Calcutta: The tri-series is into its second week but, while the immediate attention is on that tournament, many have begun to look beyond the November 18 final.
Days later, after all, Team India will be off to Australia for four Tests and a triangular. It will be our toughest tour in years and, in Imran Khan’s opinion, the Sourav Gangulys must have an “aggressive mind-set.”
“To counter the Australians, you’ve got to be aggressive and that has to be reflected in your mind-set… Be it batting or bowling, they attack relentlessly… You should, therefore, counter that… The other day, for example, aggression enabled India beat the world champions (in Gwalior),” Imran, a veteran of many campaigns against Australia, told The Telegraph on Wednesday.
Speaking (from Dubai) on the eve of his 24-hour trip to Mumbai for an awards function, he added: “I agree the Australians are ahead of the rest — particularly in Test cricket — but I wouldn’t say the sport hasn’t seen a greater side. In my book, the West Indies team of the early 1980s remains the greatest…”
According to Imran, the 1992 World Cup-winning captain who is now a Member of the National Assembly, India will do well in Australia if (a) Zaheer Khan fires and (b) the batsmen dig in. The mind-set bit goes without saying.
“Zaheer has the pace and skill to get the most out of pitches in Australia… I expect him to use the bounce to advantage… Of course, he will need support — from Ashish Nehra, I suppose, assuming he is fit…
“I do accept you have two of the finest spinners (Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh) but, in Australia, they come into play on the last two days only. However, I would always have Kumble in the XI,” Imran pointed out.
He continued: “My advice to your batsmen is simple: Dig in and stay put… History shows that the ones who have got through the early phases, have gone on to collect big runs… The ball comes on to the bat and shot-making isn’t difficult. But, then, to flourish you must first survive. Also, never look for shortcuts…
“Clearly, India is fortunate to have a Rahul Dravid… He can play the sheet anchor’s role to perfection... How much of a difference can Sachin Tendulkar make' Potentially, lots… Incidentally, I’ve been misquoted on the matchwinner issue — he definitely is one.”
Imran had a word or two about (regular captain) Sourav: “Look, he must be aggressive… I know he has a reputation for being so, but he wasn’t in the World Cup final… Moreover, Sourav should remember that leading from the front makes the biggest difference. Talking from experience, even the best coach can make a marginal difference. Yet, a captain who leads from the front, can do so significantly…”
Happy with Pakistan’s Test series victory over South Africa, he said: “Frankly, I didn’t expect Graeme Smith’s men to be a huge threat… Be it in Pakistan or India, a visiting side will succeed only if it has an outstanding spinner and/or an express bowler… In the sub-continent, you can’t win with medium pace…
“Our team is certainly coming along and, at full strength, our attack can match the Australians… Shoaib (Akhtar), (Mohammed) Sami… Plus the rest… Quite a handful, isn’t it'”
Must Waqar Younis, who refuses to quit, be recalled'
“Well, I don’t know how he is bowling… We already have a good attack (without Waqar),” Imran responded, sending a ’message’ to the one-time spearhead.
Imran, though, isn’t too pleased with Pakistan’s batting: “The consistency isn’t there, but I’ve been impressed by young Taufeeq Umar… He seems to get better each time I see him… Generally, it hasn’t helped that our selectors have been chopping and changing batsmen… The turnover has been sizeable and it’s not healthy.”
Speaking about Inzamam-ul Haq’s captaincy, he observed: “Inzy hasn’t done anything wrong… So, I don’t see why he shouldn’t get a longer tenure.”
Having consistently called for regular bilateral exchanges between India and Pakistan, Imran (understandly) is “delighted” that Team India will be making a visit — the first since late 1997 — next February.