?We have one, you have many match-winners?
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?We have one, you have many match-winners?

There, they were greeted and feted before they set off again. It had been a long drive for them, says Ijaz.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2004 02:56 IST

There's a certain buzz in the air as Ijaz Ahmed walks into the room at about half past eight in the evening. People have been waiting hours with visibly suppressed excitement for the Pakistani veterans to get here from the Wagah border, which they reportedly crossed some seven hours ago.

There, they were greeted and feted before they set off again. It had been a long drive for them, says Ijaz. They began their journey at 10am, pausing at the border and then, at Jalandhar, for namaaz.

"We're a more religious bunch than we were," Ijaz smiles as you seize the opening and ask him if there was a changing trend among Pakistani youth --- a renewed move towards faith. But what of the photographs we've seen of the whole team doing namaaz together when on tour --- photos we never saw a few years ago when Ijaz himself was part of a brilliant, temperamental, effervescent group.

He's not very comfortable with the question at first, then shrugs and grins. "Yes, I guess the youngsters in the team now are more religious then we were, more disciplined, a reflection of society. It helps them, this belief and faith."

And then he laughs again. "As for us, we had Saeed Anwar and Mushtaq (both have rediscovered religion) with us to keep us in the right frame of mind, so we prayed in Jalandhar before getting here."

But faith notwithstanding, like many others, Ijaz believes that this resurgent Indian team will hold the edge when the Test series begins, whether Pakistan have home advantage or not. "See, let me be clear. In our side, there's just one man who can change the course of a game --- Shoaib Akhtar. You have so many. This is a completely new India we are witnessing now, one that doesn't believe in falling apart. I've said this before and I'm saying it now. A few years back, we believed that if we got Tendulkar, half the team was gone. Now you have six Tendulkars in the squad."

According to Ijaz, most of Pakistan followed India's fortunes in Australia very keenly. "We all noted that Sachin didn't do much but it didn't seem to matter, someone else would keep coming up with an innings that mattered."

Pakistan, he says, are heavily dependent on Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam ul-Haq performing every time. But what of consistent performances by youngsters like Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed and Taufeeq Umar. "Well, they'll be tested now, won't they? The last three series in Pakistan, they played Bangladesh, a heavily depleted New Zealand team and a South Africa that was playing well under par. Against this Indian team, which has taken on the best in the world, it'll be much tougher. Even if you don't count the usual pressure of playing against India."

Pakistan is in the process of rebuilding, he says and they may have taken on more than they chew by dropping a host of seniors and blooding youngsters at the same time. "History has shown us that you need a mix of experience and youth to succeed. Look at Australia, Gilchrist had been fully groomed by the time they dropped Healy. Steve Waugh has retired and Michael Clarke will step into his shoes effortlessly."

"Our biggest problem in Pakistan is that we first drop a player, then look for a replacement. That just won't do."

So is the maverick Javed Miandad (now coach of Pakistan) the right person to lead a change in the system and rediscover Pakistan's cricketing fortunes? That brings forth another smile. "A great player is not necessarily a great coach."

First Published: Feb 22, 2004 02:56 IST