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April 10, 1999


The Rediff Interview / Wasim Akram

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'The team that bats the 50 overs will win the cup'

 Wasim Akram
Wasim Akram has passed the acid test. He picked a beaten, dispirited team plagued by allegations that threatened the careers of many of its members and brought off a string of victories -- in Tests and one-dayers -- against Indians on Indian soil.

Akram transformed an ordinary-looking side, riven by infighting and nursing injured egos, into a match-winning outfit, now even sporting a touch of arrogance.

It has been a triumph of the spirit. And those allegations hanging over the team seems to have all but disappeared.

A veteran of three World Cups, Akram now prepares to take the field in the last World Cup of the millennium. Dismissing opinions that his team may have peaked too soon, he believes that winning is a good habit for any team and that his team is not going to get complacent.

In an exhaustive and exclusive interview to Rediff On The NeT's Faisal Shariff in Vishakapatnam, Akram speaks about the last two World Cups and the need for Pakistan to have a national cricket academy.

How important has the tour to India been for you, personally?

I think this has been a very important tour for me personally, in the sense that it pushed me to set a goal for myself, a target that I could aim for. I have been playing for the past 15 years and it was getting to me that my days were numbered. But this Test series in India has definitely prolonged my career; now I feel I can go on for another two years and win for Pakistan.

As a captain what do you think you have achieved, given that the team was in disarray when you took over from Aamir Sohail.

Well, it's too early to say that I have achieved much because this is just the beginning. But one thing people have told me is that I have learnt how to handle the team on the field. That was very important for me. I think I have learnt a little bit of that.

You know, in pressure games everyone tests your skills on and off the field. I think in crucial games, especially against India, it is very important to be sure of the changes you are making. Happily, everything went well, so I'm happy with the performance. Agar nahi jeettey to problem hoti, magar aisa nahi hua [If we would have lost there would have been a problem but nothing of that sort happened].

The 1992 World Cup in Australia was one of the greatest moments of Pakistan cricket. Tell us how did the team pull through after that a disastrous start? What was the mood in the dressing room?

 Imran Khan with 1992 World Cup
To be honest, yes, the team's mood was pretty low. But you know, for some odd reason we just knew we were going to win the World Cup. We were down and almost out but we knew we were going to win. We had faced a situation like this in 1989, during the MRF Cup in India, and we had won against all odds.

Imran was the major guiding force there. He kept convincing us that we could win. He kept reiterating this and suddenly we were playing well -- we clicked. I think it was a case of peaking at the right time.

Tell us about that all-important game against New Zealand, the last of the league matches -- the game Pakistan had to win to reach the semi-final.

We had a team meeting and Imran told us this was a do-or-die situation. We would have to go out and give it our 100 per cent. He said this match would change everything for us if we won it. He told us to fight it out and play with the all the passion we had.

Believe me, the moment we walked out that day onto the field we felt we were going to win. Also New Zealand had won all their matches till then; so we knew they were relaxed. We knew we would need just one moment to seize the initiative and there would be no looking back after that. That is exactly how it happened...

And about the final, those two wickets of Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis of successive deliveries. How did it feel to be on a hat-trick in a World Cup final?

It was one of the brightest moments of my cricketing career. I was over the moon after bowling Chris Lewis and I was a little nervous about the hat-trick. You know it is a dream come true for any player to perform in the finals of a world cup.

You think those wickets decided the fate of the match? Or you think that the match had been won long before that spell, with England reeling at 69/4?

Cricket is a team effort. I think that was not the deciding factor though those two wickets at that stage of the match were crucial. And, yeah, we were pretty sure we were going to win. You know that feeling when that desire to win overtakes every other thought and emotion. But we didn't get complacent and we kept the pressure on them. You never know in a one-day game, but, yeah, the early dismissal of their top order did make a difference.

How would you rate the 1996 squad and what do you think were the factors that brought about the downfall in that tournament?

