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Javagal Srinath

Indians can expect verbal volleys

March 12, 2004

The Indian team landed in Lahore on Wednesday to start their historic tour of Pakistan, and all I can gather is that each and every member is under tremendous pressure to dish out winning performances. Neither the 1996 World Cup played in India nor Pakistan's visit to India in 1998-99 generated such attention and publicity.

Apart from the normal cricketing gains, the active participation and interest taken by the governments of both countries, the initial reluctance of the players to make the tour and their subsequent acceptance, the media interest, the diplomatic gains of strengthening ties, and the huge amounts of money poured in by the sponsors have all helped to make this tour the mother of all series.

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India's tour of Pakistan

It appears that the reception and build-up the Indian team received during the momentous tour of South Africa in 1992 has been beaten fair and square by the current tour. India's deputy in-charge Rahul Dravid admitted he had never experienced a buzz of this sort in his career. Only Sachin Tendulkar can measure the intensity of this tour in comparison to the previous one in 1989, when he made his debut.

Of course, apart from the usual cricketing performance of runs and wickets, it is the tone, tenor and gestures of the players that will play a significant role in deciding the series.

I am afraid that verbal abuse will be rampant from the Pakistan camp, as their coach Javed Miandad has already initiated the psychological warfare. At the same time I am pretty confident that the seniors in the Indian team are far too experienced in handling such things and have primed the younger lot to follow their footsteps. A little exchange of words is always good to give a boost to the challenging spirit of the game. But indecent personal remarks and vulgar gestures will not augur well for the so-called friendship series.

Barring the incident in Toronto, where current Pakistani skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq strode into the crowd, taking the law (read bat) in his own hands, his behaviour as a cricketer has always remained exemplary. A great timer of the ball, Inzy has always been a cool customer -- be it in victory or defeat.

The rest of the Pakistani players cannot be put on the same pedestal. Behind the stumps, Moin Khan could be the real culprit. Wicketkeepers can be a menace to the game if they don't conduct themselves properly. The stumper's proximity to the batsmen makes it is easier to exchange words.

Shoaib Akhtar has learnt his lessons from the World Cup encounter. His arrogant remarks only made our batsmen more determined to treat him disdainfully. Although Shoaib is careful with his words this time, the truth remains that he can't really promise his own good conduct.

The game is such a leveller that nobody can get away with a show of arrogance. Even the real exponents of the game dread making such conceited statements for fear of the curse of the game, which could be severe.

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The match referee is the all-important man in this series. Ranjan Madugalle, the former skipper of Sri Lanka, has huge responsibilities. Understanding the sensitive nature of this tour, Ranjan will have to set high disciplinary standards for both sides. I am sure he realises that even a small incident on the field can spark exaggerated effects in both countries where cricket is followed like a religion.

The Indian players have landed in Pakistan in the quest of winning the series. Both the teams are evenly poised, if not equally balanced. They will fight for honours of the team, the game and the country. But every member of the cricketing fraternity has the responsibility to propagate the game in the right manner. Players being unduly criticised for their commitment and courage, that too without proper insight of the game or with clear vested interests, can cause havoc.

We witnessed similar incidents during the last World Cup, where unreasonable comments from a section of the media put tremendous pressure on the players and their families. I join the millions of cricket followers in the country to wish the 'Boys in Blue' all the luck and a safe return.

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