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April 12, 1999


The Rediff Interview / Wasim Akram

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'The Indian team is too mellow!'

 Wasim Akram
You've already read the first part of Faisal Shariff's interview with Pakistan captain and premier all-rounder Wasim Akram. In the concluding part, Akram talks of his team's remarkable turnaround, its prospects in the World Cup, and other issues. Excerpts:

After 39 years Australia finally won a Test match in Pakistan. Zimbabwe added insult to the injury with a series win. Now in India the side has transformed itself into a confident unit, ready to take on the best. What according to you were the reasons for the slump, and what brought about the renaissance?

I think that the boys were not enjoying their cricket. The guy who was in charge was not able to keep the boys happy. He was unable to pull the guys together. If you are not happy with your captain, how can you perform? You can play, but you cannot give your 100 per cent, mentally. The players were divided; they were encountering problems within the team itself. It gets difficult for any team if they have problems in getting along amongst themselves. How do you expect to defeat the opposition if you can't defeat your own differences within the team? Problem thi kuch inki captain se '(They had a problem with the captain). They wanted me as captain. So when I came back, I asked the guys to give a hundred per cent, try our best. Puri jaan marenge, and then if we lose it doesn't matter to me. The guys wanted to win, they were very as eager to win as I was, so that was a plus for me.

Honestly speaking, don't you think you are going to miss the services of Aamir Sohail? In England your only weak link seems to be the opening pair. Also in Sohail you have a wily spinner who can bowl miserly spells, besides giving you solidity at the top of the order alongside Saeed Anwar...

 Aamir Sohail
Agar koi team game mein ek bande se saari team ki ladaai hai, then there is something wrong with the guy. (In a team game if the whole team has a problem with one guy then there is a problem with the guy). Team spirit is more important than any individual.

When we spoke to Aamir Sohail he said that differences don't matter once the side is on the field. And he said that he would not be playing for Wasim Akram but for Pakistan. What do you think matters more, your personal differences or the team's strategy?

Of course team spirit and team's strategy matters more than anything else as far as the team is concerned. As far as I am concerned, if the presence of one player is affecting the morale or the spirit of the team, then we might as well rest that player for a while. Let the boys settle in and play their natural game. And we are confident that team spirit will lift the side's performance.

Are you planning to open your batting with Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar?

I think its too early to decide what Shahid Afridi's role will be in the team composition. He might have to miss a couple of games. If the wickets are dry we might play him

So then who will open along with Anwar?

Wajahatullah Wasti. The guy is good, and has a cool head. I think he along with Saeed Anwar will be a good opening pair.

So you have not chalked out a strategy as yet for your World Cup campaign?

Not yet. When we get there on the third of May, my mind will start thinking about our strategy and along with Javedbhai we will plan things accordingly.

There were reports that Sir Geoffrey Boycott was to be appointed as consultant to the team alongside Javed Miandad. Are you comfortable with the idea of having two coaches, two power centres? Shaharyar Khan said that he was opposed to the idea of having someone alongside Javed...

Yes, Geoffrey was asked, but what transpired between the board and Geoffrey is something I don't know about. But if he is to be appointed only for the World Cup, why not? I think his advice and experience will be of immense help to the side. Geoffrey is a seasoned cricketer and has played most of his cricket in England; he will definitely be beneficial for our campaign.

Supposedly Javed had his reservations about Boycott's appointment...

Javedbhai is the boss. He is the coach of the team and he will be eventually in charge of the team. Boycott is going to be the consultant, not the coach. As far as Javedbhai and I are concerned, Boycott is welcome.

How do you assess your team at the moment? What do you think are the worrying factors?

 Salim Malik with Aamir Sohail
The confidence is there, I am only worried about the middle order. But even that will be strengthened with the inclusion of Salim Malik. It's a good thing that we lost the match against Sri Lanka in Vizag. Normally what happens is that the team plays well, wins all its league matches and flops in the finals. You know all teams have that odd bad day. I think the team is ready for sterner tests and it is a matter of time before they achieve their goals.

What changes do you see in the side now, things that were missing earlier?

You know, we had a meeting last night after dinner, after the loss to Sri Lanka. The reasons for the defeat were discussed and the players were told about the mistakes that they had committed. Earlier, when these things happened, the guys used to defend their mistakes, seek justifications, try to come up with explanations. But yesterday the guys owned up, and admitted their mistakes. They decided to play out the fifty overs in the next two matches and win the Cup. You know, this kind of a thing is very encouraging for the captain. He knows that the players are behind him and he enjoys the confidence and respect of the players.

When you landed in India, a newsmagazine here had leaked the contents of the inquiry report into match-fixing and betting. How did this impact on the team, and on you personally?

The boys were told about this. They were told that something like this was bound to happen. We knew that if we were doing well, there would be something like this from the press. We were unaffected by it, we ignored it. Kisi ko pata bhi nahi tha siway do ladko ke (Besides two guys no one even knew about it).

