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May 27, 1999


The Rediff Interview/ Imran Khan

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'This Pakistan team is more talented than the Cup-winning side of 1992. But...'

Years have not dimmed the famous Khan charisma. Imran Khan Niazi is still a hot name in England. There are requests for interviews, autographs and photo sessions, and the great Khan handles all pleas with practiced ease.

It is believed that Imran is the highest paid cricket columnist in England. According to reports, he has a 40,000 pounds sterling contract with The Daily Express to write columns during the World Cup. When you catch up with him in London, though, he is generous enough to grant an interview. He gives you a time and a venue, and is ready when you arrive there. Prithvi Anand met the former World Cup-wining captain. Excerpts from the conversation:

It appears you are not taking enough interest in cricket....

That's true. The last time I saw a cricket match, that is before this World Cup, was way back in 1996 - that was the India-Pakistan quarter-final tie at Bangalore. Even in Sharjah, early this year, I came only for a day. For this World Cup, I have taken some leave from my work and was originally to do some work for Doordarshan.

The man who wants to become the prime minister of Pakistan is doing commentary on Doordarshan. Isn't it surprising?

No, for the simple reason that Pakistan Television (PTV) will not take me as a commentator.

What about cricket administration?

I don't find any challenge in that. It's more important to try to do something for the crores of poor people of my country. In a country where half a million die every year only for drinking polluted water, it is more necessary for us to do something for them. People like Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto have used their chair for the single purpose of making more money. I could join them if I had the same wish. But I don't need to use politics as a way of making money. I wish I could live in a farmhourse far from all these! But, then, as a citizen of my beloved country, I, too, have some moral duties, which I don't want to escape. That's why, in spite of being defeated regularly in elections, I am not leaving the field. It's tough, but then I love challenging tasks.

Coming back to cricket, how do you rate Pakisan's chances in the World Cup?

Frankly speaking, this Pakistan team is more talented than the Cup-winning side of 1992. But I have this feeling that they will not win the tournament. I believe so because I thought the batting was not up to scratch, an important ingredient if you want to win such big tournaments. But there is no denying the potential of this side. The bowling attack is the best in the world. I can't say the same about the batting strengths of Akram's team. Still, people like Salim Malik, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed are on the bench. Isn't it formidable?

What about India? Is there any chance of repeating the 1983 feat?

No. I know its' tough to hear that, especially when you've bowlers like Srinath, Prasad and Kumble, but who will give them enough runs on the board to defend. Sachin will be there, but you can' t ask him to score big in all of the matches.

Then, who are the favourites?

South Africa. They're a balanced and professional sides and can be consistent enough for the 10 matches a team has to play to win the Cup.

What about Shoaib Akhtar?

I have seen him so little to comment. I feel that he should cut down his run-up to preserve some more energy. He will be more effective then and last longer.

People are now comparing Sachin with Sir Don Bradman. In your playing days, you had always said that Sunil Gavaskar was the most difficult batsman to bowl at. Do you still hold the same view now?

Obviously. Basically, Sachin is a stroke player. But Sunil was totally different, he had a rock-solid defence, could change gears when he wanted . And I still believe Viv was more killing than Sachin Tendulkar. On his day, Viv could simply destroy any attack. Let Sachin face those real fast bowlers on fast, bouncy tracks. Then you can say something. And Sir Don is beyond comparison. Please don't compare anyone with him.

What are your views on the betting controversy?

I don't deny that betting was not there. But the controversy is still alive because of the callousness of the PCCB officials. I told them to set up an inquiry commission four years before. The matter would have ended there. But they wanted to do it slowly and secretly. That's why the situation is out of control now. Everybody accuses the national cricketers whenever they lose a match - it's simply ridiculous. The earlier it ends, the better it is for Pakistan cricket.

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