A Candid Interview With Saeed Anwar – By Nadeem Khan

For once, a buccaneering effort by the lithe Pakistani opener went in vain, although his 140 in the third Coca Cola Independence Cup Final against India, following his record busting 194 a few months ago against the same team, firmly established Saeed Anwar as India’s chief scourge. Saeed’s latest hundred was built around his biggest asset: his ability to block out the crowd, unpleasant playing conditions, the tension, and the frequently bizarre batting dramatics of Afridi. He is a modest man who is least impressed by the size and frequency of his one-day hundreds, claiming it is only fair to bat as long as possible when runs can be made; which, when you think about it, is perfectly logical. In a sport where every other athlete pretends to be a stuffy egomaniac, Anwar stands apart. Which is why I rate him as the period’s best one-day batsman.

It is nearly 2:30 in the morning (Pakistan time) and after several tries, I finally get through to Anwar…on his cellular phone. He is surfing the net, he tells me; which explains why I couldn’t reach him at his regular number. He is surprisingly alert, and sounds happy to have reestablished contact with me. “It seems like you are interested in interviewing me only after I make a big hundred,” he laughs.

I know this is a loaded question, but what went wrong in the third final against India? A target of 315 runs from 48 overs under those conditions would have given almost any fielding team better odds.

Well, several things happened. First the light was bad, really bad. Then the ball was changed several times. When play started after the interruption, we were given a new ball. And since Saqlain was bowling, being a spinner, it became difficult for him to grip the ball. But there is no doubt that we badly missed Wasim and Waqar. With their pace, it would have been interesting to see if the Indians would have made it.

Can you pick one particular moment during the Indian innings that stands out in your opinion as the one where Pakistan actually lost the advantage?

Oh, there were too many lapses on our part. I think we missed stumping chances off both Ganguly and Singh. And the dropped catches, particularly Aaquib’s dropped catch of Ganguly was crucial.

What about Azhar Mahmood’s over, the 5th of the Indian innings when Tendulkar hit him for 4 consecutive fours?

Well, basically Azhar is an all-rounder, and not really a strike bowler. By selecting him to open our bowling, we were always taking a risk. But then the other choice was Fazle Akbar, and since Azhar is a better batsman, we had to go with him.

Do you think the Pakistani players were a bit overconfident initially?

I think we were confident. I wouldn’t say we were overconfident. The wicket was a beautiful batting surface, and we knew runs could be made easily if batsmen just hung around.
When the umpires led the Pakistan team off the field in the 39th over, did you guys think you might have won the game?

I think we did. There was no celebration because we weren’t very thrilled about winning in that manner.

What changed the umpires’ mind? What brought them back on the field?

A couple of things. Azharuddin stayed out there in the middle, and protested. He talked to Rashid Latif and after consulting with his players, I think Rashid decided it was only fair to continue playing.

Why wasn’t Mushtaq Ahmed played?

We had two leg-spinners already, and, we felt, for those conditions, they were better options.

In hindsight, how badly were Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis missed?

I am confident the results would have been different…probably in our favor.
I see now that the team for the South African tour has been announced; Wasim Akram is missing from the list and so is Shahid Afridi. Did you expect this?

Wasim, I think, has a hamstring problem. I spoke to him a few minutes ago, and he was quite disappointed at not being able to take part. As for Shahid Afridi, I think the Board feels that he is not ready for Test cricket; I think they are molding him into a specialist one-day opener; hopefully he will make it back.

Do you prefer Shahid Afridi to Aamir Sohail as an opening partner?

Aamir is definitely a better batsman. He has a sound technique and temperament. He needs to learn to play a longer innings. He has played more than 50 matches so far, but has only one hundred. That is not good enough. But he is still young so he has time.

Are you surprised that Aamir Sohail’s promotion to vice-captaincy, given that he was dropped/banned a few months ago?

Not really. I think the selectors are backing Rashid Latif up so if he decides to not lead, they have an experienced player ready. And since I refused the Captaincy, I think Aamir was their logical choice.

You had a short and somewhat unsuccessful stint as Captain. If asked to do so, would you consider leading the side again?

There were other factors that contributed to my failure. My batting didn’t click. Our main bowlers were suffering from injuries. But, yes, if asked to lead again, I would. Not now, though. Maybe a year or so from now.

You have a knack of converting 50s and 60s into hundreds, especially big hundreds against India. Why does it come so easy to you?

Other than Srinath, India doesn’t have a good strike bowler. It is quite easy to score five runs an over and play a longer innings. That’s what I try to focus on-playing a long innings.

What do you think of the present crop of Indian bowlers?

Srinath’s good. They are missing Kumble. The others are young and will get better with experience.

Any predictions about Pakistan’s performance in South Africa?

It will be an interesting contest. I think South Africa is on a bit of a roll; be we aren’t pessimistic. We have the firepower to do well. Inshallah, we will do well.

Saeed, I thank you for your time, and wish you plenty of luck for the tour of South Africa-not that you need it.

The Interview Transcript and article text are reproduced here with the permission of Nadeem Khan

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