Did it hurt the fact that just an issue before, the same publication had you and Waqar on the cover with handicapped children?

It does hurt a lot. I was hurt in a way, because the guy who did it was a close friend of mine. Jaannewala tha. But again that's their profession, kya kar sakte hai. Yahan koi feelings thodi na hoti hai ke agla kaise feel karta hai (there are no feelings in this profession, no thought of how the other person will feel about it). They only think of how they benefit from it, it's sad, but true.

Do you think you have done justice to your batting talent?

Not really. Depends. Actually you know, if I was an all-rounder who could bat a bit and bowl a bit then I would have been much better, but I am a bowler who has to bowl a lot of overs every day. To come back after bowling so much and concentrate on batting is a bit too much. But I believe I can bat much better if I put mind to it.

Given the fact that you have a 200 in Test cricket against your name...

I go through phases as a batsman. The confidence is not there, the kind of confidence a natural batsman would have. But I have been trying, and now my confidence is back after the knock against Sri Lanka.

Tell me, what was going through your mind when Sachin was at the crease snatching the match away from you guys in Chennai?

 Sachin Tendulkar
Nothing much really, just that if we get Sachin out we would have the match in our pocket. I knew that if we get him, we win the match, simple as that. The way he was batting it looked like that was the only way to win. When 15 runs were required I told my team, 'Guys, go for it, get him out and we win the match. Even if we lose we would have tried'. Har jayenge magar harenge nahi (We might lose the match but we wont lose).

I told the guys to keep trying and told them that our people back in Pakistan will know that we went down fighting. We kept the pressure up, and we won the match.

Why was Salim Malik out of the team? Was it due to fitness or some other reason?

Salim had a fitness problem; his hamstring was worrying him. He was complaining about it during one of the games and also, the PCB wanted to see how Imran Nazir was shaping. Salim wasn't dropped, just rested so we could try some of the other guys.

To get back to the big one, how do you plan to save your name in this match-fixing scandal? It's been going on for a while, hasn't it?

I have to go back and sort it out. I will ask the Judge-sahib to carry on with his work and give his verdict. Kyoonki jisne bhi kaha hai sirf baatein ki hai, koi proof nahi hai (Whoever has said anything has only made baseless statements without proof). They have just made these statements out of jealousy. The guys who are against me are out to malign me. You know these things happen in our country -- if someone is going up, you try to pull him down. I am prepared for anything. Sari tayyari hai, kuch galat nahi kiya hai (I am prepared for anything, I have done no wrong). So everything will be okay for me, Inshallah.

Wasim, have you ever been approached by a bookmaker, ever? Are you aware of any player who you have come across in your career, who you thought was indulging in such activities?

No, never. I have played so many matches in my life and have never been a part of any match-fixing agreement. Mere saamne na to kabhi kisi ne baat ki hai na aise hua hai (I have never heard nor seen it happening).

To ask a personal question, your wife told us you take insulin injections every day. Don't you think doing this kind of thing to keep playing will harm you in the long run?

But what can one do? Is there another way out? I can't stop playing.

Pakistan bowlers have been accused of ball tampering for quite a while now, what is that all about?

Kuch nahi hai. Goro ko jab nahi tha pata kya karte hai hum tab tak ball-tampering thi, ab Reverse Swing kehte hai usey (Till the whites didn't know about it, it was ball-tampering -- as soon as they learnt about it they termed it as reverse-swing).

You know, all these guys from England and Australia kept calling it ball tampering, but now that their bowlers can do it they call it reverse swing. It is all a matter of how you look after the ball, how you throw the ball on the surface at times to rough it up on one side. It's an art, and I think the Pakistanis have not only invented it, but also mastered the art.

Who are your favorites for the World Cup?

South Africa, Australia, we ourselves, and England since they will be playing at home. Favorites World Cup kabhi jittey nahi waisey (Favourites never win the World Cup). *laughing*

How do you rate India's chances at the World Cup?

India's fortunes depend on how their bowling performs there. Wahan ball swing bahut hota hai (The ball swings a lot there). India ki batting to tagdi hai (India's batting is strong) but it depends what team they play. They will have to play with five bowlers. They can't win with six batsmen and four bowlers.

But they can play four bowlers and use the services of Ganguly and maybe Sachin there?

Ganguly might be able to get success but you don't go into a match with such planning. Also, Sachin's form will be crucial, the real key I suppose.

Do you believe, like most others, that India depends too much on Sachin?

Yes they do, in a way. But I think it is very good that he is not playing. They can win some games and get their confidence back, learn that they can do without him.

What is lacking in the Indian team, that it folds against Pakistan every time?

Aisa hai ke aap log bade mellow se log ho (Indian players are too mellow). Koshish puri karte hai (They try whole heartedly), but if they lose they say never mind, we will try again tomorrow. 'Chalo yaar koi baat nahi' (No problem). Lekin hamare yahan 'chalo yaar nahin hota hai' (But we can't take it easy). Hame to jeeetna hota hai (We have to win), victory is important.

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