August 09, 2020
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'Azhar Is Too Tense To Help His Team'

He is cricket's most charismatic personality and, perhaps, even more of a crowd-puller than Sachin Tendulkar. In London as a TV commentator and fund collector for his hospital and political party, the Tehrik-i-Insaf, Imran Khan takes time out to spea

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'Azhar Is Too Tense To Help His Team'
Whom would you like to see win after Pakistan?
Obviously India. If the West Indies wins just 2-3 million people will be happy. In the UK the game is going down the drain anyway. But in India, a billion people will be happy.

How do you rate this Indian team?
I see some good things happening. I think the generally under-rated Srinath is by far the best fast bowler to have come out of India. Prasad is good support. The problem is that they're one Test bowler short, and that reflects even in the one-day side. This lack was very apparent against South Africa, 250-odd was defendable if they had an extra bowler.That makes the difference. Pakistan got 229 against the West Indies in somewhat similar conditions. After the first 15 overs the West Indies didn't look like getting the target. That's because of the Pakistani bowling and attitude. They attacked all the time. They weren't defensive. But again, Pakistan has five good bowlers, India only three. Agarkar lacks experience and is not in the Pakistan class.

And the batting?
With Sachin the line-up is as good as any. He, of course, can win a match on his own. Ganguly looked good in the first match. I thought he could have accelerated but he started looking for his 100. If I was the captain, and any player started playing for personal landmarks I would drop him. It sets a bad example for the team.

Would Ajay Jadeja have been a better choice as captain?
There's no doubt Jadeja has tremendous enthusiasm for the game. His body language is very positive. Azhar seems under a lot of pressure. Whether it's the pressure of expecting to lose his captaincy or if he's just desperate to do well, it's translating into a very negative body language. It could change if India starts winning. I get the feeling that no one has told him to relax and not let the pressure show. The team looks up to the captain. And when they see him under pressure it's bad. Mind you every captain is tense. I saw Allan Border in '92 and he was shivering, in spite of being experienced. The main person affected by pressure is the bowler, and the last thing he wants to see is the tense and drawn-out face of a captain coming towards him. At times a bowler never thinks straight. Like Agarkar against South Africa, you could see as the pressure mounted he needed someone to relax him, to guide him, but Azhar himself was so tense that he couldn't help. I think after Sunny Gavaskar no Indian captain has commanded that respect from the players.

How has the game evolved in the World Cups that you have played in and seen since 1975?
The evolution has basically been in fielding. It has improved beyond recognition from when I first played the game. Secondly, there are two approaches evolving in World Cup cricket. England, for instance, are very defensive with three all-rounders who neither specialise in batting or bowling. They are bits and pieces players. Mind you, it's an approach that can still succeed. The other way is Wasim Akram's where he attacks all the way. His off-spinner was attacking with a silly point. He didn't set a defensive field. It was an attacking move to set a target for the West Indies.Let's see which approach succeeds, but remember we won the '92 Cup playing aggressive cricket.

Akram seems to have transformed himself into an inspirational leader.
The most unfortunate thing to have happened to Pakistan cricket was that the Board allowed a players' rebellion to succeed against him. He'd just become captain and was in the learning process. No one's born a captain. Akram made his share of mistakes but that didn't mean they should have removed him. Look at Australia and South Africa, they persist with one man. By removing Akram as captain they set in motion a chain of events, and they had to experiment with many others before coming back to him. And he did well to beat the Windies 3-0 and winning the Benson-Hedges in Australia for the first time.

But he seems to have a kind of split personality. What with the match-fixing inquiry, and some players bringing charges against him...
As far as I know, no results have come out of the inquiry the judgment is yet to be given. But it certainly has destroyed us as a team. The Board should have taken strong action. Clearly, match-fixing was done. I believe it was done in '93-94. We still don't know who the culprits are. The inquiry, as it is, came four-five years too late. Unfortunately, the players who've been coming out with the charges have all been out of the team. In 1987 Qasim Omar brought some drug-related charges against us. I told General Zia that he should conduct an inquiry and if we were found innocent we were never going to play with that player again. An inquiry was done and he was subsequently banned for life.

Who would you rate as the best four captains in this World Cup?
Generally all the great captains have been all-rounders. Captaincy is about understanding the psyche of a bowler, being inspirational yourself. Wasim looks the best so far. Cronje is also an inspirational leader, but I was a little puzzled with the ear-piece thing in the match with India. If a captain needs a coach to tell him what to do what is he there for? I could never understand anyone giving me instructions. Apart from this your own thought processes would be interrupted if someone was speaking in your ear!

I thought Lara's captaincy in South Africa was atrocious. Particularly his bowling changes. He was clueless.The South Africans are good fighters. That helps, unlike the Indians who go to pieces if there is no one there to lead them. Pakistan too is like that sometimes. In Australia and South Africa the players rally around the captain, unlike in India and Pakistan where four factions emerge trying to pull the captain down. Steve Waugh should do well too. His personality shows that he is a trier. Alec Stewart too is a 100 per cent trier. He leads from the front and is very intense, but that can sometimes be a disadvantage. But I don't see any innovations in his approach, he's defensive.

Could Sachin leave a mark on this tournament? How do you rate him as a player?
His range of shots and power is amazing. He's a thinking cricketer. To be fair I haven't seen too much of him. But since he's mentally organised the sky is the limit for him. Inzamam is the best player of fast bowling I've seen after Richards but he's not mentally organised. Viv Richards was endowed with tremendous ability. The man was a freak. A genius. His figures don't do him justice. He would entertain the crowd, and get out because he was bored.

And Shoaib Akhtar?
Well, Donald is quick and McGrath is possibly the most consistent. But Shoaib is a yard quicker than both. What's more, the lad has got a big heart and he's young. I gave him a shabashi after the match with the Windies. The first ball he bowled went for a six over third man. Richie Benaud went on about it for 15 minutes saying he'd never seen that happen. If the sun comes out and the wickets are a little dry he might leave an indelible mark on the tournament. A fast bowler steaming in is a great sight. Look at the way the crowd responds. They love him.

In your '92 Cup victory speech you never once mentioned the team...
It was an oversight. I wasn't expecting to speak. Also, I never was much of a speaker. The hospital thing was also swirling in my mind...It was not arrogance.

Which was greater, India's '83 victory or yours in '92?
In '83 it was David vs Goliath. India struck a purple patch. What they did was remarkable. We were up against no Goliath.

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