| Shoaib Akhtar during a practice session in Karachi on Friday
Karachi: When PIA flight 341 from Faisalabad touched down at the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport on Thursday afternoon, Gautam Gambhir nudged ‘neighbour’ Harbhajan Singh and said: “Arre, the land here is all barren...” The off-spinner replied ' “grass ko utha kar National Stadium pe dal diya hai... The greenery will all be there...”
Actually, Harbhajan wasn’t off the mark: A visit to the venue staging the third and final Test (from Sunday) revealed a green top. “Even if we trim the grass a bit, the wicket is still going to look green,” Pakistan’s chief curator Agha Zahid told The Telegraph.
For the first time in this series, Zahid looked relaxed. He can’t, after all, get flak for producing a dead wicket. The criticism so far has hurt the former opener, but he has now prepared a surface which should challenge both India and Pakistan.
If the top stays green, it’s quite possible that Sourav Ganguly will make a comeback ' at the expense of a specialist bowler, possibly the wicketless Harbhajan. Nothing could be confirmed as the thinktank hadn’t met till late on Friday, even though national selector Ranjib Biswal was in by then.
In fact, given the amount of bowling done in the last Test (Faisalabad), the team management decided on a break for two days in succession. Without sufficient recovery time, long spells at the nets here would have taken a heavy toll. So, it’s only at Saturday’s practice that the Indians are going to have their first look at the wicket.
The National Stadium hasn’t hosted an Indo-Pak Test for over 16 years ' the last being Sachin Tendulkar’s debut.
While the hosts had another workout, Sachin, Sourav, Anil Kumble and coach Greg Chappell made a trip to the idyllic Arabian Sea Country Club, around 35 kms away. Former Pakistan Cricket Board supremo Arif Ali Khan Abbasi is its chief executive and he’d invited the entire team.
The families accompanied Sachin and Sourav, while Greg’s wife Judith also went along. Kumble, of course, didn’t forget to take his Canon camera and got himself photographed with three brothers ' Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq ' of the legendary Mohammed family.
The brothers posed with Chappell as well. “I’m sorry I can’t get Ian and Trevor,” he quipped. Incidentally, Chappell (and Kumble) spent some time on the fairways before heading back to the security personnel-packed Sheraton.
In a fine gesture, the Club gave honorary life memberships (worth Rs 6 lakh) to the three senior pros, Chappell, manager Raj Singh Dungarpur and captain Rahul Dravid. Moreover, an agreement of reciprocity was signed with Mumbai’s Cricket Club of India (CCI). Raj Singh is the CCI president.
Meanwhile, speaking exclusively, Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq declared he was “much better” and hopeful of not missing out on a decisive Test. “The back is responding to treatment... Inshallah main khelun ga... I’m more confident today than I was two days ago...”
There has been talk that Shoaib Akhtar has a left ankle problem, but he bowled on Friday and didn’t appear to be in discomfort.