NEW DELHI - Pakistan cricket legend Imran Khan lamented that the match-fixing scandal has robbed the country of two match winning bowlers M Asif and M Aamir. "Imagine if they were playing in this Pakistan team. Pakistan would be a formidable attack," said Imran during a panel discussion on NDTV after Pakistan's six-wicket triumph in the first one-day international against India.
The duo along with then Pakistan captain Salman Butt were found guilty of spot-fixing during the Lord's Test against England in the summer of 2010. When asked whether Pakistan were reliving the glory days despite this scandal after Junaid Khan ripped through India's top order to have them tottering at 29 for 5, Imran admitted that "match fixing has taken a big toll on Pakistan".
"Those two bowlers Asif and specially Aamir are a big loss," said the former Pakistan captain himself a fast bowler. "In world cricket today there are not many match winning bowlers. In the past you had (Muttiah) Muralitharan and Shane Warne... two match winning spinners. Then you had (Glenn) McGrath, curtley Ambrose, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, (Andrew) Flintoff for a brief while. Today if you look at Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel now and then," said Imran.
"On all conditions you don't have bowlers who can run through a team. In Pakistan you had Aamir was certainly a match winner, Asif was one of best new ball bowlers," he added. He said these two bowlers along with seven-footer Irfan and Saeed Ajmal could have made Pakistan an even more formidable attack. Asked what was the secret behind Pakistan producing top quality fast bowlers, Imran said: "I think it where they come from the north of Pakistan or Punjab, they are physically athletic and their bodies are more equipped for fast bowling." He warned that Irfan has to be looked after if he is to continue making an impact because "he is going to have fitness problems because he is too tall".
On India's new find Bhuvneshwar Kumar who took a wicket with his first delivery in one-day internationals, Imran said he "swings the ball". "To get wickets you need air speed. The greatest bowlers are one who can use air speed and move the ball. Or you have to swing the ball which is what Kumar did. Or you should have bounce. Irfan the tall Pakistan bowler at his height gets bounce. You have to have something extraordinary to deceive the batsman with movement or bounce of the wicket," explained Imran.
He described Indian captain MS Dhoni unbeaten 113 as an "exceptional innings in the circumstances". "This match could have been over in two or three hours but for the splendid innings he played. It was one of the best innings," he added. Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar who took part in the same panel discussion, also lauded Dhoni for his magnificent century. "There is no question about him being an outstanding cricketer in limited overs cricket. We have seen over the years how he has turned matches with his batting in 50 overs format and T20 as well. Today was one of all time great innings in the history of Indian cricket," said the former Indian skipper.
He defended India's top order for the sorry batting spectacle saying they were dismissed to very exceptional deliveries. "Sometimes it happens in cricket. Batsmen play and miss, ball goes over the stumps, catches are dropped. In this instance four of five were clean bowled. Also tells of the accuracy of bowling and there was superb catch taken at third slip. I wouldn't blame batsmen. With these type of deliveries you have to be lucky to survive," he said.
He also refused to criticise coach Duncan Fletcher for the series of poor performances by India. With the Indian board unlikely to renew his tenure and former Indian captain Saurav Ganguly saying there was no need for a foriegn coach, Imran and Gavaskar had interesting comments to make on this issue.
"Coaches can't really do much. At the end of the day, guys on the field have to deliver. What coach can do is set up a work ethic for players to practice diligently in a manner to see an improvement in their game," said Gavaskar. "Coach is an over rated position. I would rather have something like a mentor because at international level players need guidance not nitty gritty of technique," he added.
Imran agreed that it would be "ideally nice to have a coach from your own country, if he has the calibre." "In India and Pakistan particularly, if he is from own country they tend to get controversial," he added. Pakistan's World Cup winning captain was of the considered opinion that a "good coach can be someone who has been a good Test captain because eventually the greatest job of a coach is to help the current captain to plan and critically analyse the game".