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An even chance, says Akram

LAHORE, MARCH 4. Former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram has given India and Pakistan an equal chance of winning the historic cricket series that begins here from March 13.

``Pakistan and India have a 50-50 chance of winning the three Test and five one-day international series,'' he told reporters after a session with the 24 probables at the National Cricket Academy here.

``India's batting is very formidable and Pakistan's bowlers are good and it will all boil down to how well Pakistan bats and how well the Indians bowl,'' added the 37-year-old Akram.

During the nets, Akram spent time with the players. He also spent two hours with the pace trio of Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Sami and Umer Gul, watching their action, delivery and follow through and gave them tips about how they could avoid giving excess no balls and wides.

Pakistan inducted two promising left-armers in the camp — Mohammad Khalil and Zahid Saeed — to match India's trio of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan.

Akram watched the bowlers at the nets and said he was impressed with the new left-arm pacers. ``Shoaib is the key as everyone is saying but Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed are also very good,'' he said.

He also had talks with captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, coach Javed Miandad and manager Haroon Rashid and checked out the video analysis of the young players. ``Basically it was motivation talk and I tried to convey to the players that they must enjoy the honour of playing against India, they will savour this moment in the years to come,'' Wasim told reporters.

``I cannot remove every flaw in every player in just one session. In fact I told them how they could handle the pressure of the series. I have just advised them that instead of taking the series to their head just observe the pressure, relax and enjoy the cricket."

Pakistan captain Inzamam ul-Haq promised to play aggressive cricket and enter the field with a resolve to win all the matches. ``We will play aggressive cricket and enter the field with an aim to win. Only with this approach can we carry the day against India,'' Inzamam told reporters.

The Pakistan captain also said the pep talk by former greats Imran Khan and Wasim Akram had ``done wonders'' to his boys and they had resolved not to get ``pressurised by the occasion of playing against India.''

Shoaib our trump card: Youhana

Pakistan vice-captain Yousuf Youhana endorsed the view that Shoaib Akhtar was the home team's trump card. ``Shoaib's hurricane spells hold the trump card for us and we look to him to give us breakthroughs in both the one-day and Test matches,'' said Youhana who himself will be looking to deliver the goods.

``I know the Indians piled runs in Australia and their confidence must be soaring but our bowling attack is superior than the bowlers who played for Australia and with Mohammad Sami, Shabbir Ahmed and Umer Gul our attack will give them a tough time,'' he said.

He agreed that India would miss Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in the spin department.

``They are experienced spinners and will be missed by India and its up to us to exploit that lack of quality spinners in the Indian side.''

Shabbir returns

Meanwhile, paceman Shabbir Ahmed has joined the probables in the training camp on his return from Australia where he had gone to correct his bowling action following a warning from the ICC. Pakistan team manager Haroon Rasheed said Shabbir had returned with an all-clear report from Australian bowling coach Daryl Foster. Shabbir was reported for a suspect bowling action by umpires Billy Bowden and Darrell Hair during the fifth and final one-day international against New Zealand in Wellington on January 18.

Bomb squads

Pakistan's bomb disposal squads will check all stadia where matches between Pakistan and India are to be played. According to The News, extra security personnel would also be deployed at these venues, the gates of which, would be closed an hour before the start of play.

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting of the PCB on Wednesday. The policemen will also guard the Indian team en route to the stadia. It has also been decided that commandos of the Elite Force would be deployed in good number.

Afridi may get the nod

An ANI report from Karachi adds: Pakistan's selectors have reportedly shown the door to experienced off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, believing that leg-spinner Shahid Afridi in the one-day squad would be a better option. According to a source, Bari, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and coach Javed Miandad are not satisfied with Saqlain's attitude in the camp and have noted that he was not as motivated as the others.

The probable XI for the first ODI: Shahid Afridi, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed. The remaining three of the 14-member squad would be selected from Imran Farhat, Naved Latif, Saqlain Mushtaq and Rana. — UNI, PTI

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