ERAS COME FACE TO FACE

HANIF MOHAMMAD (left) and Zaheer Abbas (right) with the souvenirs presented to them by Sachin and Chappell.-S. SUBRAMANIUM HANIF MOHAMMAD (left) and Zaheer Abbas (right) with the souvenirs presented to them by Sachin and Chappell.

An India-Pakistan series is not about cricket alone. It is also about the meeting of minds, says S. Dinakar.

Karachi is a city that has evolved from the mud fort of Manora. Legend has it that it was when a British ship, the Wellesley, anchored off Manora in 1839 that the tale of the growth of this sleepy, swampy backwater town into one of the major port cities of the world began. Karachi is now a buzzing city, and the commercial hub of Pakistan with a population of over 14 million. Elegant buildings stare back at you, the roads are tree-lined, and the shopping malls bright.

The lively beach at Clifton adds character to the city. The coffee shops at the busy Zamzama sport a young, lively crowd. And Avari Towers is Pakistan's tallest building. The series has reached the decisive point. The greenish look of the pitch at the National Stadium is a strong indicator that the final Allianz Test would throw up a result.

Meanwhile, there is a very special function at the Arabian Sea Country Club on the outskirts of the city. Dr. M. Tariq Raz, Director, Marketing & Sales, welcomes the scribes. The doctor wears several hats. Interestingly, he has written books on Pakistan's cricket history and has been donning the role of a radio commentator in the series.

The Country Club, which has a lush green golf course, recently hosted the Pakistan Open golf tournament, which Raz says was a big success.

The relaxed ambience of the club is soothing to the senses, ahead of the high-voltage contest at the National Stadium. There are smiles all around and the banter focusses on cricket. It turns out to be a memorable ceremony when greats and eras come face to face. Greg Chappell presents an award to Zaheer Abbas, Sachin Tendulkar does the same to Hanif Mohammad.

The Cricket Club of India (CCI) has selected 12 all-time greats of Pakistan cricket and plaques bearing sketches of the chosen ones are presented. The glittering names picked by the CCI include Imran Khan, Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Javed Miandad, Majid Khan, Wasim Bari, Abdul Qadir, Fazal Mahamood, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis.

Raj Singh Dungarpur, the administrative manager of the Indian cricket team, who is seldom short of tales from the past, represents the CCI. Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly and champion leg-spinner Anil Kumble also participate in the proceedings.

The afternoon provides another rare glimpse of Kumble's personality. He shoots pictures with his camera, not the presentations, but the men who are taking the photographs.

"Everyone looks at the celebrities, but not many see this" he says even as he shows me the image captured in his digital camera — of a host of photographers striving to get the best possible position. Kumble sees life from a different perspective. The three Mohammad brothers, Hanif, Mushaq, and Sadiq are present. Hanif remembers Sunil Gavaskar's batting. "He was a great batsman. He was so sure about his off-stump. He never played more than what was absolutely necessary. And he was technically so perfect. Nothing can be more frustrating to the bowlers. Do not forget, he had all the shots."

Another Indian batting legend, Sachin Tendulkar has returned to the city where he made his Test debut 17 years ago. It has since been a remarkable journey for this extraordinary cricketer.

Zaheer Abbas, that wristy batsman who conjured big scores and left attacks demoralised, shares his thoughts on a variety of issues. He talks about reverse swing: "The previous Pakistani bowlers could achieve reverse swing in any condition and the pitch did not really matter to them. The present bowlers are unable to do that." He turns his attention to Inzamam. "You see this Pakistani side is not as strong as the ones from the past. But Inzamam is holding it together. He is a great batsman." The great batsman is never short of a pertinent point. "Obviously the bowlers would want more assistance from the wicket. But always remember that the bowlers also need the batsmen to make mistakes." He recollects watching Sachin Tendulkar for the first time in 1989 — I asked Mohammed Azharduddin. `Who is this kid. He appears too young for international cricket.' Azhar told me `he is just 16, but he is a very good player.' And Tendulkar now has broken most of the batting records." The occasion is memorable. The Karachi Press Club hold a function for the Indian and the Pakistani journalists. Among the cricketers from the past, are Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Bari, and Moin Khan, all former Pakistan captains.

There is warmth and affection on display from the Pakistani scribes. Their Indian friends are felicitated. An India-Pakistan series is not about cricket alone. It is also about the meeting of minds, a bridge building process.