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June 15, 1999


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It will be a Pakistan - Australia final

Sanjay Manjrekar in conversation with Prem Panicker on June 15

Good Afternoon Sanjay …World Cup coming down to the wire?


There was a lot of talk about how the right team hasn't got in …first it was about Zimbabwe and now it's about New Zealand. What are your thoughts on it?

I think New Zealand has ultimately have proved to be a deserving team in the semi-finals, maybe Zimbabwe had the luck of the draw, but New Zealand really deserve to be there. Pakistan, South Africa and Australia are the best teams in the world, so I think ultimately this points system has thrown up the right teams into the last four.

This points system has been the focus of much debate. It so happened that New Zealand managed to beat the rain, beat the teams and take its rightful place in the semi-finals, but at one point of looked like it wouldn't happen. Do you the points system is fine as it is, or do you think there is any need for changes? What is your reading of the whole thing?

Well, I don't think we'll ever see a perfect points system. When this system was introduced before the tournament, everybody seemed to like it, but it's only when certain teams started to get affected that people started finding faults in it. So, I don't really see how there will ever be a perfect points system. But I do see a lot of sense in the system, in the sense that it gets the most consistent team to win the World Cup, and secondly when a team beats an in-form side, it is rewarded. South Africa is an in-form team, and Australia and Zimbabwe have been rewarded for beating it, with bonus points. India hasn't beaten either South Africa or Australia, which are the two top teams in the world …and that is one of the reasons that they aren't there in the semi-finals.

Yes, the teams that have played the top teams well have actually qualified ..

And New Zealand has also beaten Australia, so you see that the four teams that are there have actually beaten the top teams …

And played the big games better …

Yes, and by top teams I mean the teams that are doing well in the tournament. Before the World Cup, Sri Lanka was a top team before the tournament, but they weren't doing well in the tournament, unlike South Africa …

And England for that matter …

Yes, England as well.

To come to the actual line-up , tomorrow we have Pakistan facing New Zealand …and they've pretty much looked the side to beat because they've been on an adrenalin overdose and stuff like that. But when you actually get critical, if Pakistan were to have a weak point, would it be their top order? Considering the fact that Anwar, even though he's got a century, he's still managed to convince very few people, and Afridi hasn't clicked at the top of the order, so they've tried Wasti and Ijaz has pretty much looked out of form. Plus, Inzamam…it seems to be a bit of a gamble on which side he's playing for given his penchant for running himself out. Is this probably the one area where they problems?

I think that's one of their major problems …you know, like their Asian rivals they are inconsistent. That will be a big handicap for them when they go into tomorrow's match. But anything below their best should also be enough against New Zealand, they have such a good record even when they play them in New Zealand, they have thrashed them regularly. But the batting has tended to be a little less dependable, but that has been the history of Pakistani cricket, they have never had a dependable batting order. But they are all attacking, talented batsmen and if one of them in the line-up comes through and their bowling being so powerful, that takes them through. But the fact that they're playing as a unit and so aggressively, will really overcome the handicaps of inconsistency and undependability.

Yes, you did mention the bowling. One thing that I've noticed, that you have Shoaib Akhtar, who's scaring the hell out of the batsmen, and Wasim Akram, who's been having a fantastic World Cup with the ball ... but the strength of the bowling seems to be those two guys coming in the middle - Azhar Mehmood and Abdul Razzaq. Very underrated bowlers, a lot like Steve Elworthy of South Africa, don't you think ?

You know what is admirable about these bowlers is what even Imran Khan was raving about is their temperament. They aren't exceptionally talented, they are fairly new on the international scene, but playing on a World Cup stage, they seem to be perfectly comfortable, and playing for Pakistan seems to be motivation enough. And even when the batsmen are going after them, they seem to handle it pretty well. And that is really their strength and they have been very valuable to the Pakistan team, and they probably didn't expect too much from them and Razzaq coming good for them must have been a real bonus.

Since we're talking about bowlers … I think we should talk about the guy who's going to be bowling to them - Geoff Allot. I don't think the most patriotic New Zealand fan would've expected him to be the bowler of the tournament. What do you think he's doing that the others aren't? What's his strength?

I think he's just riding a confidence wave and he's fairly new at the international level. Watching him against the Indians, I got the impression that he was making the most of his form, and he's developing as a bowler as well. Against India, in his spell, he showed that he could everything - he was pacy, he had a good slower ball for variation, and then he had that brilliant yorker that got Saurav Ganguly out. So he's got a very wide range and it doesn't seem to be a flash in a pan …that is when everything is going well for a bowler, the best comes out but the best is good to watch and he doesn't seem to have any limitations. So he's really somebody who's shocked New Zealand cricket, but it's a nice shock to have.

