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'This Pakistan team lacks punch'
November 4, 2007
Sanjay Manjrekar and Rameez Raja look ahead to the India-Pakistan series
 
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Rameez Raja: "MS Dhoni is calm and relaxed and his composure rubs off on his troops" © AFP

Osman Samiuddin: Hello and welcome to the Cricinfo Round Table.

Cricket is all about needle encounters, nailbiting clashes and individual brilliance. While the Ashes have tradition and history behind them, India-Pakistan clashes are perhaps unrivalled in the passion they generate in two cricket-crazy, frenzied nations. After their thrilling encounter in the final of the ICC World Twenty20, India and Pakistan are all set to square off in a five-match ODI series and three-Test match series in India.

The last time Pakistan toured India for a full series was in 2004-05. They drew the Test series 1-1 and won the one-day series 4-2. How will this series pan out? And just what is at stake for both the teams? To answer these questions and more I have with me Rameez Raja, former captain of Pakistan, and former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar.

Welcome to the show.

Let's just start off with some personal insight. Now both of you have been involved in several India- Pakistan clashes. What does it mean to players who are part of these clashes? There is so much pressure involved. Does that take away from the fun or not?

Rameez Raja: It was always fun, but there was fun handling pressure also. Pressure is a different thing for different people. But the fact that you are playing in India, in front of such large audiences, against a good side, with so much of media involved - it brings out the best from a Pakistani cricketer. There is pressure, but good players have to deal with pressure and that is what the Pakistani players will have to do on this tour as well.

OS: Sanjay, you played in the 1989 series and had quite a bit of success against Pakistan as well. How was the experience for you?

Sanjay Manjrekar: What happens outside the cricket ground is different when it's India-Pakistan. The involvement of the spectators is different; there's a little bit of needle there. As far as the actual contest between bat and ball is concerned, for me, Pakistan was one of the best teams in the world, but not as good as, say, West Indies or Australia were. It's just that extra needle that came into the India-Pakistan clashes that made it different and that was the pressure that the players had to handle - not so much the pressure from bat and ball.

OS: Looking ahead to the teams in this series, the one-day sides are a mix of tried and tested players and players still making their way in the international arena. How do you see the two teams stacking up?

SM: I put India as slight favourites because purely as a team they look slightly more organised than Pakistan.

Pakistan's performance has been like chalk and cheese, with regard to their leaders. If they had had a good, settled leader whom the team respected, it showed immediately in their performances. I'm a little sceptical about the current leadership scenario in Pakistan and the way the team is responding to it. I have nothing against Shoaib Malik; he was the best possible choice the selectors could make. But Pakistan find themselves in a position where they are struggling to get themselves organised with an established leader whom the players respect at the helm. In comparison India look more organised and settled as a unit.

OS: There's a lot of talk in Pakistan, Rameez, about this being a new side, a new era. But you know this as well as anyone that a lot of the players in this side have been around for three to four years. Should we give them that leeway? Is it a new side? If so, how will they perform against India?

RR: There is a mix, but as you have rightly pointed out, Pakistan will depend on the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Shoaib Akhtar. I don't see a lot of youth in this side - most of them have travelled to India before. At the end of the day it will be all about handling pressure. Pakistan, on paper, is clearly a lesser side than India. But in India you need to hold your nerves to win a tight contest, and the team that can do that will win, irrespective of the difference in skill level.

Malik has shown his skills in one-day cricket, but if he has to become a successful Test captain, he's got to work extremely hard on his batting, especially dealing with short-pitched deliveries.

Rameez Raja

The pressure will be on the senior players to perform. I haven't been very excited by whatever I have seen of the youngsters.

OS: The one-day series will be as much a contest between two teams as it will be of the two young captains who have just taken charge of their teams. How do you see Malik and MS Dhoni shaping up? Interestingly, both enjoy good records against each other.

RR: I like what I have seen of Dhoni. He seems calm and relaxed and his composure rubs off on his troops. He keeps it simple and has an uncluttered mind in tense situations, which is great for his team. His wicketkeeping has touched new heights; I would rate him at par with Adam Gilchrist. After becoming captain, he has improved further.

Malik has shown his skills in one-day cricket, but if he has to become a successful Test captain, he's got to work extremely hard on his batting, especially dealing with short-pitched deliveries. That is where I think he will be targeted, and the last thing that Pakistan need is to see their captain bounced out.

SM: I have my own views on the two captains. I think Dhoni is a little more fortunate than Malik to have the kind of team that he has. Indians are easier to handle for a young leader than a Pakistan team. And also, Dhoni is a wicketkeeper primarily, who bats really well. He is respected for his abilities by the players. He had a tough baptism by fire in the ICC World Twenty20, which India won, so he is supremely confident, and then there was Australia. So the series against Pakistan is not going to be that great a test of his nerve or temperament.

