At the Kotla on Wednesday, encaged by a high iron fence, protected from the legion of hacks and fans, Shoaib Akhtar steamed in to bowl at his own men, trying to knock off the stuffed leopard he had meticulously placed on the top of the stumps.
The Pakistan paceman, dangerously mercurial like most of his Pakistani peers and predecessors, apparently derives strength from the stuffed feline.
Akhtar believes that there are only two tigers — in human garb — in Pakistan: Imran Khan and Akhtar himself.
The sight of the leopard on the stumps, thus, is like a red rag before an enraged bull — he seems to wish to bludgeon the pretender out with his pace like fire.
"The sight of it give me motivation, fires me up," says Akhtar. "I think there are just two tigers in Pakistan, and both of us are completely fearless." His skipper, Shoaib Malik, seems to believe that without any trace of mistrust or even reserve. On Wednesday, Malik declared that Akhtar — despite his bad-boy image, despite his reputation of being a man rather difficult to handle — is the one who could be the difference between the two teams.
One difference Malik has declared he'd hate to see is in the pitch — on Wednesday, the track had traces of green, which gladdened the heart of the Pakistan captain no end. But the delight in his words was marred by a touch of wistfulness — with Akhtar in the Pakistan ranks, Malik knows that the possibility that the grass would disappear in thin air on match day is immense. The hosts would be tempting fate if they presented even a sight of green to the Pakistanis.
One sight, though, that has pleased everyone no end is the new Kotla --- though despite the improvements, it's a bit hard on the eye.
At Lord's, they tell you that when Sir John Paul Getty II, the billionaire philanthropist and cricket lover, loosened his purse strings with a grant of £2 million, the committee there thought for a moment before deciding that they'd do anything Getty wanted.
At the Kotla, when the funds for the changes were being raised, Rs 40 crores were raised. One only wishes that the corporate houses that chipped in had an aesthete among them — the new stand opposite the old clubhouse is bedizened in ugliest colour, enough for one to eschew them all, for life.
One colour that is very much in evidence at the Kotla was khaki — the stadium resembles a fortress, men in khaki, black and white ready to defend it against the most intrepid fans.
Ram Babu Gupta, the DDCA treasurer, has had to vacate his cabin in favour of a police control room, and policemen and private guards from two agencies lurk at every corner, ready to confront and denounce any malefactor. Canine support is present in form of sniffer dogs, who walk around, on leash, in complete disdain of their unfortunate, stray, and noisy cousins who call Kotla their home.