Ramiz Raja: Four of Virat’s five bowlers are match-winners

‘Pakistan definitely need to play the pressure points well’

By Lokendra Pratap Sahi in Calcutta
  • Published 16.06.19, 2:40 AM
  • Updated 16.06.19, 2:40 AM
  • 5 mins read
  •  
Ramiz Raja Telegraph file picture

Ramiz Raja, a former captain of Pakistan and a top performer in that country’s World Cup triumph in 1992, spoke to The Telegraph from Manchester on Saturday afternoon.

Excerpts...

Q When will Pakistan stop being predictably unpredictable?

A No team would like to hold on to such a tag... It’s frustrating... My view is that little things need attention and Pakistan definitely need to play the pressure points well... The fielding against Australia, for example, was hopeless. The selection of the XI has to be right too... Pakistan don’t always have to be unpredictable, but that’s also a beauty of our cricket. The opposition is never quite sure of what to expect... However, when you talk of good teams, 60-70 per cent of their game is predictable. Pakistan have to bracket themselves there.

Q Your take on Pakistan’s journey in this World Cup — one win, one abandonment and two losses?

A Not ideal... Again, to take the example of the match against Australia, Pakistan made a big mistake by not playing Shadab Khan. The 20-year-old must be made to feel he is this team’s Shane Warne, needs to be played and given confidence... The bowling lacked discipline and the batsmen messed it up. There’s no point making a pretty 30 or 40 and, then, throwing it away. If you’re in a position to dominate, do so for long.

Q Just how well is Pakistan prepared for the marquee clash against India?

A It’s an opportunity for Pakistan to redeem themselves. They don’t have a choice, they have to beat India. It’s a chance for the Pakistan (and India) players to become heroes... Sarfaraz Ahmed and his team must take a leaf out of history, perhaps draw inspiration from the success stories of great teams — in cricket and in other sport.

Q Draw inspiration from Pakistan’s spectacular win over England in the 1992 World Cup final, under Imran Khan, now the Prime Minister...

A Indeed. For inspiration, Sarfaraz has an in-house reference point, the short speech made by Imran after the toss in the final.

Q What did Imran say?

A That 87,000 fans are at the MCG and we probably wouldn’t get another chance in our career to enjoy such an atmosphere... That speech, which lasted less than half a minute, relaxed us... Imran added that England captain Graham Gooch’s body language hadn’t been good, so we couldn’t lose the final... Leadership makes such a difference, what the leader says makes such a difference.

Q One must ask this... It’s odd that, over the decades, Pakistan have never beaten India in the World Cup. Maybe, you have an explanation...

A In fact, a member of Pakistan’s support staff lobbed this question to Imran when the World Cup-bound squad met him before departing from Pakistan. I was there too... Imran had a brilliant answer: ‘I don’t know how you lose to India, because I won 19 ODIs against them and lost only 4’... Clearly, Pakistan must look for a trigger point — like Mohammed Aamir’s first spell against India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Besides, they must play the pressure points well... The pitch would have to be read properly as well.

[In Tests, as captain, Imran holds a 4-0 record against India.]

Q What else did Imran tell Sarfaraz and the rest?

A That those who had pace should be encouraged to bowl fast, not be curbed. Imran recalled his days at Sussex when being asked to bowl line and length didn’t sit comfortably with him. He said he was baffled by the approach often taken nowadays.

Q In your time, from the early 1980s till the latter half of the 1990s, how did the Pakistan team approach matches against India?

A For us, it was a golden opportunity to become a hero. Rather than the systems shutting down and the arms becoming limp, we saw any match against India as that big chance to take centre stage. Our destiny was in our hands... The seniors helped in calming us, ensuring a conducive environment... An environment to perform.

Q Your advice for Sarfaraz?

A Generally be aggressive, but also strike a nice balance between being defensive and attacking.

Q By the way, is Sarfaraz the right man to be leading Pakistan or is it that there’s no option?

A Sarfaraz is the captain. Period. No debate there.

Q Pakistan have a fine motto for the World Cup... ‘WeHaveWeWill’... Did you actually have one in 1992?

A Sort of... ‘Cornered Tigers’... Coined by Imran... That’s not all... If we had a bad outing, instead of quarrelling, somebody would put on the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saheb’s iconic qawwali ‘Allah Hoo, Allah Hoo, Allah Hoo’ in the dressing room. The mood would change... That became the team’s official song, so to say... ‘Allah Hoo’, by the way, is Imran’s favourite qawwali.

Q Your assessment of the Virat Kohli-captained India...

A Four of Virat’s five bowlers are match-winners... Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav... When you have that potent an attack, captaincy becomes easier. India have massive talent in their ranks and Pakistan would have to break momentum... India have it in them to go the distance.

Q But Shikhar Dhawan is unavailable...

A It’s a blow... A big blow as Shikhar is an in-form batsman, having got 117 in the innings he got injured... It’s an opportunity for (left-armer) Aamir to get his inswingers going as both openers — Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul — now are right-handed.

Q How has India’s run been in this World Cup — two wins and one abandonment?

A The sharing of points with New Zealand hurt India more than it did the Black Caps... It doesn’t help when a match is rained off as the players have to quickly get back to focusing on cricket and not the weather. Good players, however, embrace pressure... Embrace whatever is thrown at them.

Q India’s strengths and weaknesses?

A Frankly, I hardly find loopholes... But an India vs Pakistan match isn’t about standings and rankings, but delivering under obvious pressure.

[Where the ODI rankings go, India are at No.2 and Pakistan at No.6.]

Q How do you see Sunday’s face-off playing out?

A One eye would be on the weather, naturally... The pitch too would come into play... In our time, the done thing was to set a target in big matches. But India are such good chasers... From Pakistan’s perspective, they will have to score over 300 batting first and, most definitely, restrict India to under 300 if they have to chase. As I’ve said, India look the favourites, but Pakistan are most dangerous when cornered... Sarfaraz and his players have to see Sunday as an opportunity to grow in stature, not be concerned with India vs Pakistan results in previous World Cups... Pakistan cannot afford to lose.

Q Three key men each for India and Pakistan...

A Bumrah, Rohit and Kuldeep for India... Fakhar Zaman is a bit of a hit or miss type, but I’d go for him... Aamir most certainly... Babar Azam as well. I hope Babar doesn’t make errors in judgement, like against Australia.

Q Aamir wasn’t in the ‘provisional’ World Cup squad, but got added after the one-sided series against England. Were you surprised?

A I was. Aamir was always in my World Cup XV. Pakistan need a leader of the pack and Aamir fits that bill... Hasan Ali, after all, has been leaking runs over the past year... Three good balls and as many bad balls in every over.

Q The first fortnight of this World Cup is over. Today, who are your semi-finalists?

A England, India, Australia... Pakistan if they win against India at Old Trafford... I know New Zealand has support, but while they have a great captain in Kane Williamson and a very fine middle order, they tend to choke on the big moments... If I’ve been surprised by any team, it’s South Africa. I expected a much better show.

Q Finally... Is there a player who has stood out?

A (Pauses) Jofra Archer. The circumstances of his becoming eligible for England, the instant impact he has had, the smooth manner in which he has settled in... For me, Archer has been the standout one.