'Match-fixing set Pakistan back by five or seven years'

Talking cricket - episode 5 - full (23:35)

Talking cricket - episode 5 - full (23:35)

Watch and read part two of the interview here

Let's talk about the turmoil of being a Pakistan cricketer. You've been involved as a player, coach, captain. Has a lot changed in Pakistan cricket or is it still pretty much the same as it was in 1989?
I come from a very small town in southern Punjab, called Vehari. I have seen lots of ups and downs. I have seen Pakistan winning titles and also seen a lot of controversies during that time. Yes, Pakistan cricket is struggling a little bit at the moment. We have issues, but you know the system. From that day till now things have moved, not changed. There's no real consistency in the team as well as in the management. I think that's where the actual problem is. We have been administrated by army men, politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats. Cricket is led by a lot of different people.

Despite these problems, we see the emergence of such special cricketers from Pakistan. How does that happen?
In the subcontinent we have a lot of talented cricketers. If I go back to Fazal Mahmood's time, I don't really know much about how the system worked then, but I thought the system was a little better than what we have now. We had fewer teams. I'm not saying that we don't have the talent but I think we've lost a bit of it because we've got too many teams playing first-class cricket. In those days we had only around eight first-class teams. It was very difficult to play first-class cricket those days. I still remember when I first played my first first-class game, and it was a dream come true for me. I don't want to take cricket away from any kid in Pakistan. They all deserve it. I come from a small town, so I know how important it is. There should be serious competition - that's how you produce top cricketers, and I feel that that is lacking in Pakistan at the moment.

The story goes that Imran Khan spotted you bowling on television and said, who is this kid, I want him to play for me. What do you remember of that time?
When Imran saw me, he saw me on television, so I must have done something to get to television. I played under-16 and u-19 for Pakistan, and I played against the Indians as well. We played against the Jadejas, Mongias, [Jatin] Paranjpe was a very fine cricketer. I was in the camp for the youth World Cup but I couldn't manage to get into the team.

Imran was sick, he wasn't coming to the camp, and I was dying to see him. He saw me playing that match on television over the weekend. The first thing he said to me was, "You're going to Sharjah." It was probably he who was running the whole show.

The art of learning how to bowl fast - was that something you learned prior to joining the Pakistan team?
When I came in, I knew a lot of things and a lot of hard work was put into it.

Fast bowling is a very natural act. Nowadays there's a lot of coaching involved and you tell people how to swing the ball. But you cannot teach someone to bowl fast. You're born with it. You can improve maybe to a certain degree, but when it comes to genuine pace, you cannot make a medium-pacer into a genuine fast bowler. I was very lucky that I had that skill, and on top of that I had put lot of hard work into it.

When I was first selected, I knew a lot of things some of the guys were doing at the top level, like reverse swing. And I was very lucky that I had Imran Khan as a captain, as a role model. The first thing Imran told me when I played my first game was, "Here is the ball, run in and bowl fast." He never allowed me to slow down or just hit the areas.

Things like wrist position, how to construct a spell, how to set up a batsman - was that learnt on the job for you?
I think it was very naturally taught. I had Wasim Akram, who had already played for a little while, Azeem Hafeez was just sort of finishing, Saleem Jaffar was there, we had Imran. It was easier to learn just by watching them. I back the system through which I have come from.

"When Imran captained, nobody else competed as captain or wanted to captain because he was a genuine leader and people looked up to him. He was simply brilliant"

Imran was captain for the first two or three years of your career and then he retired. Did you sense in your remaining years that the Pakistani captaincy lost a bit of authority, that it wasn't the same kind of figure because of all the chopping and changing?
Yes, you can say that. It did work for a little while after that, when Javed Miandad took it from him and then Wasim became captain. We were also lucky in that span when Imran captained that nobody else competed as captain or wanted to captain because he was a genuine leader and people looked up to him. He was simply brilliant.

We had good captains like Javed Miandad, Wasim, Saleem Malik, and then there were so many captains in that short span that we got confused over who is the right man for that job.

And then the media. I think the pressure from the media has probably been more in the last ten years. Before that, there was more focus on the game, and even the cricket board was more focused on the game.

Why aer there so many well-documented difficulties in player relationships within the Pakistani system? Was this a bigger problem in the Pakistan team than the other set-ups that you saw around the world?
I don't know. It's a very tough question to answer because there were difficulties, we had a lot of controversies. In the '90s and into the 2000s, controversies were part of most of the teams around the world. It's tough to pinpoint why. Insecurity maybe, maybe policies of the cricket board. There were no real harsh steps taken at times when they were needed.

Do you regret some of the things that happened, especially with Wasim, the fact that your great comrade was not really a friend for many years of your playing career?
I am really good friends with Wasim bhai. He has always been an elder brother, he supported and helped me on and off the field. Yes, we had issues. He didn't have issues with me alone but we had issues in the team those days, which I do regret at times because it did not really help Pakistan cricket. We had issues off the field but when we walked on to the field it was a different ball game altogether. We wanted to compete with each other, we wanted to take more wickets than the other, and I think in a way, it did help. It was ugly those days but we were younger and we didn't know much, and now we are wiser.

During the match-fixing era, there was a lot of factionalism in the team. Did that impact your career in any way?
We were all above all those controversies. We had match-winners in our team, guys like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aaqib Javed, Moin Khan. That was the golden period of Pakistan cricket. When you have so many stars in the team, they are going to have issues.

One question that gets asked by a lot of people is why someone would want to be captain of Pakistan. What were the challenges you faced?
I enjoyed it. When I became captain I had about six or seven ex-captains who were under me. It was not easy, and the 2003 World Cup was a clear example of that. It's the cricket board's duty or a policy should be there to pick a captain for a longer period. We have seen around the world that captains who have led for good eight-nine years have had major success. We just pick out of the box. At one stage we had three or four captains changed within a year or so.

"We had issues off the field but when we walked on to the field it was a different ball game altogether. We wanted to compete with each other" On Wasim Akram

Did you feel that you had the support of the entire team, or were there problems there as well?
We played poorly in 2003. We were a very fine side, but if you ask me what was going on behind my back, I don't know, to be very honest. There are a lot of teams that have gone out of the first round, they were probably the favorites for the tournament. These things happen.

How much of an impact did match-fixing and a controversy leave on you as an individual? Did that wear you down? Did you think that you were treated shabbily? Or did you think that in that environment the criticism was fair?
I think the entire cricketing circuit in Pakistan suffered because of that. Not only in Pakistan but in India as well. To me it was very upsetting. It was not what we wanted, not what the cricket board wanted. But the whole episode really put Pakistan behind maybe five or seven years compared to the other teams. It did pull me down as a cricketer for a little while but I came out of it. I've always been a fighter, and I led Pakistan after that and I coached Pakistan also.

Watch ESPNcricinfo Talking Cricket at 9.30pm IST on Fridays and the repeat on 12 noon on Sundays on SONYESPN