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October 7, 2007
Apart from looking light of paunch, not much about Inzamam-ul-Haq's last touch-football training session appeared any different to the many that preceded it. He ambled around on the periphery, occasionally roused himself to sprint and throw passes, before stopping to amble again. The others accorded him the respect they always have by not really running after him that hard.
Cool as you like he had a bat in the nets, but admitted the occasion got to him. "Today when I went to do batting practice in the nets I got a little bit emotional."
The last year has been unkind to Inzamam and it has brought him to this: resignation from the captaincy, ODI retirement and now from Tests, when he feels he can still play on for a year. "It was a tough decision, but when I looked at the youngsters in the dressing room, I thought they shouldn't be put under pressure and it was better to quit. Every player should realise himself when it is the right time for him to leave.
"There are lots of youngsters who have bright futures and I hope by the time the next World Cup (2011) comes, the team will be in better shape. The way we have performed in the World Twenty20, there are lots of encouraging signs."
Inzamam praised the Pakistan board for affording him this send-off, dignified if a little forced, but it's one very few ex-players have been able to command. He wasn't thinking ahead just yet, however. "My priority is to perform well and help Pakistan draw the series."
His return puts Pakistan in an unusual situation. Shoaib Malik, the captain, rightly sees it as a bulking up of the middle-order, especially with the return also of Mohammad Yousuf. But it could leave them distracted as well, as Graeme Smith has pointed out.
"Both players are coming back after a while and it might affect Pakistan," said Smith. "We're making sure we concentrate on playing the style of cricket we played in the first Test."
But Smith acknowledged that both were serious batsmen, no matter what the situation or context. "We were prepared for Yousuf in the first Test and we have played against Inzamam recently so our game-plan is pretty much in place for these two batsmen. We are pretty comfortable but they are world-class players. How they fit back in their setup is their challenge and how we bowl is our challenge."
Over 20,000 international runs, 35 hundreds and 17 years after his debut, against West Indies in 1991, Inzamam will play his last game at the venue where it all began: the Gaddafi Stadium. "I still remember that game. It feels as if it was only yesterday." If it was, then some day it's been.