Inzamam and Woolmer speak out
As Pakistan prepare to take on India, both sides revitalised in recent months, in a series of considerable cricketing significance, both Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq were adamant that the entire Indian team and no one individual player will pose the greatest threat. Speaking at the press conference at Gaddafi Stadium before the first Test, scheduled to begin on Friday, Inzamam said, "There's not been too much change in the Indian team from the last time they visited. They are an experienced team. They are all experienced batsmen and all capable of playing long innings. We have to work very hard to win this series and especially hard against their batting line-up." Woolmer agreed, "All eleven Indian players are threats as will all our eleven. This will be a hard-fought series."
India's batting line-up in particular will be a concern to Pakistan. As strong as it has been, it has also recently lengthened considerably with Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar batting as low as number nine. Woolmer, however, was quick to point out that it isn't a situation new to Pakistan. "All international sides have long batting orders now. Every team has to plan for that. Quite a lot of the time, the late order doesn't get exposed to often to genuine spinners or fast bowlers. When they do, even they struggle."
The identity and composition of the Pakistan XI, for once, are the subject of little speculation. Inzamam confirmed noises from the camp in previous days that Shoaib Malik will open the innings, as he did against England. It means that Imran Farhat, recalled to the Pakistan squad after a year on the sidelines, will miss out on the opportunity to partner Salman Butt. Inzamam explained, "Regular openers are good but Malik has played well for us. In his innings against England, he stuck around and he has shown that he can play a long innings. He also gives us a big edge with his bowling."
There has been talk, over the last few days and in the build-up to the series, of the nature the pitch. Former players, among them Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed had said Pakistan would do well to prepare seaming, bouncy tracks to combat India's strong batting line-up. Nothing of the sort has happened and Inzamam was quick to dismiss any notion that the pitch was designed to suit his bowling attack. "It's not a special wicket or anything. We have a wicket that is sporting and that helps everyone, fast bowlers, spinners and batsmen. Winning the toss will be an advantage obviously but I don't think the wicket is such that the toss will make such a big difference."
Woolmer did point out, however, that spinners are likely to play a part at some stage in the proceedings. "Spinners will play a part especially if you look at the quality of those we have on tap here. Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi are all going to have some say in a game of cricket. I think there is enough moisture in the air and underneath the ground to allow the ball to grip at some stage during the game. The ball will swing and seam as well and come onto the bat so some fantastic cricket can be played."
Unusually for Pakistan, the weather has also attracted undue attention in recent weeks. A colder than normal winter hasn't helped preparations but as temperatures have steadily risen over the last day or so, Inzamam said his fast bowlers would benefit from it most. "The weather improving over the last couple of days is a good thing. It will help players in the game and spectators watching it as well. Mostly fast bowlers will benefit from the change in weather and I think Shoaib's form and discipline is a good thing for the team in that sense."
Pakistan's recent record at Lahore is promising; they have won the last four Tests at Gaddafi Stadium. That, however, said Inzamam is unlikely to play any role. "It doesn't matter that we have won our last four tests here. It only matters that we perform well on the day and through the five days. Two years ago when we played India here our team was young and didn't have that much experience of international cricket. They have that now, from playing in Australia and against England. We have learnt a lot from that and it is an advantage. We still want to improve more because there is still a lot of scope for improvement."