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Zaheer Abbas

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More than three decades after he first got the coronation of sorts, the Asian Bradman is making waves once again with his second-best placement on the ICC list of all-time greats in the shorter version of the game.

In the centenary year of the International Cricket Council, there has been much talk about honouring players from the past who have added value with their contributions to the game. Establishment of the Hall of Fame as well as ‘best ever’ listings have led to a lot of discussion and debate around the world, with some crying sour grapes for reasons that are not too difficult to understand.

For Pakistanis, however, it is time to celebrate. Zaheer Abbas — or simply Zed, as he is known to both friends and foes has once again done us proud with his placement behind the great master-blaster, Vivian Richards, of the West Indies who heads the official ICC List of Top Hundred Players of One Day Internationals.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Zed:

How does it feel to be the second best player of all time in the shorter version of the game?

Actually, I regret not being THE best! Jokes apart, naturally I am humbled by the declaration, especially so because it has come from the ICC itself which gives it the legitimacy that is missing from personal choices or even opinion polls.

Does it make a difference to you that the name is placed 82nd in the all-time Test ranking which naturally was the preferred version in your days?
I can’t be happy about one list and grudge the other one. The ICC has employed a uniform formula and I am perfectly comfortable with the package deal. Millions start out on this journey, but only thousands are able to represent the country on the international stage. Of them a few hundreds are able to leave a lasting impression on the game. Only the top hundred have been ranked. Together this means I am 82nd among the millions who have ever aspired to play cricket at the highest level. I will take that any time.

Looking back, where do you locate your best innings in either form of the game?
Though I have never been big on remembering specific innings, there are a few that have stuck to the mind. For instance, all the double centuries that I had in Tests and the four matches on the English county circuit where I scored a double century and a century in the two innings of each encounter.

They were all special. However, among them, the most memorable would definitely be the 215 against the visiting Indians in 1982. It was my hundredth First Class century, making me at the time only the 20th man in history to do that, only the second to reach the milestone in a Test, the only one to do it with a Test double century and the only individual from the subcontinent to have ever done that.

Looks like you still replay that innings in your mind quite often! Do you?
Hahahaha! Not exactly, but I do have fond memories of it. It was at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on a chilly December afternoon. The pitch was a good-for-nothing sort of track which was enjoyed neither by the bowler nor by the batsman because it was too slow for a strokeplayer to go about his business. It called for a bit of grafting. After a steady start, Pakistan had lost three quick wickets when Mohsin Khan and I put our heads down till we got the hang of it. From thereon it was fun.

You haven’t mentioned any innings in the One-Dayers that may tickle your mind today?
Hmm, let me think. Yes, the one against the West Indies in the semifinal of the World Cup 1979. It was the peak of the all-conquering pace quartet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner. The partnership with Majid Khan resulted in more than 150 runs in quick time and we were together able to take the fight to the West Indians, something that not many people expected of Pakistan. We did lose the match, but from a personal perspective, it was a satisfying innings.

Coming to the present, do you see Pakistan suffering from a talent drought?
It may sound a cliché, but there is no dearth of talent in Pakistan. The problem lies with harnessing that talent in professional terms.

Like doing what?
To me, mental approach is the key. You see, at the grassroots level the eagerness of kids to bat as long as possible is quite visible. Even at club level, they enjoy their batting and love to spend time at the crease. During First Class cricket and then at the international scale, they somehow lose that eagerness. When they start off, they want to be consistently good, but as years pass by, they take it easy. If they have scored well in one innings, they tend to be frivolous in at least the next few. That is what causes inconsistency for the individual and disaster for the team.

Another aspect from the professional point of view is to enjoy taking on a challenge. Facing the West Indian battery, the likes of Lillee and Thompson on a bouncy Perth track, negotiating the world’s best spinners on pitches that turned square were all part of the job. In fact, these were the things that used to keep the adrenalin going. To stamp one’s authority on them was a challenge that I enjoyed immensely. Of course, I could do it sometimes, while at others they got the better of me. But there was no running away from the challenge. That, I think, is missing.

Do you find the domestic structure to blame?
No. The structure has little to do with it. It is more a matter of the kind of playing surfaces that are used here. Though known as batsmen-friendly pitches, it is these very pitches that, in my eyes, are killing the appetite for runs in batsmen because they start getting casual after a while. It is only on sporting wickets that the possibility of a bowler giving him a surprise keeps a batsman on his toes. It is the challenge that keeps him going. Unfortunately, we have been taking the easy route.

However, we shall also take a look at the flip side of the argument. The need to work harder on placid tracks has produced some wonderful fast bowlers. The logic remains the same; the bowler works against the odds, while the batsman retards into the safety zone. The ideal thing is to have sporting wickets which may have something for both of them. That would enliven the game while keeping everyone focused.

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