Bangalore: He needed two persons to hold him tight from either side as he tried a few fancy stretches during the warm-up drills at the Chinnaswamy stadium. From the motley bunch, which has few recognisable faces wearing the now distinct grey Twenty20 attire, Mohammad Irfan was an easy spot with his towering presence in that team huddle. But life for the seven-foot one-inch cricketer is a bit of struggle, with a special bed, apparel and footwear sizes, and tired of perennially watching his head at all times.
He’s touted as the surprise package in this Pakistan unit which has, like all foreign teams, the usual intent of bothering Indians with disconcerting bounce and pace. There’s one man in this Team India line-up though who knows Irfan well, having partnered him with the new ball in many practice games on the tour of Sri Lanka.
Parvinder Awana was on the same trip of wannabe Knight Riders when they bowled in tandem in Colombo during an exposure trip. Both didn’t make it to the squad despite their best efforts but have managed, over the next two years, to come face to face again with their respective national squads.
This Pakistan team has a few other unusual rookies in their ranks, notably their 34-year-old debutant in waiting, left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar who has a reputation of keeping it extremely tight and suffocating batsmen by picking 62 wickets in their domestic championship; Haris Sohail, touted as their future batting prospect but who has raised more eyebrows with his English spelling for a name that’s common when pronounced in Urdu.
All the newcomers - also including Umar Amin, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Ali and Junaid Khan - have the inevitable task of making their mark and help produce a few thrillers that justify the context of an India- Pakistan series.
It’s difficult to generate hype for a half-series that’s sandwiched and spoilt vacation plans but a bilateral coming after five years, and the first after the 26/11 attacks, has pitchforked the young Pakistan batch with the same task which Team India had when they went across the border in 2004.
Since their arrival, Mohammad Hafeez’s team has taken pains to project themselves as goodwill ambassadors. It’s difficult to fathom that this series will ever see a moment like Javed Miandad-Kiran More or Aamir Sohail-Venkatesh Prasad, given the strict decorum instructions. And more so, because this Pakistan team lack the glamour and in Shahid Afridi, they have their last global superstar.
India-Pakistan series are perceived to be the biggest but off late in Indian cricket, only a close hard-fought emotional series can make fans yearn for more, and make both boards realise what they have been missing out on.
Compared to their batting, Pakistan bowling looks in good health, given the experience of Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal to go with plethora of all-rounders and should give a tough day to Indian batsmen.
Both teams have traditionally produced good T20 cricket, more recently in the World T20 in Sri Lanka. The last time when they met, India got a lifeline to stay afloat in the championship.
This time too, a series against Pakistan and a victory should bandage all broken hopes after the England series.
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