Peshawar: The Air Traffic Controllers at the international airport, which serves as a major air base as well, may not be bitten by the cricket bug ' or else a Haj flight from Jeddah wouldn’t have got priority over PK 350 carrying the Indian and Pakistani teams from Karachi ' but the locals are desperate for a seat at the Arbab Niaz Stadium on Monday.
So much so that despite high security, some of the more influential parked themselves at the Pearl Continental long before the teams checked in on Friday evening. The intention was to renew contacts and ask for complimentaries for the opening ODI. Not that taking a chance costs a Rupee.
On the last tour, 2003-04, the Indians were outplayed by the hosts.
Hutch is sponsoring this latest five-match series and the trophy was unveiled by Rahul Dravid and Younis Khan (standing-in for Inzamam-ul Haq, whose father is ill) earlier in the day in Karachi.
[Inzamam came here directly from Lahore.]
The Indian captain insisted that lifting the team’s morale, after the humiliating loss in the final Test, wouldn’t be tough. “It’s not difficult motivating anybody for a one-day series against Pakistan... That’s motivation enough... We intend playing good, positive cricket,” he said.
Pakistan, of course, didn’t just win the Test series which ended on Wednesday but won the last four ODIs on the tour of India early last year. That sequence began in Jamshedpur and ensured a 4-2 scoreline.
“Hopefully, we will learn something (more) about our team by the time the ODIs end... The pressure is neither more nor less because of what happened in the Test series... We’re looking to develop as a team (in ODIs) and that process is more important than short-term results,” Dravid added.
In his view, maintaining the “intensity and momentum” throughout any match is what makes the difference.
Dravid, who conceded that Sunil Gavaskar’s criticism of the Indian batting in Karachi had been justified (“yes, we didn’t play the new ball well enough”), indicated the business of experimenting in ODIs would continue.
Meanwhile, lobbed an uncomfortable question (“are you ready to take up the mantle'”) at the unveiling ceremony, Younis gave the politically correct reply: “Everybody knows Inzybhai’s worth... He leads from the front... It’s important for me to be a team man...”
Dravid, by the way, was a very keen listener when Younis talked of “achche options” for the opening combination.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan, who was also present, clarified that spearhead Shoaib Akhtar wasn’t carrying a “serious” left ankle injury. “Yes, he had a problem, but didn’t want to miss the Test series... It’s not serious, but if it becomes one then we’re going to consider giving him a break...”
Footnote: Peshawar is coach Bob Woolmer’s “favourite city” in Pakistan. In a chat with The Telegraph, he explained: “This place has so much history... Has such a rich tradition... For me, at least, it’s fascinating and is most definitely my favourite city... Let’s see if there’s time to look around...”