Malik has got an unenviable job. He has a few legends of the Pakistani team under him. Dealing with Akhtar isn't going to be easy. And as Rameez said, Malik hasn't had that success at the Test level. Players will respect a player who has excelled at the Test level rather than one who has enjoyed success in the one-day arena only. Malik's position is a lot tougher than that of Dhoni's.

OS: India-Pakistan clashes are inevitably about personalities. This series marks the comeback of Shoaib Akhtar and Virender Sehwag, who have been involved in enthralling face-offs in earlier contests. How do you see that shaping up? What are the other interesting contests within contests you see shaping up? Possibly the two Ys: Younis and Yousuf against Anil Kumble?

SM: More than Sehwag and Akhtar, I think it should be Sachin Tendulkar versus Akhtar. In the recent past Akhtar has enjoyed a slight edge over Tendulkar. But we are also assuming that Akhtar is going to be at his best straightaway. It's not going to be easy for him. He's been out of action for a while and how he handles that attention and pressure will be crucial. It also remains to be seen if he will be fit throughout the series.

More than individual clashes, it is about the team, but if there is one contest that I am looking forward to, it would be Akhtar versus Tendulkar.



Will Shoaib Akhtar self-destruct and flatter to deceive again? © Getty Images

RR: I am looking forward to the Akhtar-Sehwag clash. Both are making a comeback and are looking to prove a point; both are aggressive and street-smart and know when to pull out, so it should be a good contest. It remains to be seen if Akhtar will be fit throughout the series - he has flattered to deceive many times. So the big question is whether the Akhtar threat is for real, or whether he, like he usually does, self-destructs.

I also like the Shahid Afridi versus Harbhajan Singh or Irfan Pathan contest. Pathan has needled Afridi quite a few times. We saw that in the World Twenty20. I also would like to see Yuvraj Singh versus Umar Gul. Gul has improved quite dramatically - he bowls lot of Yorkers; and Yuvraj is a class act.

OS: One of the problems facing both sides, especially Pakistan, is the opening slot. Rameez, how do you see the teams going about it? Salman Butt couldn't find a spot in the playing XI in the one-dayers against South Africa, but all three of his ODI hundreds have come against India. Should he be persisted with?

RR: The Indian selectors have selected five openers and have given a slight headache to Dhoni. Since he's a young leader, you'd want to keep things simple for him. It can also be seen as a problem of plenty for India, and compared to Pakistan, who are playing such an important series without a settled opening pair, India will feel that they have a headstart in this regard.

Coming back to Butt, I think a left-hander can be handy up the order because India have four or five left-arm bowling options, so by default he may get the nod to open. He has had a good run against India, so that may make his case stronger.

SM: If you are talking about one-dayers, India has a pretty settled opening pair in Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar. I must emphasise here that Ganguly will be under tremendous pressure after Rahul Dravid was dropped. It was a strong hint to Ganguly that he needs to put in some extraordinary performances to keep his place, so we'll have to wait and see whether that hampers his approach.

The selection here has been a little strange. Dravid has been dropped from the middle order. There are many options at the top but Dravid's exclusion hasn't been backed up by many middle-order batsmen. For a change there is a bit of leeway for the batsmen in the middle whereas there is a crowd at the top.

I feel for the Pakistani selectors. I have been following Pakistani cricket very closely for the last three to four years. Unfortunately Pakistan hasn't thrown up good openers with convincing abilities to play the new ball. The selectors have tried various combinations, but to be fair to them, I think the fault lies in the system in Pakistan. It's just not throwing up quality openers. That's something Pakistan need to look at.

OS: You've touched on Dravid's exclusion from the first two ODIs. Younis has gone on record to say that it is a mistake. What sort of an impact do you see this having on the Indian batting line-up. How much will they miss his solidity?

SM: One of the healthiest developments in Indian cricket is that no one individual has become indispensable. When Tendulkar was out of the side owing to injury, India were still winning the important games. Even when Ganguly was out, India were winning matches.

I don't see any dramatic impact owing to Dravid's exclusion. But certainly in pressure situations, when you are chasing 280 to win and have lost quick wickets at the top, that is when you need a Dravid to shepherd a Yuvraj or a Dhoni, and take India to win. He is the calm head who would absorb the pressure when India was chasing. India's weakness in recent times has been in chasing targets and that's because Dravid hasn't been firing like he used to.

That is where Pakistan will also miss Inzamam-ul-Haq. The last time they were here, he played an important role in some crucial chases. Younis and Yousuf have to step up and take on Inzamam's role. Likewise India will feel a slight pinch with the absence of Dravid.

RR: Dravid is the most selfless cricketer that I have seen come up from the subcontinental region. He's been honest and been a very honourable character and he will be missed. He may feel a bit cut up with the ouster but the fact is that he was facing serious competition from the younger players.

