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Sunday, February 13, 2011

'Pakistan can be a surprise package'

Former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik has revealed all in a candid conversation with columnist Boria Majumdar.
Malik may have been disappointed at having not been picked in the Pakistan ICC Cricket World Cup squad, but it hasn’t robbed him of his enthusiasm before the tournament, nor of his enthusiasm to talk about his beloved Pakistan.

Boria Majumdar:
 Disappointed at not having been picked?
Shoaib Malik: Yes, of course. I was very keen to play and like all other cricketers of the world this is the stage where I wanted to leave a mark. A World Cup in the sub-continent is where every cricketer wants to excel and I was no exception. I was in good form in domestic cricket and was hoping I’d make the team. But such is the luck of the draw. Life will move on and I will surely look forward to playing for Pakistan when I get my next opportunity. I was part of the team in the last edition and the team did not do well. Personally, I wanted to do well and erase those memories. But I do hope the team does well and proves that West Indies 2007 was an aberration.

BM: What’s your opinion of the Pakistan team?

SM: It is a very good team, especially for sub-continental conditions. There’s a lot of depth in batting and there are a number of good all-rounders in the team. If the final eleven is picked with prudence, Pakistan can surprise many in the World Cup. But the key is to pick the right combination for the starting eleven.

BM: If you were the skipper what would be your playing XI?

SM: Look, I’d play with two fast bowlers and two spinners with Razzaq as my third seam bowler. The moment you play with three seam bowlers and Razzaq as the fourth pacer you make your attack very predictable. Also, there’s less depth in our spin bowling and the batting too will suffer because Pakistan will then have a very long tail. That’s why for me the key is to get the combination right. I’d start out with Shoaib Akhtar and Wahab Riaz as the two fast bowlers and Razzaq as the third seamer.

BM: And in batting?

SM: The Pakistan batting has a settled look to it. The middle order with Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq is as good as one team in the world. Each of these players are match winners on their day and if they click together and click consistently you can surely expect Pakistan to do what their fans expect them to do. It will be great for Pakistan cricket if the team performs well. It will help people forget the ugly incidents that rocked our cricket in 2010.

BM: Will it help that they go into the tournament as the underdog and that much of the limelight is on India?

SM: Indeed, it will. There’s much less pressure compared to India and this will sure serve the team better. The players will be hungry and, coming off a good series in New Zealand, many will take some real good form into the tournament. It is essentially to start well and if that happens you get the momentum to go on and do well. Pakistan is a mercurial side and has an abundance of talent. It is imperative that the players all come together and give their best at cricket’s biggest stage. If the bulk of the players do so, Pakistan will sure make the semi-finals. Then it is anyone’s game.

BM: Coming to India, how would you rate Dhoni and his team?

SM: They are a very good side. They have some fantastic players in their team and the key is that many of them are proven match winners. Yusuf Pathan, for example, was a revelation in the recent South Africa series and I think will surely be the one to watch out for. Sachin and Sehwag at the top of the order are a great opening pair and the Indian batting is perhaps the best balanced line-up going into the tournament. Harbhajan Singh can well be their trump card in bowling. They also have good variety in pace and their part-timers like Yuvraj are also doing a very good job and giving Dhoni a lot many options before the tournament.

BM: Now that you are not playing, what are your plans during the World Cup?

SM: I will be in India all through the world cup doing some television work. It cannot take away from the fact that I will miss the action but this is the next best thing I can do. I will be following Pakistan closely and will hope and pray they have a good tournament.
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