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Punjab a fresh ‘challenge’
 

Calcutta, July 17: For Intikhab Alam, records come easy: 22 years ago, he became international cricket’s first pro coach. Now, in two months, he will be taking charge of Punjab — subject, of course, to clearance from the Manmohan Singh government.

For the sub-continent, it’s going to be an unusual first. And, predictably, everybody is wondering what has drawn the 1992 World Cup-winning coach to a provincial outfit on the other side of the Great Divide.

“Well, I have a different challenge ahead of me… Punjab haven’t been doing remarkably in recent years and it will be nice if the Ranji Trophy can be regained,” Intikhab, also a former Pakistan captain, told The Telegraph this afternoon.

Speaking from Lahore, he added: “I was approached by the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) bosses during the India-series a few months ago and, after some thinking, I agreed. Really, I don’t see myself as a foreigner.”

Elaborating, Intikhab continued: “I was, after all, born in undivided Punjab (Hoshiarpur, in 1941) and speak the same language. Culturally, there’s no difference and I’m not going to miss home.”

While his wife and two sons stay in London, much of Intikhab’s time is spent in the other Punjab’s capital — Lahore.

Contracted to work with the PCA for six months from mid-September, Intikhab will be based in Mohali, which is the hub of cricket activities in the region.

The contract, though, is going to be signed once the Union government’s okay — after “vetting” by the concerned ministries — has been received.

“Soon, I’ll be starting my homework… Whatever the grade of cricket, a number of factors influence the emergence of a successful team… As for the coach, he is going to invite trouble if his communication skills are found wanting,” Intikhab pointed out, laughing.

His last stint as Pakistan’s coach, by the way, ended four years ago.

Incidentally, Intikhab won’t just be coaching the Ranji side, but will oversee the PCA’s ambitious programmes. His financial package hasn’t been announced, but it’s learnt the remuneration is going to be far from exorbitant.

For the statistically inclined, Punjab’s solitary Ranji Trophy triumph came in 1992-93. Last season, the state finished fourth in group A of the Elite Division.

Meanwhile, according to PCA secretary Mohinder Pandove, the Inderjit Singh Bindra-headed body drew inspiration from Team India’s tie-up with John Wright.

Talking exclusively, he said: “I’m not saying Intikhab is a foreigner in the strictest sense, but he’s definitely somebody from outside the country. Our understanding is that players respond better to an outsider… I mean, you only have to look at India’s success under Wright.

“Moreover, fresh ideas do no harm and it’s possible that some of the other associations will begin to look outwards as well… Our decision has been driven by the desire to grow big.”

Pandove is hopeful about the sarkari clearance materialising “within a fortnight.”

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