Ganguly eager for Indians to escape hotel

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Gearing Up for his side's tour of Pakistan, which starts in earnest today with a one-day international here, the India captain, Sourav Ganguly, said he already feels stifled by the intense security measures.

"We've had three good days in Pakistan, but have mainly been confined to the hotel," Ganguly said. "The security is a bit too much, but we don't have much choice. I'm surprised with the extent of it."

Ganguly was speaking after reaching Karachi, where 6,500 policemen and soldiers were guarding his team's hotel and the route to the National Stadium. Security staff have sealed all the stadium's entry points, allowing only accredited officials near the venue, while tickets for today's game sold out in a matter of hours. For those excluded, Karachi's city administration is to beam the match live to local cinemas.

Ganguly said that people had been friendly, but that his players' interaction had been limited to cricket officials, hotel staff and security personnel. "The boys will take a few days to adjust, but big crowds are not a problem as we are accustomed to playing in front of overflowing stands back home," he said.

Many touring sides have avoided sending their teams to Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, since a May 2002 suicide attack on a bus outside a hotel here killed 11 French engineers.

Cricket encounters between Pakistan and India are considered the game's most politically charged contests, but Ganguly said the temperature could be lowered if the two teams played more often.

Pakistan's fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has promised to hold nothing back against India's strong batting line-up today. "I'll go flat out against the Indians," Shoaib said. "I've been waiting for this match for a long time."

The 28-year-old paceman first hit the headlines when he bowled Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar with successive deliveries in his only Test against India, at Calcutta in 1999. However, the Indians extracted revenge in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, hammering him for 72 runs from 10 overs, including a Tendulkar six over third man that was one of the most memorable shots of the tournament.

The current series has been built up by the local media as a Tendulkar v Shoaib duel but the bowler played down the hype. "I don't care who comes up in front of me. I'll bowl the same way to all of them. The Indian batting is strong but not impregnable," he said.