Yeah , Dale Hadlee seems to have cloned his brother in Geoff Allot actually. But the disappointment for them seems to be Nathan Astle and Matt Horne and the top of the order and, maybe, Chris Cairns with the ball?

Well, Chris Cairns as a bowler has never caught my fancy because when he comes out to bowl, he seems to lack confidence and it's the same when he comes out to bat. He seems to be lacking in self confidence a little, but he's an exceptionally talented cricketer, more with the bat than the ball. His bowling has been a little disappointing over the years. Chris Cairns, in that sense, has been disappointing more of his fans rather than exciting them And Matt Horne, well, I've lost respect for the batsman purely because he's been opening at the top of the order for a long time for New Zealand in one-dayers and his batting average is about 18. That confirms his inability at that level and it also shows that there is a lack of depth of talent in New Zealand cricket in batting talent for Nathan Astle and Matthew Horne to keep opening in spite of failing. I don't think any other team would've continued with such an opening pair ..and, maybe, it's because of the fact that they're winning more then they're losing.

Well, after Allot, it pretty much boils down to those characters - Gavin Larsen and Chris Harris. I noticed that some of the Indians were threatening to come on to the front foot and come out of the crease, especially Ajay Jadeja. But the rest of them seem to have been happy staying in the crease and letting the ball come on the bat, but it didn't quite seem to be working. How would you be playing against them and what sort of strategy do you think the Pakistanis would adopt towards them?

Well, I think Pakistan has the right kind of outset that will upset the New Zealanders, that is why they have beaten New Zealand so consistently. I think they have the talent to go out there and shock the New Zealand team, if they use their talent, and show the New Zealand team that they're far better than them. If Pakistan go out and show them with their talent .... that they're only half as good by simply shocking them with their talent . If you play planned cricket and take it slowly and steadily, then the New Zealanders feel like they have a chance…but if you go out and shock them, then they give up and they're not a fighting team as such. They've never been at the top of world cricket at any point of time, which is something that India and Sri Lanka and Pakistan can all boast of playing good cricket in international competitions involving more than tow teams, or being World champions, but New Zealand has no such record. So the best way to play them would be play them out of the match as quickly as possible, as ruthlessly as possible.

As far New Zealand is concerned, it's a matter of go in there with nothing to lose and do the best you can. But you made a very interesting point about how it can be shocked out of its skin …would you say its something on the lines of what happened to South Africa against Australia?

I don't think so ….I must confess I didn't watch that game. But I was always looking for this to happen because Australia is one team that believes that it can beat South Africa purely because it has a good record against South Africa. No other team can put their hand up and say that they're good enough or that they have a good record against the South Africans, but I think that the Australians believed that if they all played well enough, they were good enough. It is not something that they were dreaming of, or fantasizing about, but they have come out the better side against the South Africans before in a match. So it really wasn't a big surprise and Australia is one team that is perfectly capable, of not shocking, but of beating South Africa.

If you had to analyse the teams, how would you rate South Africa's batting at the top of the order. Time and again, Lance Klusener seems to have to come out and club them out of trouble. But then there is something known as the law of averages, if South Africa were to go into the game thinking 'suppose Lance has a bad day' , do you think the rest of the South African betting order has what it takes to …

Yes, I think it has. The have enough talent to put up a fight. They might win the World Cup or they may not, but I think the South African outfit that you see could be the one of the best one day outfits one has ever seen. It has great depth, great fielding side, not a great batting side but still able to deliver through somebody, great bowling … they're a wonderful side and it's a pleasure to watch them.

Sanjay, there's one part of the South African side that really puzzles me. You have stars like Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs, and even though Derek Crookes isn't playing ..these two are absolutely electric. In the bowling dept., you have Donald and Pollock and even Steve Elworthy has been playing well, and then in their bating you have the Kirstens and Kluseners of the world. But this side, I noticed doesn't seem to have what it takes to excite the crowd, to bring about crowd fever . Do you think it is the clinical precision of their cricket that the audience isn't identifying with?

I think its because of a lack of talent. When you watch a South African youngster, and an Asian youngster… from Sri Lanka or Pakistan or India …you will see that the South Africans as such are not as talented. But they have a good infrastructure with which he comes into international cricket, and it helps make him an international cricket and perfect his skills . But if you see someone like Gary Kirsten, you will realise that his ability is very limited. But the basic stars are a little less in terms of talent.They are good enough to be on the international scene, but they do not have as much talent. Maybe, Daryll Cullinan is an exception and to an extent Jacques Kallis. As far as batting is concerned, their talent is very little in that department.

