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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Interview > Rameez Raja

'Inzi is a big, big worry'

February 28, 2003

Rameez RajaFormer Pakistan skipper Rameez Raja discusses Saturday's India-Pakistan match in Johannesburg in an exclusive interview with Cricket Correspondent Ashish Magotra.

Do you think Pakistan is coming back into form?

I wouldn't say they are coming back into form. In the last game their batting didn't click although they got 240 odd. Remember Zimbabwe got over 350 against Namibia. Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar supported by Abdur Razzaq look pretty settled, but it's the batting that gives cause for concern. I was hoping Pakistan would adjust to the wickets. They were the last team to play a series here before the World Cup and one would have imagined they would be acclimatized by this point.

Were you surprised Pakistan did not include Saeed Anwar in the side which toured South Africa?

Saeed wasn't hundred percent fit. He was asked to go, but declined. He had not played any first class cricket and the selectors wanted him to play a little before embarking on such an important tour. It was not like the decision was made for him. Saeed himself did not want to be part of the touring party.

Inzamam-ul Haq seems to be out of form. Can Pakistan cope with it?

Inzamam-ul HaqIt's a big, big worry. He needs to score. He is the cornerstone of this line-up along with (Yousuf) Youhana and both are not exactly in exquisite form. Youhana has batted well. In the last game he looked good, but he has not been his belligerent self. I think Inzamam has got to bat at number three. Your best player has got to go in and consume the maximum number of overs. It will allow him to settle down instead of going in with two wickets down. Those singles when he comes lower down the order will be converted into boundaries with the restrictions applied during the first 15 overs. So there are a few things Pakistan needs to sort out

Foremost among them is to have Inzamam batting at number three even if he is not in good form. Because he will eventually come good because as the old saying goes, 'Class is permanent, form is not.'

Do you think Azhar Mahmood may find a place in the side?

There is a choice between Azhar and Razzaq. In recent times the latter has performed well. You have to look at the balance of your side. I feel you just cannot stuff your team with plenty of all-rounders, a lot of bits and pieces players. You got to have specialists. By including Azhar Mahmood in the team you will hurt the combination.

Already, Shahid Afridi is neither a specialist bowler nor is he a specialist batsman. I think you are taking a risk with him. Razzaq has not been in very good touch either, so you are wasting two specialist positions there. Azhar has not been in very good form. He has been picked on reputation. He has plenty of talent but is not in good batting form. I think Pakistan need to evolve the right kind of balance and that means at least five specialist batsman. Then you got to have specialist bowlers.

Is it possible Pakistan might go the way India and the West Indies have gone and pack the side with seven batsmen?

I think it is a negative strategy. If six wickets have gone down and if the top six have not scored then the seventh is also likely to fail. This is where you need to strike a balance. I feel the Indians are struggling about this as well. They have Rahul Dravid as wicket-keeper. He gets taxed standing behind the stumps for 50 overs, then needs to bat at no 4 or
5. He is the heartbeat of the team. Sachin Tendulkar is obviously a match-winner but Dravid provides the solidity. If he is tired and not clicking then the Indians have obvious problems. The Indians have struggled even with seven batsmen. The way they played against Australia they didn't look like a settled batting unit.

The West Indians are short on talent outside their 11 but for the Indians a fast bowler or spinner could be drafted in.

What do you think was going wrong with the Indian batting line-up?

The New Zealand tour was a diabolical one and that disrupted their entire flow. The captain has to be in good form. He has to lead by example. (Sourav) Ganguly has been short of form. He has not been in good form, he has not been winning. The West Indies defeated India in India, that does not happen too often. They are under pressure and totally out of rhythm. Plus, there is the added pressure of (events back) home. I have been told they are burning effigies of Ganguly, there is extra security outside Tendulkar's house and Mohammad Kaif's house was stoned. Now this is not going to help the Indian team. They are in the middle of a very, very important tournament.

You have to back them, this extra passion can also kill the team. You have to be sensible about it. I don't say it happens only in India. We faced it when we lost to India in the 1996 quarter-final and it was absolutely ridiculous. These things will not help India win the World Cup. The families are involved and the players will be thinking about them. The focus will definitely be hurt.

