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The Rediff Cricket Interview/Salim Malik

Faisal Shariff | April 09, 2004

David Gower called him the man with velvet gloves because of the finesse of his batting and ease of his strokeplay. After scoring a century on Test debut and bursting on the international scene, Salim Malik remained as the most important batsman in the Pakistan team after Javed Miandad.

Only the second Pakistani after Miandad to have played in 100 Tests, Malik led Pakistan to great victories during his brief tenure as skipper, but the match-fixing allegations and life ban that followed destroyed him.

In an exclusive interview with Assistant Editor Faisal Shariff, Malik talks about the problems afflicting Pakistan cricket and the pain he underwent following the life ban for his alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandal.

Did it hurt to be called a flat track bully by Imran Khan?
It hurt a lot when he said that about me. That too after I had scored 500 runs in the series in England. I had won many matches for him so it really hurt. It affected me a lot for some time but then it also made me more determined to perform better. I hate anyone criticizing my batting, but I guess Imran Khan knew about it, and must have said it to inspire me to do even better.

Who is the best captain you have played under?
Imran Khan. I had played under Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad and always felt that they went into a match with the mindset of drawing the game. They were very defensive captains and I could not learn much from them.

Lekin ek hi banda tha jo kabhi haar nahi manta tha, aur wo tha Imran [But there was one player who never accepted defeat and that was Imran]. His only motto was to win. He never spoke about defeat and that removed all negative thoughts from our minds. In team meetings, all talks revolved around winning the game at all costs. Even during the Bangalore Test in 1987, when Sunil Gavaskar scored that 96 and India was close to winning the game, we did not think about defeat. Imran kept telling us that we would win.

For Imran, body language was very important. If he noticed that any player showed bad body language on the field he would drop him. I felt good about the fact that though he said a lot of nasty things about me he never dropped me. He believed in my ability. 

After he left, the boys were trained to win at all costs. Even when Wasim Akram and I became captain, winning was our only motive.

How was your term as captain of Pakistan?
Pakistan cricket as always suffered because of factions in the team. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were fighting for the captaincy and the team was divided into two groups. At that time the Pakistan Cricket Board approached me since I was not in any group. I never mixed with the guys since I was happy staying in my room watching television.

Pakistan captaincy is the worst job in the world. I have had the worst experience as captain. The top two bowlers had formed their two groups and refused to bowl together.

Dono ko manate manate thak gaya main [I was tired of pacifying both of them]. They could not be ignored because they were match winners. They were very important to the team. It is very difficult to carry 16 people in a team together. Each one had their own mind and their own egos.

It was an honour to lead the side but at the same time it was a very difficult job, especially because of the Akram-Younis feud. You had to be sure whom to scream at and whom not to scream at. I felt like a father sometimes trying to get his children together.

Did it affect your batting?
Am not sure if it affected my batting, but it surely stopped my growth as a batsman. I was so caught up thinking about my teammates, strategy, bowling changes and other obligations that a captain has to fulfill. I barely got any time to think about my batting or work on some shots, which I would have added to my repertoire.  Luckily, in the 12-odd Tests that I led Pakistan in I scored close to 1000 runs.

Did the match-fixing allegations affect your batting more than your captaincy woes?
There was no performance after that at all. All the allegations in the middle of series just destroyed me. In the middle of the 1999 World Cup I had to attend court hearings. It was humiliation of the worst kind. I was hanged, shot, slapped, slaughtered in public by my Board, the ICC and also the media.

What were the difficulties you faced after the ban?
I went to admit my son, Ali Sufiyan, to a government school in Lahore, but they refused his admission because of me. They told me they would not admit a corrupt man's son to their school. No one even thought about my son. Here I was not even proved guilty and my son was being punished.

When I went to meet people they did not talk the way they used to when I was playing for Pakistan. Life was hell; I could have just gone mad.

What is the status on the life ban?
It is in the Supreme Court. I don't know when the court will rule in my favour. When I met Gen Tauqir Zia [former PCB chief] he told me they would lift the ban soon, but nothing happened.

Only two people have played 100 Tests for Pakistan, Javed Miandad and myself, and there are some players in this team who didn't want me to come back into the fold.

Ata-ur Rehman's ban is off; Herschelle Gibbs and Shane Warne are still playing, but I am stuck. Other Pakistani players whose names appeared in the investigations were fined and let off; only I was punished.

I guess they wanted a scapegoat and who better than me. In India the Board thought [Mohammad] Azharuddin would be the ideal person to ban because he was nearing the end of his career, and here in Pakistan I was coming towards the end of my career. So Azhar and I were made the scapegoats.

Like many of your teammates you turned to Islam...
Yes, I did for some time. I went with Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Inzamam-ul Haq for a jamaat [camp to learn more about Islam]. We met people and educated them about Islam. But then I realized it was too difficult for me. What is the point of going and telling people? They already know.

I still do my namaaz [pray] but without showing off to a hundred photographers. We have always prayed but never on the field. We used to make our own jamaats in our rooms and pray on tours. I think what these guys do on the field is too much drama.

What is wrong with this Pakistan team?
This team just does not have a good combination. They have not been able to get over the loss of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Their departure is a huge loss. We won because of our bowling in the past. If we were bowled out for less, we knew these two would bowl out the opposition for even less.

Shoaib Akhtar is fast but he has not proved himself at any level. There is no talent left in Pakistan cricket. I look around and I see nothing. I was quite surprised the Pakistan team won two games in the one-day series; I thought they deserved to win only the Peshawar game.

Even for this tour I had said that you cannot make flat wickets, because the Indian batting is too strong. If you make greet wickets then both sides won't be able to make a lot of runs and that is what Pakistan wants; not let India score 600 runs in an innings. But these people started the series on a negative note by preparing flat tracks.

Is Inzamam a good captain?
There is nothing much that is wrong with him, but it is important that you understand that team, which also covers the captain. If the team does not support the captain then he cannot do much with it. Also, Inzamam is not a very aggressive and positive captain.

You were one of the best players of spin bowling. You also played Shane Warne quite easily?
Ever since my first class cricket days I played with Abdul Qadir. According to me, he [Qadir] is the best leg spinner in the world ever. I used to play him daily and that's why I was able to read Warne easily. Warne won't believe that though.

Photograph: Getty Images
Design: Imran Shaikh

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