Pakistan's secret weapon, and an unknown umpire
Until the end of the Indian tour of Pakistan, we will be running a daily Paper Round of what newspapers in India and Pakistan, and from around the world, are saying about this series. This is what the media had to say today:
Does Pakistan have an unknown ace up their sleeve? The Press Trust of India reports that there is a furious buzz centred around a young fast bowler named Iftikhar Rao, whose bowling action resembles Glenn McGrath's, and who "impressed one and all in the training camp for probables in Lahore". PTI quotes Wasim Bari, Pakistan's chief selector, as saying: "He [Rao] has performed outstandingly and we will definitely give him a chance very shortly. He has a good outswinger and a smooth run-up to the wicket."
Pakistan's squad for the first two one-day internationals is due to be announced later today. The Daily Nation reports that Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan are certain to return to the team, while Danish Kaneria, Imran Nazir and Saqlain Mushtaq will probably be omitted.
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Dawn reports that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has surprised the cricket fraternity by naming an unknown umpire, Syed Zamir Haider, to officiate as the TV umpire in two of the one-day internationals and in the third Test. Zamir, a 41-year-old, is in his fourth season as a first-class umpire, and has officiated in 23 matches so far. Dawn is outraged at his appointment, pointing out that Haider did not supervise any of the matches in the recent Patron's Cup, and has been allotted just two matches in the ongoing Qaid-I-Azam Trophy. It writes: "Given the importance and the interest surrounding the first full series between the two South Asian neighbours on Pakistan soil since more than 14 years, the PCB has abruptly overlooked the credentials of senior and respected officials Mian Aslam, Salim Badar and Riazuddin who had also represented Pakistan on the ICC panel of umpires."
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Zaheer Khan joins the list of Indian players who have been asserting in the last few days that they are not worried about the tour to Pakistan. Speaking to The Times of India, Zaheer said, "I will ... be aggressive and fast. It comes naturally to almost every pace bowler. The important thing is not to make the same mistakes."
Zaheer wasn't worried about the Pakistan team, who also know a thing or two about aggression. "There's no point in worrying too much about the other team's strengths and weaknesses. I believe in looking at our strengths, [and] paying attention to our positives."
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India Abroad News Service had reported yesterday that Parthiv Patel and Irfan Pathan were, because of the tour to Pakistan, missing their 12th standard board examinations, Patel for the third time and Irfan for the second. One thought that came naturally to mind was why they couldn't be allowed to take the exams separately, after the tour. Well, The Gujarat government has just ruled out that option.
PTI quotes a source in the state education department as saying: "There is no such provision in the regulation act or the examination manual [that] enables retest for a student not able to take the exams. In case any special provision is made for these young cricketers, lot[s] of other students may queue up citing various reasons other than sports." Gujarat's education minister, Anandiben Patel, added, "Why is the media so worried about the retest when they [Patel and Irfan] are not? Why don't you go and ask them whether they want to take exams or not?"
Meanwhile, Patel's family added, "Parthiv had completed all formalities for taking the board exams, but it is not possible now after his selection."
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Budhi Kunderan, the Indian wicketkeeper-batsman who was one of Sunil Gavaskar's childhood heroes, senses a Shakespearean dimension to India's tour of Pakistan. Speaking to Westside Plus, a suburban supplement of the Mumbai edition of The Times of India, Kunderan said, "I watched the Pak boys [sic] against New Zealand and they are very talented. They have very good fast bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, who can have the same tragic effect on the opposite team as the duo of Wasim Akram [and] Waqar Younis [did]." Hamlet? Who's Hamlet? Shoaib Akhtar is tragic.
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AFP reports that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is going to double the number of its flights between India and Pakistan from March 25. The number of weekly flights will go up to 12, though this will come as scant consolation for the many fans, and journalists, who have been scrambling for tickets in order to reach Pakistan in time for the one-day series. PIA's welcome move comes into effect one day after the one-dayers are over.
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There might be debate about politics and cricket mixing, but there is no reason why politicans and cricketers should not spend some time together. AFP reports that the Indian team will be calling on Atal Behari Vajpayee, India's prime minister, before embarking on their tour next week. A press release from the BCCI said: "Considering the importance of the goodwill tour, the prime minister will personally meet the team members and extend his good wishes to them." Before meeting the prime minister, the team will also have meetings with security agencies and the foreign office.
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Omar Kureishi, the veteran Pakistani journalist, has launched out against Javed Miandad and Imran Khan in Dawn. Miandad had recently stated that his team did not need any support staff, not even a trainer, and Imran had agreed with him. Kureishi is aghast at this, and he points out that every other Test side in the world, including the "mighty Australians", have a trainer to help them. Kureishi asks: "Fast bowlers need to do weightlifting or 'pump iron' as they say in the jargon. What about batsmen? Do they need to 'pump iron'? Are the players expected to know this of their own? There has to be some guidance."
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Some of the early Test series between India and Pakistan were drawn purely because both sides were afraid of the backlash they'd get from their fans if they lost. Well, Mushtaq Mohammad, a former Pakistan captain who, as a 17-year-old, took part in the series against India in 1960-61, is worried that these two teams will make just the same mistake. That series had been drawn, with all five Tests boring grind-fests, as both teams adopted safe, defensive strategies. Mushtaq, speaking to the Press Trust of India about that series, said, "I was amazed at the defensive approach of both the captains. It looked [like] both [the captains] did not want to win."
Mushtaq was worried that Sourav Ganguly and Inzamam-ul-Haq may adopt a similar mindset this time. "There remains pressure on both the teams that if they lose they receive a backlash, and if this pressure dominates, I fear that the coming series will be spoiled," said Mushtaq. "I hope that both Ganguly and Inzamam adopt [a] positive approach because people now want to see results in Test matches."