| Shabbir Ahmed during practice in Rawalpindi on Monday. (AFP)
Islamabad: Five days into the tour, and the Indian cricketers are already getting bored with the stringent security and their inability to mix with the common man and get a feel of the surroundings.
The city, resplendent with its designer shopping malls, sleek highways and the hilly terrain has, however, provided some welcome relief. If Islamabad is modern, nearby Rawalpindi is laid-back and has failed to keep pace with the times.
The 25,000-capacity stadium is located near the mid-point of the twin cities Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Traffic will be directed there Tuesday as the second one-day International could well set the trend for the series.
If the home side are feeling the pressure, they are not willing to show it. “There is no pressure,” the highly-rated tactician that Javed Miandad is, said this afternoon.
“The Indians played well in Karachi, but our batting has also been beyond expectations. Coming up against a target of 350, we performed exceptionally well. Inzamam-ul Haq was brilliant, and Yusuf Youhana also did not lag far behind. This ability to battle it out till the end has proved our potential. These sort of games help a lot in improving our performance,” Miandad said.
“Had we lost by 50 or 100 runs there would have been no despair. But losing a match after coming so near has been very disappointing. It hurts. It was a case of lost opportunity,” he added.
The pitch here is expected to have some carry in the initial stages, but the batsmen, as has been the norm, will hold the edge. The cool evenings will invite dew and it remains to be seen how much of an impact that makes on the side batting second.
Sourav Ganguly’s fitness will decide the combination of the side. If Sourav finally fails to make it, V.V.S. Laxman will take his place. Laxman will anyway be back, hence if the skipper’s presence is guaranteed, Hemang Badani will have to make way for Laxman.
If Ashish Nehra’s swollen right ankle shows no significant improvement by Tuesday afternoon, Irfan Pathan will be included. But one thing is for certain, Ramesh Powar will make his debut at Murali Kartik’s expense.
The bowling of both teams has come under the scanner. Miandad has worked hard with the pacers, especially Shoaib Akhtar, pointing out flaws in their run-up and delivery strides. “I think they have been able to correct their weaknesses,” Miandad said.
While the Indians’ fielding has been impressive in patches, Pakistan have not been up to the mark, prompting Miandad to say that Kaif’s catch to dismiss Shoaib Malik was the turning point.
“Players have to take responsibility. If someone is short on quality, I can work with him and guide him. But for the ones who are gifted, the responsibility should come from within,” the coach remarked.
Miandad felt the Indian attack was “steady” and too much blame is being put on bowlers of both teams. “In the past, Indians believed only in spinners. Now they have good pacers coming up. They performed well in Australia too. You never know, they might surprise you tomorrow.”
The Pakistanis are likely to include Shabbir Ahmed — who is much better now — in place of Rana Naveed-ul Hasan.
The Pakistan bowlers gave away 30 extra runs by way of no-balls and wides, and that has left the coach focussing on discipline. “During the first 15 overs with the field restrictions in place, we bowled 20 and that made a big difference.”
The Indians’ approach to their bowlers isn’t much different. “This has been an area of concern and we are working on it. There are a lot of guys who are very inexperienced. Hopefully, they’ll learn from this tour and that will make us a better side,” Rahul Dravid said.
His own form has been satisfying. “I was just trying to take some confidence into this series. It’s a long one, and hopefully I can keep the momentum going,” the vice-captain said of his superb innings in Karachi where he missed out on a hundred by a run.
It could be a chance for him to make amends.
India (from): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Hemang Badani, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Ashish Nehra/Irfan Pathan.
Pakistan (likely): Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat, Yusuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul Haq, Younis Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan, Shoaib Malik, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Rana Naveed-ul Hasan/Shabbir Ahmed.
Match timings: 2.30 pm to 6 pm; 6.40 pm to end of play.