230 km from Lahore, the nearest Pakistan can hope to play from home

March 29th, 2011 - 10:51 am ICT by IANS  

Shoaib Akhtar Mohali, March 29 (IANS) Pakistan are playing their Cricket World Cup semi-finals some 230 km from Lahore and a majority of their players are not missing home in the familiar environs of Punjab. The common folk heritage of the two regions has to a large extent eased the pressure on them, says their manager, Intikhab Alam.

This is the closest the Pakistan team came from home to play a match after they had been ostracised by the international cricket community in the wake of the Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 and after being dropped as World Cup co-hosts.

Come to think of it, Mohali is closer to Lahore than Delhi!

Barring captain Shahid Afridi, Asad Shafiq, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul and Younis Khan, the remaining players hail from the prosperous Punjab province across the border. Even Intikhab, a former Pakistan captain, was born in the industrial town of Hoshiarpur, a three-hour drive from here. His two main lieutenants, coach Waqar Younis and bowling coach Aaqib Javed, are from Punjab.

Misbah-ul-Haq (Mianwali), Abdul Razzaq (Lahore), Abdur Rehman (Sialkot), Ahmed Shehjad (Lahore),
Kamran Akmal (Lahore), Mohammad Hafeez (Sargodha), Saaed Ajmal (Faisalabad), Shoaib Akhtar (Rawalpindi), Umar Akmal (Lahore), Wahab Riaz (Lahore) all hail from Punjab province, across the border.

Intkihab is no stranger to Mohali and he fondly remembers the two years he spent here, 2004-06, coaching the Punjab Ranji Trophy squad.

“It feels nostalgic to be back in this city. It used to be my home for two years, when I was coaching the Punjab cricket team,” Intikhab told IANS at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium, the club house of which was his residence during his stint as Punjab coach.

Intikhab, who was coach-cum-manager of the 1992 World Cup winning team and also manager of the team that won the World Twenty20 in 2009, said his boys are enjoying their stay and that is also helping them to stay calm ahead of the high-intensity clash against India.

“My boys are enjoying their stay here, they feel they are at home. The culture is similar and the typical Punjabi dishes are tickling their taste buds,” he said.

At the team hotel, Taj Chandigarh, the players of both the teams are relishing the traditional Punjabi cuisine, including the tandoors and the tikkas, but the chef has been asked to ensure that all dishes are of low calorie value.

“The food has been excellent. I have told my boys that they can enjoy all the delicacies but keeping in mind the calories. It is tempting, but we are controlling it as much as possible,” Intikhab said.

Intikhab hoped that Wednesday’s clash between the two teams would add a new dimension to the friendship between the two teams.

“I hope things get normal again. Pakistan have gone through one of their worst phases in its cricket history. I would request all not to hype this match as a war. It is a simple game of cricket between two good teams and I would like all to enjoy the match like that only,” he said.

Pakistan has never beaten India in the World Cup. But while playing in front of a strong 33,000-partisan crowd, Pakistan can draw inspiration from its last encounter against India when it chased down a huge target of 322 runs here with one ball to spare in 2007.

(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at abhishek.roy@ians.in)

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