India has a good pace attack but I am not convinced that it is better than Pakistan's. I think Pakistan's bowlers have more ability in terms of exploiting conditions. Shoaib Akhtar could be a key player for Pakistan. I am looking forward to the Akhtar versus Tendulkar clash. In the recent past Akhtar has enjoyed a slight edge over Tendulkar

Sanjay Manjrekar

India can do away with a wonderful player like Dravid because they have batting depth. Pakistan have to be still careful about losing Inzy. The younger players have not stepped up to take his place. Younis and Yousuf will be under tremendous pressure because they have to carry the pressure of the entire batting unit. Ask any batsman. If his natural game is stifled by the demands of the team, he becomes half the player he was, and two of our major players are in danger of becoming half players.

OS: For the first time in many years, both sides have a very good pace attack. Probably India can match, or even better, Pakistan's pace attack. Sanjay, would you agree?

SM: I think it's a good point that you make, that India has a much better pace attack this time around, but I am not convinced that it is better than Pakistan's.

Zaheer Khan and RP Singh have given us hope, and they are bowlers who are used to bowling on flat pitches and against attacking batsmen. They are going to spearhead the Indian attack in the one-day series.

I think Pakistan's bowlers have more ability in terms of exploiting conditions. Let's not forget that there are a couple of games in the first four matches that have a nine o' clock start, and if Pakistan bowl first, you can expect them to use those conditions beautifully.

OS: How much will Pakistan miss Mohammad Asif?

RR: They will miss him a lot. He's a wicket-taking option at medium pace, and with the early starts I think he could have created a lot of damage. I think his form has slipped a little bit. I wasn't completely convinced with what I saw of him in the series against South Africa. He's struggling for form, and fitness as well, and that is why he hasn't been included in the one-day squad.

OS: You must have been pretty impressed with what you've seen of the Indian pace attack.

RR: I've been very impressed. I think Zaheer has bowled impressively. The thing that strikes me the most about this Indian attack is that they have been very disciplined. They might not have the skill of the Pakistani attack, but if you look at them from a team's point of view, I think they are capable of producing the goods more than Pakistan because they are a disciplined lot.

RP Singh has picked up pace. Pathan is varying his pace, he's become a lot more intelligent. Zaheer is bowling the best that I have seen him bowl in the last two to three years. The options are there. Murai Kartik, who was backed by Dhoni, damaged Australia quite badly. It's a skilful bowling attack and more disciplined than Pakistan.

OS: This series is also a face-off between perhaps the two worst fielding sides in world cricket. Pakistan's fielding was erratic against South Africa and India has also struggled in this department. How much will come down to the fielding aspect, Sanjay?

SM: (laughs) It just says a lot about our culture, doesn't it? India and Pakistan are quite similar: we don't like to do the donkey's work; we get somebody else to do it, so that's why fielding has always been the weakness of our teams. I would like to use the cliché: fielding matters, and it is the better fielding side that will win.

But India-Pakistan clashes have never been about fielding. Pakistan have dropped catches, India have misfielded under pressure; so it's more about the sheer ability of the individuals, and handling pressure in tight situations. Fielding is important if you are looking to become world champions, but when you are just looking to beat Pakistan, you need good batting and bowling, because in the end it evens out. Pakistan will not be saving those extra runs and India's cause will not be helped with with some veterans continuing to play one-day cricket. Fielding almost nullifies itself.

RR: Well, Osman, the good thing is that we will never know who is the worse fielding side. Pakistan will miss Inzamam in the field.

(laughter)

It's never been a fielding spectacle when India and Pakistan play. I still think India has a slight edge because they have Yuvraj, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa - they are all good movers. Pakistan depend too heavily on Malik and Younis.



Sanjay Manjrekar: "Ganguly will be under tremendous pressure after Dravid was dropped and he will need to to put in some extra-ordinary performances to keep his place" © GNNphoto

OS: Rameez, I just want to bring in Kamran Akmal here. Pakistan's last tour to India in 2005 was the real making of him as a cricketer, but he's fallen away drastically since then. How crucial is his performance on this tour for Pakistan?

RR: It will be a very crucial test of his keeping and his mental make-up, because he is under severe threat of losing his position. I think the selectors have made the right choice [to persist with Akmal] because a keeper is a central figure in the team and it wouldn't have made much sense replacing Akmal before an important tour like India. His keeping has certainly gone down. It could be a confidence crisis. Maybe he is technically lacking the ability to ensure that he is counted among the best. But he needs to improve dramatically. I thought keeping didn't matter that much in one-day cricket, but he is dropping crucial catches and that is hurting Pakistan.

The other option is that he could have been rested but Pakistan don't have another keeper in the XVI, so he will have to be played and the pressure will mount on him. He will play all the matches, and if he doesn't perform then the entire team will be affected.

