Cricket commentator and Former Pakistani captain Ramiz Raja believes India has the best bowling attack at the moment, even as the team gets ready to play the first-ever World Test Championship final against New Zealand, starting 18 June in Southampton.
Raja spoke to The Quint on a range of topics related to the final and Indian cricket. Here is an edited excerpt.
India will be facing New Zealand without any competitive cricket for over a month while the Kiwis have just beaten England in a Test series on their home soil. How much that will be a factor?
We used to get a lot of practice games before a Test match. The same is not the case now. Besides, quarantine is another issue these days and adapting to English conditions has always been a hurdle. So, in that sense, New Zealand has got some advantage.
Do you think pressure will be more on India since all the hype is associated with it?
The expectations and the ranking makes India a much talked-about side among the fans and that brings a different kind of pressure.
The Kiwis are never in the headlines until they win matches and if you ask cricket fans, India will be their favourite team. The Kiwis may not be among the top four Test teams in the world in terms of popularity, but their deeds are laudable. They know what they have to do to win. Kane Williamson may be very different from Virat Kohli as captain but is very effective.
Also, as a nation they have progressed a lot. The infrastructure and the overall culture of the New Zealand team have changed. The drop-in pitches seem to have worked wonders. The players’ docile nature is gone and there is a sense of excitement when the Kiwis are playing. They may be short of big names but the team can always surprise you.
Kohli’s Test record is not exceedingly superior to that of Kane Williamson. Yet, when the comparison among the best batsmen is being made in present time, very few care to remember the Kiwi captain. Isn’t that a bit unfair?
When you assess a quality batsman, first thing you do is to find out how many matches they have won. Then, it is about style.
I will give you the example of Vivian Richards. I have played against the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly apart from so many great batsmen. But Richards, without great numbers, simply stands out for me for his sheer aura. The kind of dominance he used to have can be seen in Kohli.
Williamson’s style is understated. His batting style is similar to his personality. Calm and unhurried. Yes, he doesn’t get the same kind of attention as Kohli, but as I remember, he recently scored a Test double hundred against Pakistan in no time, almost like before anyone could even realise what he had done.
Kohli stamps his authority when he bats. Virat’s batting style tells a different story.
Do you feel players like Ajinkya Rahane or Pujara don’t get their due because there is so much focus on Virat?
This happens all the time. Remember, when Tendulkar was playing, it was always about him – all the headlines and media hype.
Everyone has a role to play in the team. When Richards was dominating, it was always him, even if his record against spin was not as good as his contemporaries’.
How do you look at the role of someone like Rishabh Pant in this team? Does he look like the next Adam Gilchrist?
His fearlessness, the exuberance of youth and being so witty behind the wickets makes Rishabh Pant such an exciting talent. He doesn’t fear getting out. India has got a future star in him.
Test cricket is mostly dying and when you get a talent like Pant, you will stop to watch him play whenever you are surfing TV channels. He smiles and plays some breathtaking shots. He has got the temperament to win matches from crisis situations and that is a very, very special quality to have. Undoubtedly, he is a player with enormous talent.
For the WTC final, could there be a difficult choice between Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin if India decides to go with just one spinner?
Jadeja is magical, but I would prefer a regular spinner like Ashwin.
I will consider Jadeja only as an all-rounder, but in Test cricket you need specialists like Ashwin. Left arm angle will be a bit easier of the Kiwis.
What is your impression of young Shubman Gill who batted superbly in Australia?
He has got great potential. Gill reminds me a lot of Rohit Sharma in his early days. I remember watching Rohit in Pakistan even before he made his international debut. Sometimes, only few balls can give you the idea of future greatness.
Don’t judge Gill’s potential by his IPL performance. He has got a good strike rate in Test cricket and has shots all around the wicket. He needs to be backed by everyone because I suspect in a country like India where you have lot of resources, some youngster may not get as many opportunities. But make no mistake, Gill can be in the league of Sharma.
How do you rate India’s pace attack?
They have got the passion and variety in their (pace) attack. They’re always willing to bowl any spell with the mindset of winning. The accuracy, execution and confidence of their bowlers makes them the best attack.
A different culture can be seen among the Indian pace bowlers with the way they operate and a lot of it would be because of the kind of culture Ravi Shastri has built. Ravi always used to say that he was fascinated by Pakistan’s aggressive approach. And now, I can see that how the environment around Indian team has changed a lot. Any new boy, who comes into the team, simply fits in without any hesitation.
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