Mohali: Former Pakistan captain and coach Intikhab Alam is back in Punjab for his second season as the stateís chief coach. His debut, in 2004-05, saw Punjab reach the Ranji final. This time, he is focussing on the districts and expects the state to produce quite a few Internationals in the next couple of years. Intikhab spoke to The Telegraph in his suite at the beautiful PCA Stadiumís Club House here on Friday morning.
Following are excerpts
On who will start favourites in the Pakistan versus England series
England. For two reasons: After the Ashes, their confidence is high and, then, we havenít played international cricket since June... Frankly, our best chance is for Shoaib Akhtar to effect early dismissals. Otherwise, baat nahin banegi.
On the England team
Itís balanced and they bat deep. Half the job is done when the balance is spot-on.
On Pakistanís problem area
The opening combination. In fact, Iíve lost count of the number of pairs tried out by coach Bob Woolmer. Such uncertainty at the very top is never encouraging. Also, I canít understand why Inzy (Inzamam-ul Haq) is reluctant to bat at No. 3. Heís best suited for that position and can control the innings from there.
On Mushtaq Ahmed being pulled out of the wilderness
A nice move and Iím looking forward to seeing two leggies (the other being Danish Kaneria) bowl in tandem. The Englishmen are, as you know, vulnerable against leg-spin.
On Imran Khan being unhappy with Pakistanis themselves accepting that England start favourites
Look, as a Pakistani, I would like our team to win. However, one must be realistic. I believe confidence wins more matches than ability and Englandís confidence is high.
On whether the series is actually going to be a contest between Woolmer and Duncan Fletcher
No... Their role will be limited unless somebody has plotted an ambush. At best, a coach is expected to put the pieces in place on the equivalent of a chess board. The captain takes over from there.
On Michael Vaughanís captaincy
He doesnít get flustered and handled the pressure situations in the Ashes very well. Heís respected by teammates and, given that he himself performs, is able to speak with greater authority. A captainís voice is stronger if he himself delivers. Problems arise when, over a period of time, a captain doesnít perform.
On Inzamam as captain
Under pressure, there have been moments when he has looked not being fully there, but he led well in India earlier this year... Iím sure he has learnt a lot from that one trip alone and, in time, we may look back on that series as being the defining moment for his captaincy.
Obviously, heís a terrific man manager. At the highest level, a coachís role is largely to manage the dressing room and get the best out of his players... Fletcher talks little, but is effective where it matters.
Iíve got nothing against the nationality of a coach, but Woolmerís failure to identify the most suited opening combination is disappointing... Thereís a limit to experimenting... Moreover, it seems he has a problem with Shoaib.
I really canít put a finger on whatís wrong, but it appears he has a problem with both the coach and the captain... Egos have come into play, lekin mulk ke liye pehle sochna chahiye. I met Shoaib in Pakistan recently and he insisted fitness wasnít an issue.
On Shoaib being unhappy at being asked by Woolmer to shorten his run-up
Shoaib needs a long run-up to get into rhythm... Woolmer shouldnít have asked him to cut it down... A coach has to understand what makes his players comfortable.
On whether he had a one-on-one with Shoaib
(Laughs) I did and I suggested that he not be bothered by the criticism in the Media and elsewhere and simply concentrate on taking wickets. I impressed upon him that the best way of silencing critics was to perform.
On Sourav Ganguly losing the Team India captaincy
(After a pause) His record speaks for itself, but I understand form became an issue. Then, it didnít help that he confirmed having been asked to step down by the coach (Greg Chappell) in Zimbabwe... Such things must never get out of the dressing room... That and the leaked e-mail took things to such a situation that one had to go... As Iíve said, a captainís voice gets stronger if he himself performs... From what Iíve heard, John Wright would compromise... Chappell isnít the sort to do so.
On whether the coach should be the boss
No, a strong captain is needed... A captain canít keep running to the coach when things get out of hand... He has to think... Out in the middle, he alone has to review strategy...
On whether Imran, with whom he had a successful partnership, would be the finest captain of the last 25 years
This is a tough one' Perhaps, I would go for Imran and Steve Waugh. Both were leaders, not merely captains.
Finally, on whether Punjab is going to do one better than last season
Of course, Iím hopeful. However, the BCCI must schedule the Ranji semis and final in such a way that the dates donít clash with international commitments... I knew I wouldnít have Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) for most of the season, but I even lost my captain ' Dinesh Mongia... The countryís premier tournament has to be accorded top priority. Incidentally, the BCCI should look at reviewing the points structure. Points must only be given for wins and a bonus awarded for winning by an innings. Also, all Ranji matches ought to be played over five days ' captaincy skills will be tested as also the temperament of batsmen. Additionally, spinners are going to be a force.