I’d never drop Sehwag: Raja

"Sehwag’s form can get frustrating, but the guy has loads of talent," the former Pakistan captain said.

Calcutta: Former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja spoke to The Telegraph from Colombo on Saturday evening. The one-on-one focused on the India versus Pakistan World Twenty20 clash some 24 hours later.

Ramiz, incidentally, is also a former CEO of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

The following are excerpts

Q What’s your gut feeling on the eve of the big match?

A I expect a very good contest between two highly talented teams. Pakistan probably have the edge after pulling through on Friday (against South Africa). Having said that, it’s important to live in the present and not take comfort in what has gone by. Having won all three games in the tournament, Pakistan are going with the flow; India not quite.

Will Pakistan’s win over India in the practice match also have a bearing?

Look, the feel-good factor is important in India-Pakistan games and Pakistan did have a good win almost a fortnight ago... India need to tighten up on their bowling and the T20 variations must come into play... The slower bouncer, the widish yorker... I don’t see them.

As things stand, the pressure is all on India. Can’t be too happy a situation for Mahendra Singh Dhoni...

The pressure is more on India, for it’s almost a matter of survival... If India lose, then they’ll almost surely be out. But this is not to say there’s no pressure on Pakistan, for any loss to India invites a backlash.

Did the teams’ opening Super Eight fixtures go the way you expected them?

Well, at one stage, I thought Pakistan were gone... In fact, they won against the run of play, thanks to Umar Gul’s 32 off 17... India probably thought that 140 would be competitive, but it wasn’t... Teams must understand that the pitch at the Premadasa isn’t one where even bad balls will fetch wickets.

Gul’s was a stunning knock...

Yes, indeed... (Laughs) I’d been praying for the best, but preparing a losing ‘speech’ for the presentation ceremony! But, then, it’s not without reason that Pakistan have a reputation for being unpredictable, of pushing the fans to the edge of their seats. Often, there’s unnecessary drama.

Weren’t India rather conservative while batting against Australia?

Wickets fell in a heap and the Australians bowled very well... Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc... They bowled an unorthodox length... Bowled short, too... Obviously, they had a plan and it didn’t help India that Virat Kohli got out in the eighth over.

Would you have dropped Virender Sehwag to accommodate the third spinner?

I’d never drop Sehwag, who is such an impact batsman. Also, why unsettle the Sehwag-(Gautam) Gambhir pair? Sehwag’s form can get frustrating, but the guy has loads of talent and the ability to play for 15 overs or so... Why waste him in the dressing room? Whether India should field three specialist spinners is another matter altogether.

Australia’s been most impressive... What were your expectations from them on the eve of the tournament?

I’d seen sparks of brilliance in the UAE, but the Australians weren’t consistently good there. Frankly, I’d expected them to have one good match, but they’ve been outstanding.

Getting back to India and Pakistan, what do you feel will make the difference?

From Pakistan’s point of view, their bowling is the key as India bat deep... If the Indian batsmen get going, then Pakistan will find it very tough... However, if 160 is the par score, then India will have to score 15 more as their bowling isn’t quite up to it... Getting the par score alone won’t do for India.

Who is the trump card for India and who fits that bill for Pakistan?

Kohli has a good record against Pakistan, so he’s right up there... But it could also be Sehwag or Gambhir or Rohit Sharma... I’m a big fan of the latter... Pakistan’s trump card could be Saeed Ajmal... Could also be Shahid Afridi... India’s batsmen play spin very well, so Pakistan’s attack has to be well thought out. Equally, India have to get their XI right, they’ve got to pick the right combination.

How has Mohammed Hafeez been captaining? He looks rather relaxed...

Hafeez has done a good job, there’s a lot of pressure, but he’s given a good account of himself. He’s been fielding the right combination and is himself a good all-round cricketer... (After a pause) Generally, though, you don’t need a great mind to captain in T20.

As it turns out, Hafeez is sharing dressing room space with former captains. Does he have their absolute support?

He’s kept the team together... This is a disciplined unit and we have two captains (Misbah-ul Haq in Tests and ODIs)... In the years gone by, such a scenario was unimaginable.

What has been the role played by coach Dav Whatmore? How much credit should he get?

I’d give more credit to the captain, the coaching staff comes later... I’ve been told that Whatmore runs the nets sessions very well and has given Hafeez the freedom to operate... The parameters are well defined, which is good... The captain and the coach know where they stand. My view is that the captain has to be strong.

Are turmoils, then, a thing of the past for Pakistan cricket?

I think so... People seem to have learnt from the experiences of the past... Today, the team does appear to be a tight knit unit.

What do you make of Dhoni as captain?

Dhoni’s cool... T20 can turn out to be a nightmare and you could lose the plot all too quickly, but he stays calm. I suppose he’s reconciled to experiencing both the good days and bad. Eventually, it gets down to handling pressure.

Your thoughts on Yuvraj Singh’s comeback...

He’s been extremely brave and, having gone through it all, is a shining example of what can be done. Perhaps, he still needs to get used to the pace of the game, though. Needs to play more.

The last one... What does it take to succeed in T20?

Presence of mind, for things happen very quickly... It’s fatal if you fall behind the pace. You then risk being overrun... You’ve got to be spot on with the variations and you’ve got to be bold with the improvisations. T20 is a tough format and the matches take plenty out of the players. Very demanding I’d say.


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