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The heat is on in freezing Lahore

Indo-Pak series will be the acid test for India's new aggressive face. Can Rahul recreate magic?

india Updated: Jan 13, 2006 13:33 IST

There is magic in this winter sun that lessens the freezing effect of a chilling breeze and makes a perfect setting for a Test. Lahore in January can be nasty. It can be windy, foggy and so cold that even venturing out can be a nightmare.

The Indians so far have been spared an ordeal. The sun, which, in the summer, is like a demon who puts the fear of death in a living being, has been a benign presence this winter and Lahore, at this time of the year, is as green as the dust-free leaves of a tree can be.It is time for cricket.

Unlike in 2004 when cricket became a vehicle to bridge the suspicion between two hostile neighbours, this time around, cricket is more about the sport it is and the players are not being burdened with the expectations of becoming ambassadors of peace.

Rahul Dravid said: "The last time around too we were here to play cricket and this time too that is what we are supposed to do." He sure could have added one more line that what purely playing cricket does is to put less pressure on both the teams. A defeat, hopefully, won't be the end of life for a team and a win won't mean that a lifetime goal has been achieved.

It also means that the quality of cricket could be better than most Indo-Pak encounters have seen in the past. When the mind is free of pressure, the body responds with greater abandon and freedom and gives fullest expression to one's skills.On the eve of the first Test, that is what most fans would want to watch. They would want to watch a thrilling, gripping, competitive clash of skills in which the end result is inextricably linked with the quality of performance on offer. This could be a mite fanciful but the ground reality too seems to point towards a close encounter of the thrilling kind.

But first the Sourav Ganguly puzzle. Let us get this out of our system. He is all set to open --- though by the morning anything can happen when the final XI will be made public. But it sure is unfair to Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer and could be bad for India's team interests as Ganguly, even in the best of times, is very vulnerable to the moving ball and a sitting duck to the short ball.

Having said that, let us also not forget that he is a courageous, gutsy player and if he comes good, it could put to rest the biggest controversy of our times. It would be good for the health of everyone -- the players, the officials, the coach, the captain and the fans.

Let us move away from Ganguly and on to some more mundane matters. The wicket, for instance. It is not green. Whatever grass was on it has been shaved off. It is lined with small cracks. But there is a lot of moisture beneath the surface and it is very hard as well. By every indication, a wicket where the ball will come on to the bat and would also have good bounce. One could say it is a wicket that could launch a lot of runs and it is also a wicket that could see, especially in this weather, the fall of a lot of wickets.

The unanimous verdict of the two captains was that it’s a "good cricket wicket". And if that means that there is something in it for both batsmen and the bowlers then one could likely see a very lively contest. The Indians, after seeing the cracks, would be toying with the idea of playing both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, though the hardness and the moisture of the surface could be a deterrent. We all will know that in the morning. And by the time the Test ends, we will also know how lethal the new-look Shoaib Akhtar can be. And whether India's new aggressive face has some teeth in it or is only meant to bite at home.

And finally, beware of the Pakistan team. It is not the team India beat so easily in 2004.

First Published: Jan 13, 2006 02:36 IST