By Sandip Sikdar
New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) One of the finest off-spinners to have played the game, former cricketer Saqlain Mushtaq has lent his voice to the ongoing India-Pakistan series debate, saying that sporting ties should resume between the two nations and fans should not be deprived of the iconic contest.
The two countries were supposed to play a bilateral series in December 2015, but it never materialised due to several political and administrative hassles.
“India-Pakistan matches should happen as it is one game which everyone enjoys. I don’t think there is any match in the world which is greater. I do not want to get into the politics of it but sport is sport and should be taken like that,” Saqlain told IANS in a telephonic interview from Dubai.
“Fans should be given the pleasure of watching India-Pakistan matches. Every cricket fan wants to see it. Let us not disappoint cricket fans. India should open the doors to their hearts.”
Shifting the discussion to the World Twenty20 that will be played in India in March-April, the former Pakistan great said that considering the sub-continental conditions, India and Sri Lanka seem to be favourites for the tournament.
“India have a very balanced batting and bowling line-up. They have a very good team and are definitely the favourites. Last time Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara won Sri Lanka the event and even this time they are strong as they have always been in sub-continental conditions,” said the 39-year-old, who played international cricket from 1995 to 2004.
“Right now I do not think Pakistan has a great chance. They just played England and I am lamenting their performance. Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz — all of them disappointed. I just didn’t understand their style of play. It was a very poor performance from them. But as history has shown they are an unpredictable team and you never know. But I am not expecting much from them at present.”
Pakistan recently lost two back-to-back T20 series to England and New Zealand. Before that, they went down to England in a ODI series.
Once the top-most tweaker of the world, the pioneer of the ‘doosra’ also lavishly praised India’s exponent of the same art – Ravichandran Ashwin, who recently became only the second Indian ever to be ranked No.1 in the Test bowlers’ rankings.
“If I have to take the name of the best spinner in the world and if I do not take Ashwin’s name then it will be a crime. He is currently the very best in the world. Possibly because he is mentally very strong,” said the Lahore-born.
“Ravindra Jadeja is a more dangerous bowler but he still has a lot to learn when it comes to the longer version of the game. Amit Mishra has class but to reach the stature of Anil Kumble, he has a long way to go.”
The spin great is making a comeback to the cricket field. He recently played a match in the Cricket All-Stars Series in the United States where he also managed to clean bowl Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar.
“It has always been a dream to pick Sachin’s wicket. I am a big fan of his. I thank God that he gave me the chance to clinch the wicket of such a big star. He is simply a great batsman whether you take his technique, stance, mental strength, or anything, nobody is greater than Sachin. I consider myself very lucky,” expressed Saqlain.
That match wasn’t the end of it as the Pakistani will return to play for Gemini Arabians in the Masters Champions League (MCL) — a tournament for retired cricketers that will be played in Dubai and Sharjah from January 28 to February 13.
“It is unbelievable to be playing again. I cannot express my feelings. I am becoming nostalgic. All those fantastic moments which I experienced during my career are flowing past my eyes right now. I am reliving all those memories. It is an amazing feeling to pick up that kit bag again,” said Saqlain.
“I have always believed that a sportsperson dies twice. Once when he retires and the other is obviously a natural death. Playing the game again is like being given a life again.”
(Sandip Sikdar can be contacted at email@example.com)