OS: Sanjay, what are your thoughts on this? You've seen the rise of Akmal and now he's probably going the same way as a Parthiv Patel.

SM: I must confess that I have mostly seen Akmal playing well. It's happened to so many keepers - you've mentioned Parthiv as well - and it's not easy for everything to fall into place. Akmal, last time, as you said, rediscovered himself. In fact, I described him as one of the greatest rising stars in world cricket. Who knows, this tour might just revitalise him and help him get back his form because Indian conditions are quite similar to Pakistani conditions and one good performance will give him such a great feeling. I hope his confidence comes back.

OS: This series is the start of a gruelling schedule ahead for both teams. India go to Australia after this and Australia visit Pakistan soon after. How crucial is a victory for both the teams, especially at the start of a busy season?

SM: To be very honest, I don't know when the season starts and when the season ends these days.

(laughter)

What both teams want is a win. Forget about the future and the past. India need to beat Pakistan at home for their fans to remember that as another conquest over their favourite opposition. Pakistan also likewise.

RR: I tend to agree with Sanjay. Forget about building for the future, for either of them losing isn't an option. The future is doomed if you lose this one.

(laughter)

OS: Just rounding things off now. I want both of you to tell me what you think could be the key differentiators between the two sides, and who the players are who could make the difference.

RR: For Pakistan, it will be Afridi in the one-dayers. A lot depends on Yousuf's brilliance in the middle order, now that Inzamam isn't there.

From India's point of view, I like what I have seen of Uthappa. He's smart, his bat speed is magnificent, and he likes to attack, and backs his talking with his batting. He's an aggressive character and that is what you need in one day cricket. Yuvraj has also been very impressive.

SM: For me, from the Indian viewpoint, if Yuvraj, Dhoni and Zaheer have a good series, India will win the one-day series.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, I'd really like to see Akhtar come back into full form and stay for the entire series. So he could be the key player for Pakistan.

More than Younis's batting abilities, it's his qualities as person that are very important and I hope that he, as vice-captain, takes some of the load off Malik. Afridi becomes a key player when you have flat conditions. He generally bowls well, but when it comes to his batting, it is generally dictated by the batting conditions that are prevalent, and here in India the conditions will suit him. He made a great impact last time around so I think he will be one of the key players.

I see India as the clear favourites in the one-day series. Pakistan have a better chance against India in the Test series because of the kind of individual ability that they have. They will be able to challenge India more in the longer version of the game

Sanjay Manjrekar

OS: Finally, what are your predictions for both the Test and the one-day series? Let's start with you Rameez.

RR: I think India start as favourites. What I saw of them against Australia was very impressive. They came back hard and on the last couple of games quite convincingly. They looked like a champion team in Twenty20 cricket. They are battle-hardened; they have played against the best team in the world, and Australia expose your worst qualities. So India would know now how to overcome their deficiencies when they play against Pakistan.

Pakistan would want to have the tag of underdogs. You shouldn't enter India with the cocky attitude of wanting to derail India. It will be a difficult tour for Pakistan because the punch is missing from this side. They looked timid against South Africa and I'd like to question the approach of the Pakistan team. I didn't see anything aggressive about their planning or strategy, so I am a bit disappointed. But India always brings out the best in Pakistan and that is what the players, administrators and fans will be hoping for.

SM: I see India as the clear favourites in the one-day series. Pakistan have a better chance against India in the Test series because of the kind of individual ability that they have. They will be able to challenge India more in the longer version of the game. The only thing that I worry about is the current scenario in Indian cricket. There is pressure on and on the senior players and on the selectors because of the Twenty20 results, to go for youth. Whether that will put more pressure on the senior players and in turn affect their performance and that of the team is something I worry about. If they start worrying about their places then it might affect India in this series.

OS: Well that brings us to the end of this edition of the Cricinfo Round Table. Thank you very much gentlemen for your views. Don't forget to join us again next time, until then, it's me Osman saying goodbye.

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Posted by Sufyan on (November 6, 2007, 11:52 GMT)

agree this pakistani team certainly lacks the punch they cannot beat any top side in the world under present captain and coach

Posted by Nayyer on (November 6, 2007, 8:10 GMT)

Just a thought, put this team in and see the awesome results! Most of these played in under 19 world cup Pakistan won, Bring em in; Get oldies out(except Shoaib Akhtar and Misbah): 1) Imran Nazir (if gets going, he's a treat to watch) 2) Ali Asad (attacking batsman and wicket keeper) 3) Faisal Iqbal 4) Hasnain Abbas (just 20 and already making a mark) 5) Shoaib Malik (still young and learning) 6) Anwar Ali (all rounder) 7) Misbah ul Haq 8) Sohail Tanveer (all rounder) 9) Shoaib Akhtar (Captain) 10)Abdul Rehman 11)Najaf Shah (new Wasim Akram in early 20s)

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