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Pakistan is dressing up for the party

Cricket, all over Pakistan, is on high alert, everyone is getting ready, preparing, waiting for the Indian team to arrive. Pitches are being rolled, dressing rooms upgraded, power points checked in media centres and stadium seats wiped clean.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2004 12:15 IST

Cricket, all over Pakistan, is on high alert, everyone is getting ready, preparing, waiting for the Indian team to arrive. Pitches are being rolled, dressing rooms upgraded, power points checked in media centres and stadium seats wiped clean.

At Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium (Gazzafi, to locals), the sprinklers are on each afternoon, as chief curator Bashir mian, who worked many years in Sharjah, attends to the main square. "Acchi wicket banani hai," he says, removing a weed.

Chacha, his counterpart in Iqbal Stadium at Faisalabad (earlier Lllaylpur, the Manchester of undivided India, the city made by Sir Ganga Ram) is also looking forward to the tour. "Sab theek hai," he says. "Bas mehmaan team ka intezar hai."

Occasionally, this high alert causes a few glitches. At Karachi's National Stadium, a minor dispute erupts following a decision to temporarily shut down cricket facilities for maintenance. Players have limited access to bowling machines, Shahid Afridi (excluded from the list of probables) has an angry run in with officials over this.

Other Pakistani players, meanwhile, are getting ready in different ways. Most are currently engaged in Trophy matches (their Ranji championship), but domestic cricket, on either side of the border, is the same — trapped in a low interest/low competition/low sponsorship spiral. Perhaps that is why players are doing their own thing to get into shape. Captain Inzamam, along with some others, is just back from Haj. Youhana is working in the nets and playing an exhibition match in Patiala later this week.

Bowling ace Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan's spearhead, is in top gear, he can't wait for action to commence. Sweating profusely after a sapping workout in the gym, he announces: "I am ready and fit. Aap jaldi aao, we have waited a long time."

The probables are gathering shortly for a training camp at their Cricket Academy, located one strong hit outside the Gaddafi. They will stay at the Academy, share rooms for better bonding and concentrate on cricket. This impressive new facility (equipped with a swimming pool, modern gym, indoor nets) has been conceived as a finishing school which will have a research wing and a library.

While current players are a touch pressured, past stars are relaxed. Saeed Anwar (who retired after making a hundred against India in the World Cup) says he is looking forward to watching Laxman. "Usne kya batting kiya," he gushes. His former captain Wasim Akram is chilling out (his words) in his home in Defence, Jor Bagh's equivalent in Lahore, by listening to current rage Ali Jafer and playing golf at Royal Palms, the new course. His partner there, on some afternoons, is Waqar Younis, who is considering another county season in England.

Meanwhile, before cricket starts, Lahore is gripped by Basant. Spring into freshness, the posters say, and the entire city is celebrating — Canal Road is illuminated, shopping centres are clogged, music shows extend till sunrise, merrily flouting restrictions on timings and noise pollution.

The major activity, though, is kite-flying through the night but the festivities extract a big cost. Metal strings cripple the bijli network as 177 major breakdowns are reported and aerial gun fire, to celebrate dangal success, sends many people to Mayo Hospital with bullet injuries.

First Published: Feb 18, 2004 00:28 IST