 Wasim Akram
We were overconfident. I think we had a great side but I think we were too confident and that was one reason we lost. We were a great side but I think we had one bad game and that cost us the title of world champs.

You know, we won all our games in the league except that game against South Africa. We were pretty confident before the quarter-final against India. Unfortunately I got injured before that game. I think we also played better than India. We were coasting along at 110 for one after 15 overs.

But suddenly there was no planning visible and the batsmen did not consider the importance of going at 4 or 5 an over. All of them went for big shots and gifted the match away to the Indians. I think, for a change, the pressure got to the batsmen -- they played some rash strokes.

Tell us about the experience after you returned home after that defeat. Your wife told us about the problems you faced on returning home. How much did it affect you, being treated by your own countrymen in that manner?

It was a horrifying experience, probably the worst phase of my life. We had problems at the airport and at home. You know, those threatening phone calls, those humiliating accusations were too much to handle. It became impossible for me to handle all that. The whole team for that matter had a tough time.

But that's the way it is back home in Pakistan. If you win you are up there and the moment you don't you go the other way. But I think it is time people realise it is only a game and that it is a profession for us. We go out there and we try hard. Sometimes we win, sometimes we have to lose.

Where does one draw the line?

Hamare culture mein aisa kuch hota hi nahi hai (There is nothing like drawing the line in our culture).

But I think it's time people educate themselves to the fact that this is a game.

Har ladka koshish kar raha hai. Jaan maar raha hai, akhir insaan hai, thak bhi jaate hain [One must realise that every boy is trying hard, playing his heart out. But after all he is also only human, even he gets tired]. They are bound to have a bad day.

You were picked up from the nets without any formal coaching. Waqar and some other bowlers were also picked from the nets. Why is it that Pakistan, despite having abundant talent, does not have a national cricket academy or any defined structure to tap talent early?

I think it is time Pakistan has a cricket academy. In fact, they are thinking of having one; the sooner they have one the better it will be for Pakistan cricket. If we had had an academy we'd have groomed our youngsters much better and would have been a better side. Also, we'd not have to worry about our back-ups.

But our chairman, Mr Khalid Mahmood, is very interested in having an academy and in the next 4, 5 months that idea will be given concrete shape. I think that would be the best thing to happen to Pakistan cricket.

Pakistan has abundant talent: you have fast bowlers who arrive out of nowhere and create an impression on the international arena. The same goes for the batsmen: they have the temperament as well as talent but seem to burn out too soon. What would you attribute that too?

Again, I'd say that's because there's no structure. If these guys are picked up from their academies they will learn to cope with pressure. Some are really talented but don't know how to cope with the pressure and how to take care of their bodies.

Some of the guys get injured and then don't have a clue how to get back into the team. They are unable to recuperate. Also, kuch ladkon se zyadatiyan bhi hoti hai (Some players are also given a raw deal). It is a very sad state of affairs, but I think it's a matter educating the players about pressure and coping with injuries.

How do you see your side's chances in the World Cup this May? Are there any worrying factors for you so far, any aspect of your game that you think you, need to work upon?

 Salim Malik
I think our middle order is worrisome. In the Test matches in India, our middle order collapsed. I think we need to strengthen our middle order. That's why we have recalled Salim Malik. He will add solidity to the middle order. He is very experienced and has played a lot in England.

Also Waqar, because he has ample experience. His contribution to the side in early May will be invaluable. The ball swings a lot and Waqar will be able to exploit the conditions. The side that will win the World Cup will have to bat the 50 overs. There's no doubt about that.

The ball swings a lot -- there will be a lot of lateral movement. We have decided that the team has to bat the 50 overs to win the Cup. We aren't looking at the first 15 overs at all. We don't have to throw our wickets but play like a Test match and keep wickets for the end. That will be the key. This is what we are putting in the minds of the youngsters.

Wasim Akram interview, continued

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