I still feel India have the fire-power to surprise the best in the world provided they play well as a unit and are not scared to extend their talent. I think right now they are far too busy playing for individual places. They have to let go and be their natural instinctive selves.

For many Indians and Pakistanis the World Cup boils down to just one game: India vs Pakistan. How do you see that game going?

I would like to see both teams shake hands in the middle of the ground. That sends a nice signal to people watching them here and back home. Because at the end of the day it's only a cricket match and let us keep it that way. I think India has an advantage as far as World Cup matches are concerned but given the batting line-up and how it has misfired I think the Pakistani bowlers have a very good chance of nicking one back.

India will be looking for their batsmen to deliver and the Pakistanis will be hoping their bowlers strike. It will be a good, close game. I want it to be a friendship game.

Why can't we view cricket as a helping hand to foster better relations? Why do we drag our teams into a frenzy? We don't want that. We don't want politics to be dragged into cricket. I have stressed over the years that it is wrong for
India to bring politics into cricket. Let cricketers play the game. Look at China. They were awarded the Olympics. No one questioned their human rights record. We are here to play the game so let us do that. Let people know the strength of sport in uniting countries and people.

Do you think Shoaib Akhtar, who has real pace, holds the key to the match against India?

Pace alone will not work. I think it has to be well-directed. One delivery from Brett Lee stands out from the match the other day. It was bowled to (Virender) Sehwag and it is what one calls a rib-roaster. It troubled Sehwag, got his
footwork in a jam and he was gone. A wayward spell from Shoaib Akhtar at 100 mph is not going to help the team. It has to be well-directed. 

Pakistan must know the strengths and weaknesses of this Indian batting line-up. I know Ganguly does not like the short ball and Sehwag does not like it around the rib-cage. But the deliveries have to be well-directed because we know if that does not happen they can go for runs. All these players have tremendous track records and talent but at the end of the day they need to back their ability. They have got to enjoy the atmosphere and be positive.

The one-time opportunity to become a hero, they have to grab it with both hands. Both teams and players have to
view the match as a chance to enhance their career by performing outstandingly. I think that is the main difference between India and Pakistan.

Pakistani players always look at India as a potential target where a player can enhance his career statistics. The Indians never seem to be bothered. But if they can change that then they can certainly surprise Pakistan.

The old war-horses, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. One final hurrah for them?

Wasim AkramWasim wants to play one-day cricket even after this World Cup. So I don't know whether he will continue or not. If Waqar does well in this World Cup and leads Pakistan to the semi-final or final I think he will want to stick around because we lack a lot of depth. Believe me, even though these players are past their best they are still better than some of our young fast bowlers. So we don't want them to say goodbye just like that.

We want them to nurture somebody like Mohammad Sami. He needs to bowl in the company of Wasim and Waqar to learn the art of reverse swing and how to perform under pressure. It is important the two 'Ws' stick around for at least three or four months after the World Cup. If they decide to say good-bye then fine, they have achieved everything possible. But if they stay on to help Pakistan build a few fast bowlers it will be very good for Pakistan cricket.

Lacking of bowling depth in the Pakistan camp is surprising considering they throw up fast bowlers with such regularity.

Throwing up a fast bowler who is erratic and throwing up a medium-fast bowler who has taken 400 wickets are two very different things. Even though Sami and a few other who are coming up the ranks are pretty sharp they are not as effective as Wasim and Waqar. Shoaib has been a real find for us. He is absolutely smashing for cricket.

There are two players I would stop and watch on television, one would be Tendulkar and the other would probably be Shoaib.

Do you think any of these teams can beat Australia?

If they have a bad day then they can be beaten. Their middle order is not that strong. I feel if you have a good spinner or the old ball is reversing then they are susceptible. Pakistan lost a golden opportunity to go one up on the Aussies. Five wickets down for 150 -- but it was a combination of bad captaincy and bowling that got the game away from Pakistan. Australia can be defeated provided they have a bad day. They are the only team in the world that plays with method and they combine talent with method. They are very committed and professional. You don't need to send gloves out there, no messages either because they know what the situation demands. That is where the Australians are better than other nations. They read the game better than most.

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