| Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in Peshawar on Thursday. (AFP)
Peshawar, March 18: A war is raging some 250 km from here and a storm is gathering over the ground here — over Shoaib Akhtar’s bowling action.
The fearsome fast bowler opened his mouth for the first time, two days after Indian captain Sourav Ganguly’s statement questioning the legality of his bowling action without saying so in so many words.
“I’ve thrice been cleared by the International Cricket Council, once legally by its technical committee. If someone is now questioning my action, he is challenging the ICC,” Shoaib said on the eve of the third one-dayer here.
Sourav is not going on the back foot. The skipper stuck to what he had said after the Rawalpindi match when asked about Shoaib’s action.
“I was asked if he was chucking or not,” Sourav said. “I said: ‘You’re all seeing it on TV. I don’t need to answer that. Everyone knows the truth.’”
Pakistan manager Haroon Rashid extended the team’s full support to Shoaib at a news conference. “Ganguly is entitled to his own opinion,” he said.
“The ICC rules have found no fault with his action. If any individual doesn’t want to agree, we don’t wish to give much importance to that. We feel his bowling is fine and he is following the rules that govern a legal action.”
Yusuf Youhana said: “We are only aiming for a victory. We’ve no other thought in mind.”
“We can’t afford to be relaxed,” was captain Inzamam-ul Haq’s opinion.
Having put the Pakistanis in some discomfort with his comment, Sourav brushed aside suggestions of being hamstrung by medium pacer Ashish Nehra’s injury. “Why should we have any negative thought' You can’t help it if Nehra is injured. Irfan (Pathan) has done well and we can always put them under pressure,” he said.
After the two shirtfronts in Karachi and Pindi, the wicket here has a hint of grass.
Although it was clear the Pakistan side would not want to stoke the controversy — but at the same time could not keep quiet and swallow Sourav’s loaded comment — it is casting a shadow over tomorrow’s match.
Peshaar, as the city’s name is pronounced locally, is in any case tense because of the intensifying military operation to flush out al Qaida and Taliban suspects from tribal regions in south Waziristan.
Casualties are mounting with each passing day in Yana, a village in the tribal zone of the North West Frontier Province near Fartabad. Last night, there were even whispers of an air strike from the base located here.
FOOTNOTE: President Pervez Musharraf has paid the Rs 4,500 price of a ticket for the Pindi match he watched. The Pakistan Cricket Board is trying to end the “complimentary culture”.