The Autralians have a great combination of talent and grooming by way of infrastructure and even at the under 19 level to the international stage. So they have a lot of talent as well as the infrastructure to support it, and that is why I have always felt that the Australians are the best team in the world, and they will stay that way for a long time.

So what you are basically saying is that as far as the fans are concerned, as far as the crowds are concerned, it is the talent that ignites their passions ...

That is why the Indians, even though they haven't qualified for the semis, I think, have left a lot of good memories for the crowds. They have given more brilliant batting displays, not so much in bowling. And that is why world cricket has taken a fancy to India and Pakistan because of the sheer entertainment value.

And now about the Australians... Before the World Cup, the South Africans seemed to have the best side, but now, despite guys like Paul Reiffel and Tom Moody, who really don't look like they can get you a wicket at a vital time, they seem to have knit themsleves together into the team to beat.

Well, to be honest, I still maitain that South Africa are a better team. But Australia is a team that is well capable of beating the South Africa. But somehow this team that has come to England, compared to some of the other Australian sides over a period of time, isn't one of the best sides that they've put up. Australia has had better sides in the past and in the future they will put up a better side in the future. And maybe that is one of the reasons that they've had so much trouble qualifying for the semi-finals. But now the right players are coming up in the team, and they look capable of winning the World Cup .. But I don't think its one of the best sides that Australia has come up with.

Do you think the right guys are sitting back at homeand they aren't in the squad. Say, like the Stuart Laws...

Well, I'm honestly surprised about the bowlers. If I was a batsman, I would fancy my chances of getting runs against them. There is just Glenn Mcgrath to see off, and then there's just Paul Reiffel and Fleming, and Shane Warne, who is not bowling like he used it is a very friendly bowling attack . it is purely because of the fact that they are match fit, and they know how to win matches and that is why they have reached this phase and are capable of reaching the finals and winning. But I think the side I played against was amuch better side in terms of bowling. There was Bruce Reid and Craig Mcdermott and Mike Whitney and also Tom Moody. There are also one or two other good bowlers that I can't seem to remember, but they were a much better side as such.

But their big disappointment has been Adam Gilchrist, hasn't it? I mean, he was supposed to be the guy who was supposed to set the stands ablaze, but he failed and this whole thing of guys just getting a good grip on the bat, going out there and whacking it around seems to have failed, hasn't it? Sides seem to have been forced to go back to the old system of keeping their wickets intact and saving it for the last few overs ...

Yes, I think that was expected. People knew that in England it was not possible to see so many runs being scored in the first few overs and guys who were real tonkers have been exposed. Gilchrist, I think his technique has been exposed ...earlier bowlers couldn't exploit that gap between bat and pad, but now they can, in these conditions which they couldn't earlier, because of no help from the wicket. I think that's good for the World Cup, to have the bowlers being able to do that.

And it's also good revenge for the technically gifted batsmen as well, isn't it Dravid?

Yes... I think it has shown that even to succeed in a one-day match in England, you need to have very good ability, not just be a good hitter.

Sanjay, to get to the final analysis, we'll do a preview of the final before the final're backing Pakistan to beat New Zealand, and also Australia to beat South Africa. So let's assume that there is a Pakistan - Australia final, who would you be backing to win?

I am a big fan of Pakistani cricket. I love the way they play their cricket, I am a fan of Inzamam-ul-Haq, not just (laughs) of his running between the wickets, I see a lot of similarity between him and me there.... but I think the Australians will beat them, simply because they know how to win their matches and be on the winning side. And that is why I back them.

Yes, and also because they seem to panic a lot less, don't they?

Yes, they are more adept at playing winning cricket. They have got most things right in terms. It's just that they're not the best team in the competition and that is why they haven't really dominated the competition so far. But they've made it to this stage. South Africa, well, it's the best outfit they have and it's going to be one of the best that you'll ever see. As for the Pakistanis, we all know what they can do in a match, especially if they get to the finals. And the more cricket you see, you tend to believe that sides like New Zealand can pull it off as well.

Also, people here have been noticing how the bowler with the most wickets in the World Cup has always ended up on the winning side, with the exception of Kumble in the last Cup....

Yes, if you are a believer in destiny, you will believe that if you have got this far, you will go all the way.

Well, thank you Sanjay ....I'll speak to you before the final.

Goodbye, Prem.

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Sanjay Manjrekar

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