking cricket”.
One thing is for sure, for the next 40 days discussing Kashmir can be put on hold.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Ashish Nehra.
Pakistan (from): Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat, Shahid Afridi, Yusuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan, Shoaib Malik, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami, Shabbir Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul Haq, Rana Naveedul Hasan, Iftikhar Rao.
Umpires: Simon Tauffel and Nadeem Ghauri
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Hours of play (IST)
10 am — 1.30 pm
2.15 pm — 5.45 pm or close