Lessons for Sri Lankan Cricket from Pakistani Cricket under Imran

Aubrey Kuruppu, in Sunday Times, 24 August 2019, with this title “Rameez Raja’s Sri Lankan link”

Chatting to Rameez Raja, a former captain of the Pakistan team, was not the daunting prospect that I feared. He put me at ease straightaway and, once started, he put me in mind of Tennyson’s Brook. The worlds, and thoughts, flowed and he was not averse to calling a spade, a spade.

Rameez, who represented his country in 57 Tests and 198 ODIs, also led the Pakistan team for a short period.Though initially n the shadow of his elder brother, the multi-talented Wasim Raja Rameez was good enough to go the distance and play in three World Cups.

As the former Pakistani opener says, he has a love affair with Sri Lanka. It has a great place in my heart”. His initial tour as an Under-19 player was to this country. His first century (122) in international cricket was at the Sara Stadium in 1986.

 

The link to Sri Lanka goes back to the early 1940s. His paternal grand-father, a Captain in the British Army, had served in Galle and Colombo and made the prophetic remark that “Galle was a great place for an international stadium.” The Pater Familias of the Raja clan had occupied the Galle Face Hotel while serving in the British Army.

The ‘love affair’ has spawned a business connection, too. He has bought land in Puttalam, and his affinity with Sri Lanka is ‘very strong spiritually’. “It has a great place in my heart.”

An unabashedly avid supporter of one of his country’s all time greats – Imran Khan, Rameez is thrilled to bits by his aggressive brand of captaincy. Imran was one of the first captains to give right arm leggies their place in the sun. Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed and Iqbal Sikandhar were encouraged to go flat out and attack. Rameez feels that aggression is in the DNA of Pakistani cricketers.

In fact, his 1992 World Cup winning team had two right arm leg spinners. Not forgetting that in Imran himself and the incredible Wasim Akram, Pakistan had plenty of quality pace support in case the spinners faltered.

Says Rameez: “Imran is serious about revamping Pakistan cricket. As a first step, he has introduced a new Constitution. The First Class structure has been completely changed. Earlier, there were teams such as the Pakistan International Airlines and the Banks that ruled the roost in local cricket. Not any more, as the structure is now City/Province based. There are only six teams competing at the top level. This has made First Class cricket intensely competitive.”

The Pakistan Super League (run on the lines of the IPL) has helped considerably in the development of youngsters. There is a hard-core of about 90-100 cricketers picked from the provinces. Each player earns 25 lakshs per season. These numbers are a challenge to any coach, as they have so much talent to work with.” Now, there is a healthy cricket environment, and everything is taken care of.”

He comes down heavily on those engaged in corruption at any level. Opener Sharjeel Khan has served his time and is in the reckoning for selection once more. Rameez questions the wisdom of that decision. He points to the case of Mohomed Amir who decided recently to retire from Test cricket, so that he can be involved in the franchises. At 27, he feels that Amir had a few more years at Test level.

Pakistan’s coach, Mickey Arthur has not had his tenure extended. Pressed to comment on that, Rameez is of the opinion that Arthur was neither a failure nor an outstanding success. But there is a need for a fresh mind-set, and for fresh ways of thinking. Currently, the Pakistan team is fairly settled. In Babar Azam, they have a brilliant exponent of the Willow. However, right now, there is a need for a different direction.

It was but natural, with Sri Lanka hoping to take on Pakistan in three ODIs on the latter’s home turf, to ask about the security aspect. “Pakistan is ready for international cricket,” he says without any reservations. Where earlier, the later rounds of the PSL were played on the desert sands, now the entire tournament is played entirely in Pakistan. This he concedes is “a small step,”. He is emphatic that,” before long international cricket will return to Pakistan.

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Filed under child of empire, cricket and life, cricketer politicians, cricketing icons, memorable moments, spinning art, Sri Lanka Cricket, unusual people

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