Let cricket be the winner, at all times: Zaheer Abbas

Calcutta: Former Pakistan captain Zaheer 'Zed' Abbas, among the most majestic of batsmen in any era, spoke to The Telegraph from New Delhi on Wednesday evening. Prolific for Pakistan and Gloucestershire, Zaheer scored as many as 108 first-class hundreds over two decades.

In fact, of the 25 batsmen who're in that most exclusive club, Zaheer alone is from the subcontinent.

The following are excerpts from the 30-minute interview

Q Zed, the first Revival Series is remembered as the Zaheer Abbas show (583 runs at an average of 194.33 in the three-Test series). Well, 34-35 years on, what are your memories?

A Great memories. That 1978-79 series was the first bilateral contest in almost two decades, and I recall the enthusiasm was incredible. On both sides of the border, I was told.

Did you especially prepare for that series?

(Laughs) If you're in form, then it's criminal to vacate the crease. You should stay put for as long as possible. Also, a good player is a good player!

That series gave Kapil Dev to the game...

Of course, he got a nice welcome into the premier division.

Isn't it sad that we only have revival series' and not regular exchanges?

Mujhe pata nahin hum dono ko kiski nazaar lag gaye... A spell has been cast... The bilateral series' should be regular.

But is it possible for politics to be kept out of Indo-Pak cricketing relations?

The people who matter should look at the benefits of regularly playing cricket... There'll definitely be less tension between our countries.

As a respected former captain, do you have a message for both Islamabad and New Delhi?

Let cricket be the winner, at all times.

Happy with this latest Revival Tour, despite it being so short?

I'm grateful to your Board for inviting us and I'm glad that the Pakistan Cricket Board kept pursuing it. Now, I hope India will tour Pakistan, for that would send a massive signal to the rest of the world.

But even Bangladesh have decided not to go...

It's a setback and very disappointing. In fact, very disheartening.

The last time that any team toured Pakistan was almost four years ago. Realistically, then, when could international cricket return to Pakistan?

Look, I can hope that the day isn't far off... Hope it's sooner rather than later. India's final match on the last tour (2005-06) was in Karachi and I remember the standing ovation given to the Indian cricketers... The game is there to unite, not divide. Usko aap mat bhoolen.

Moving away from Indo-Pak cricket, is the game actually in a healthy state?

There are too many ODIs and there should be less of T20s too... If this is not reviewed, then you won't have cricketers who'll be remembered for generations. The Indians, I feel, look tired. They're playing almost all 12 months in a year. I'm aware that T20 has opened up an opportunity to earn big bucks, but nothing is more important than playing for your country. That must come first.

Would you have enjoyed playing the T20 format?

Let me answer this a little differently... Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar) and I were watching a T20 International between Pakistan and New Zealand in Dubai, where a batsman nicked one past the vacant slips cordon and got a big applause... I turned to Sunny and he said: 'If we'd played like that, then the punishment would have been to run five rounds of the ground'! Clearly, it's very different today... But if such shots are going to be applauded, then where are you going to find another Gavaskar or a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid?

T20, therefore, is harming cricket...

Absolutely. Soon, you won't have bowlers for Test cricket... They'll be happy bowling four overs in a day and not be ready to bowl 44 in a Test match... Look at India, there are no top-class bowlers... I don't wish to be critical, but that's the reality... At onetime, India had such great spinners... Four of them together... Where are the world-class spinners now? Your spinners would give us batsmen sleepless nights... I'd be worried ki unko kaise khela jaye.

How is it that Pakistan keeps producing such outstanding fast bowlers, Junaid Khan being the latest?

We've always had great fast bowlers... In Pakistan, to really earn respect as a cricketer, you've either got to be a good batsman or a quality fast bowler. Youngsters take pride in bowling quick.

It's becoming a trend to split the captaincy... Are you in favour of two captains or would you like only one to call the shots across the three formats?

You could have a younger person captaining in T20, but an experienced head is needed for Tests and ODIs.

Are you pleased with the way Misbah-ul Haq and Mohammed Hafeez have been captaining Pakistan?

Having two captains seems to be working fine.

What's your take on Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has been getting plenty of stick in recent months?

What can Dhoni do if he doesn't have the bowlers? He doesn't have a fifth bowler in limited overs cricket... However, I'll add that Dhoni ends up playing too much cricket over the 365 days... Also, you've got to perform... You're expected to deliver the goods... If a change has to be made in the captaincy, then India could have a fresh face captaining in T20. I wouldn't remove Dhoni from all the formats.

It's generally held that good teams make good captains...

That's always the case... The West Indies for a decade from around the mid Seventies, Australia in the first seven-eight years of this millennium... Sourav Ganguly had a good attack at his disposal, there was variety... You can win some matches courtesy your batsmen, but to be No.1, and to remain there, you need good bowlers, you need bowlers with the ability to take 20 wickets in a Test.

You've been a Sachin admirer. Should he have retired from the ODIs now, or after this series, or earlier? What's the future you see for him?

Sachin's great... I wouldn't like to offer a comment... He's the best judge of every situation he finds himself in.

But playing in only one format (Tests) could make things difficult even for a great...

Possibly.

I suppose it's never easy when a professional sportsman decides to retire... How did it go for you?

(Pauses) It's always tough... But if we talk of cricket, only the player knows just how his body is doing... Nobody else can sit in judgement. Sirf player hi jaanta hai... That's the physical side, but there's also the mental aspect. You could become weary in the mind, stop enjoying what you've been doing.

Are you disappointed at not being able to come to Calcutta?

Very disappointed... But I have to honour my commitment to India TV and, more important, I don't have a visa for Calcutta... Mr (Jagmohan) Dalmiya invited me personally, but there are issues why I can't be present at the felicitation of the former captains at Eden Gardens.

Pakistan's taken the lead in the three-match series. What do you expect to happen in the last two ODIs?

I expect a titanic tussle... The team which holds nerve will win. That's always so in Indo-Pak matches.

The last one... Your one-time teammate, Imran Khan, is taking big strides in the field of politics. Your thoughts...

I wish Imran well, I wish him luck... We need young people (to run the country).

Matches

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