Lahore: Almost an hour after Inzamam-ul Haq had made the formal announcement, Shoaib Akhtar emerged from the dressing room at the Gaddafi on Sunday. Sipping water from a bottle and limping slightly, he followed the Pakistan captain, sidestepping the waiting fans and the media, to the Honda VTI.
As Inzamam sat besides the driver, he squeezed himself into the rear before rolling down the windowpane and saying, “the ankle still hurts' It would have been tough to keep going. It’s disappointing.” The Honda sped away amid a hushed silence.
At the home team’s optional practice session in the afternoon, Shoaib was among the first to arrive. A round of jogging and stretching done, he went up to the nets. Four deliveries later, he was struggling to make his way back to the run-up. The left ankle couldn’t take the weight of his body at the point of delivery. The pain was apparent.
That Shoaib wouldn’t be able to play on Monday only remained to be announced. Pakistan obviously didn’t risk any further damage as they pulled him out of the Hutch Cup. The move comes amid whispers in certain quarters that the home team is trying to protect his action before Match Referee Chris Broad’s investigative eyes.
“Shoaib’s ankle has shown no signs of improvement and we have decided to keep him out of the series. He’s been bowling for the last two days and hasn’t been comfortable. He needs rest for four to six weeks,” Inzamam announced. Mohammed Sami is the likely replacement.
“It’s good for Shoaib' He can get his feet right. There is lot of cricket coming up,” said coach Bob Woolmer.
Greg Chappell didn’t wish to say much. “This is not something we can do much about' The boys have done well in the last game and I wish to concentrate on my team,” the coach said.
Back at the Pearl Continental, Shoaib sat by the poolside as the Indians went through an hour-long session, their only activity of note on yet another off-day. The teams had flown down from Islamabad on Sunday night itself to have enough time for match-eve preparations. But the thinktank decided to rest.
Amazingly, neither Chappell nor Rahul Dravid thought it wise to have a look at the wicket. The convincing series-levelling victory in Rawalpindi surely hasn’t bred complacency in the camp, but there was no harm in announcing an optional session.
The character of the wicket will be similar to the one used during the Test match, though a different strip has been earmarked. “A high scoring game is on the cards,” feltInzamam.
The Indians, too, have been laid low by Virender Sehwag’s injury. The vice-captain, who suffered spasms on his shoulder on Saturday, hasn’t recovered fully. Gautam Gambhir will be his likely replacement if Sehwag fails to pass the fitness test on Monday.
However hard Inzamam may try to make one believe that Shoaib’s absence won’t make much of a difference (“the others have performed and we have won without him”), the fact remains that the Indians will enjoy a huge advantage.
The Pakistan captain blamed their loss Saturday on “four run outs”. “They proved crucial' A 300-plus target would have been possible if those run outs didn’t happen.”
He felt the defeat has not affected the team morale.
In a first of sorts, the day-night match will begin at 11 am local time. This has been done to ensure no team enjoys unfair advantage from the dew factor.
INDIA (likely): Virender Sehwag/Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth. Super sub: Ramesh Powar.
PAKISTAN (likely): Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Mohammed Yousuf, Inzamam-ul Haq, Younis Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Rana Naved-ul Hasan, Umar Gul, Mohammed Yousuf. Super sub: Arshad Khan.
Umpires: Simon Taufel, Asad Rauf.
TV: Zameer Haider.
Match starts 11.30 am (IST).
Meanwhile, Inzamam informed that both teams will be present in Multan on Tuesday at a hospital project he is associated with. Known as the Bukhtawar Amin Trust Hospital, it will have six blocks with 210 beds. The hospital, which is expected to operate from March, will begin with 70 beds.
Advantage India, says Aamer Sohail: Page 10