“Three minutes left,” yelled former Australian rugby coach David Dwyer as the Rawalpindi Express abruptly stopped in his tracks.
For the reporters gathered there to witness the Pakistan team’s training ahead of the first Test against India, it was a shocking sight. But Akhtar, instead of concentrating on the drills, kept himself busy with antics of his own, one moment he was balancing the ball on his forehead, the other he was looking through a camera lens. Dwyer later said, “He is fit and in great form.”
No doubt he looked a little leaner than he was when the tourists took on Delhi earlier this month, but his breathlessness did raise a few eyebrows.
“That’s maybe because he has been out of practice for long,” replied Dwyer.
Is he asthmatic? Asked a reporter pointing to a fact that Akhtar is often seen using inhalers.
“No, that is certainly not the case. He uses them to clear his lungs,” replied the trainer clearing all doubts.
Team manager Talat Ali later had a similar opinion, when reporters continued to question Akhtar’s fitness.
“He is in the best of form and can win matches,” he said.
“The plan is simple. He will be used in short bursts,” somebody from among the reporters chipped in. “That’s because he needs a lot of rest after every spell,” added another. But Ali, who was more concerned about the nature of the pitch than Akhtar’s fitness, said, “I was expecting a better one. Looks like this pitch will have low bounce and will be slow.”
And chances are that Pakistan’s famous pace battery will have a tough time here. But still the tourists are taking no chances;
Mohammed Sami has been called in to give Akhtar company. “Sami is a very useful bowler and will be effective,” Ali said. No doubt Pakistan have a strategy in place and if the pitch is not conducive to pace bowling, leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who has been called in for the Tests, and left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman are likely to come good.
Sarfraz Ahmed, who impressed with his wicketkeeping in the last one-dayer in Jaipur, will continue in the absence of injured Kamran Akmal, who would be warming the bench.
“He is a very good ‘keeper and no doubt he will perform in the Tests too,” Ali said about Sarfraz.
The bowling and wicketkeeping taken care of, middle-order bat Faisal Iqbal has been called up to strengthen the batting line-up.
But like India this time, Pakistan too are without a genuine all rounder. “That may be true. But we can’t just brood over that. We have a good team and I feel that it is better than India’s,” Ali signed off.