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Junaid Khan is just like me: Akram

Let me wish all my readers a very Happy New Year!

Let’s hope 2013 brings as much good tidings from the India vs Pakistan series as in the last week of 2012.


Pakistan fast bowler Junaid Khan during the first ODI against India in Chennai last Sunday. Pic/S Sukumar 

The toss played a crucial part in Chennai on Sunday, but wasn’t Junaid Khan just terrific? Two years ago, I recommended him to Lancashire for a season.

He picked loads of wickets and learnt a lot. The club was just thrilled to have him. Today, at 23, he has loads of experience and has picked around 250 first-class wickets averaging 20.00-21.00.

In some ways, the way he sprints in for every ball, he reminds me of myself. I just don’t understand why Pakistan keep dropping him every now and then. Junaid needs to play every format of the game for his country.

Pakistan tried a lot of things after having India on the ropes at 29 for five, but when Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays such an exceptional innings, what can one do? He played some incredible shots. All those calling for his head need to relax now.

Remember, if you change the captain at this time, there will be quite a mess and Dhoni is the right choice for me.

Inexperienced bowling
He tried a lot of things with the bowling, but unfortunately India’s bowling is so inexperienced that they struggled because the conditions were unfavourable and the ball was getting wet. Misbah-ul-Haq was good with his bowling changes too.

At 30, Mohammad Irfan’s fitness is not top-notch. The Pakistan Cricket Board needs to step in here and take care of him — help with his diet, training and other aspects. In Pakistan, if you are dropped, you are out of sight unless you are at a national camp.

The PCB needs to look after the bowlers just like BCCI does at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore where India’s injured fast bowlers are recuperating. That’s the sort of support you need.

For India, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was simply unplayable in Chennai and is getting better with every game. Ishant Sharma looked average, but Ashok Dinda tried just like he always does. I would like to see Shami Ahmed in action during this series and it will be interesting to see the kind of temperament he has.

Shami is nippy, he has got pace and bowls upward of 138 kmph. He likes to run in and wants to train hard. India need to nurture him. In our culture, a coach needs to talk to younger players to get the best out of them. I hope India’s bowling coach is doing that with Shami. He has picked wickets in domestic cricket and on ‘A’ tours to West Indies and New Zealand. Some of the Indian players I have spoken to say he is quite sharp.

Lack of fifth bowler
India’s problem is the fifth bowler. Together, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli gave away around 80 runs and India must find a way to play the fifth bowler. Dhoni needs to take more responsibility as a batsman or they need to find an all-rounder — someone like Irfan Pathan, who needs to be told to bat and fill the fifth bowler’s slot.

I understand Dhoni’s grouse about the new one-day rules. They were brought in because between the game was getting boring between Overs 15 and 40, when players, umpires, commentators and others are on auto pilot.

Now with new rules, bowlers may get hit, but the cricket might get interesting. One-day cricket cannot become a drag just like the Chennai game became at one point.

Once the teams get used to it, maybe then they will see merit in the new rules.

The two most experienced players on either side had an intriguing game.

While Viru seemed out of sorts, Younis Khan used up all his experience to guide Nasir Jamshed during a crucial knock. Younis’ defence was solid, he took singles and did not let pressure creep in. Jamshed played a brilliant knock, but don’t discount Younis’ experience.

Then you had another experienced player in Shoaib Malik, who was not even in the original squad, playing well under pressure. That’s the beauty of Pakistan cricket — Malik discarded at first, shows his worth! I wonder why he was not in the squad in the first place.

Virender Sehwag was rested for the T20s and knowing Viru he may have rested completely without going to the gym. He did not go for a catch in the Chennai game. I just hope for his sake that he improves his attitude because if he harbours any captaincy ambitions, all this will count in the minds of the
decision-makers.

Pakistan may have the momentum, but in Indo-Pak cricket, that counts for nothing. Kolkata will be a good flat deck with a lot of runs so it will be good fun with five fielders inside the circle. I am not sure if it will be fun for the bowlers. I would be unhappy as a bowler, but all these changes are for the betterment of cricket.

I’m looking forward to today’s game in Kolkata, my second home ground after Lahore.¬†

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