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Spotlight: Rameez Raja

The 1992 World Cup saw an unlikely champion in form of Pakistan. Odds were against them, and so was their performance in the initial stages, but Pakistan cricket never fails to spring surprises and this was one of the pleasant ones in their cricket history. Rameez Raja, one of the vital members of the Pakistan team, recollects the Pakistan triumph at the World Cup

TelePk.Com: Rameez, what are your early memories of the 1992 World Cup? When the team arrived in Australia, how was the team shaping up for such a big event?
Rameez Raja:
We were the first team to land in Australia during the 1992 World Cup and the idea was to get obviously acclimatised to the conditions. We established a kind of base camp, where we were housing extra players, so that come the cut-off date for the final 14 only the best from those players, who had conquered the Australian conditions, would make it for the big event. Interestingly, Mushy [Mushtaq Ahmed] our major player in the 1992 World Cup, came close to being omitted from the final squad as Imran almost lost faith in him after his up-and-down performances in the practice matches. Iqbal Sikander, another leg spinner, was the SOS and a cover for Mushy and in the end both made it to the final 14. Salim Jaffer unfortunately did not make it and had to go back. Javed [Miandad] was the late arrival after his back had collapsed during preparatory nets at home just before our departure. Waqar [Younis] was diagnosed, unfortunately, with a stress facture of the back and had to say a painful goodbye to the 2992 World Cup.

I remember distinctly that we lost almost all practice matches. I remember being beaten by South Africa, a low profile and inexperienced team in international terms. So our campaign had begun in the most inauspicious manner. Even the state teams were having a ball at our expense. With our batting struggling and only a win or two in about ten practice matches, we entered the 1992 World Cup feeling out of form and out of place.

TelePk.Com: The 1992 World Cup brought in alot of novelty - the matches were played under lights, coloured clothing, field restrictions, use of the white balls, the dubious rain rule - how did you feel about all this as a player?
Rameez Raja:
So many things to like about the 1992 World Cup. It's format was highly competitive with all teams playing against each other, it had coloured clothing, white balls, lights and field restrictions, all put into use for the first time in a World Cup competition. And for Australia to host the 1992 World Cup with so many changes was fitting reward for their past endeavours to revolutionize one day cricket which was started by Kerry Packer and climaxed at the 1992 World Cup. There were no inconsequential matches, they were no minnows and most importantly the pitches in Australia and New Zealand had the right balance to produce quality cricket. The only flaw, I think, was the rain rule that robbed South Africa of any realistic chance of winning the semi-final, but other than that it was a fantastic competition.

TelePk.Com: Pakistan had lost to West Indies and then managed a win against Zimbabwe but then came the shocker - shot out for just 74 by England.
Rameez Raja:
England had a strong team, experienced at playing one-day cricket and they caught us on a English pitch with an English weather but the difference was that rain came to our rescue. With the match abandoned as a no-result, our embarrassing 74 all-out got us a point and would turn out to be the most important point for us in the World Cup. We had an interesting team meeting after the game and our captain somehow saw a positive out of the result and said that this one point would enable us to win the World Cup. His prophetic remark taken at that time as a mere tool to lift our spirits turned out to be exactly the life saviour for us. By that time besides Imran we had another inspirational leader who was kind of spiritually guiding us through the campaign, the great sufi qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who became part of us, and his qawwali 'Allah hu Allah hu' became the team song and was played all night long that night.

Besides Imran we had another inspirational leader who was kind of spiritually guiding us through the campaign, the great sufi qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who became part of us, and his qawwali 'Allah hu Allah hu' became the team song and was played all night long that night.

TelePk.Com: If that match against England wasn't enough, Pakistan lost the match against India, their first ever in the World Cup. What are your memories of that match?
Rameez Raja:
Every game in the World Cup was important but the game against India was the mother of all games for us. We discussed tactics in the team meeting but more than anything else we were keen to find right words to suit our nerves and conquer the fear of failure in a pressure game. We lost because our batting once again started to deceive, the experiments of chopping and changing and toying with different combinations was simply not yielding the desired results. However, for us the match will always be remembered for Javed's famous acrobatic mimicry of Kiran More. The Indian 'keeper was a hyper character behind the stumps, easily excitable. Javed, the only resistant force standing between Indian and victory, and Kiran easily got excited carried away on that day. For every time Javed would miss a ball or would get hit on the pads he would hop in excitement.

In between all of this he was not been looked after or served by his fielders, who with difficult returns were making his task and hoping that much more pronounce. Troubled at the prospect of losing the game and seeing Kiran's hopping getting higher with excitement at the thought of winning Javed, the irrepressible character that he was, found a way that only Javed could do to rub it into India and Kiran I remember he emulated a Kiran hop, not once but many times and that left us in tears of laughter. It was a cross between a frog leap and a monkey jump and when replayed in slow motion on the big screen it looked even funnier; only Kiran, obviously, did not see the funny part of it, probably thinking that today he was up against a different kind of genius, a retarded one.

TelePk.Com: The loss against India must have been a huge blow for the team?
Rameez Raja:
Losing to India was almost like a national tragedy. Before the game, fans had started to gather together at the hotel lobby where we were staying, expertly placing themselves around the reception area to make sure we crossed each others path and so that they could stress the obvious - don't lose to India. The last thing that we wanted was to get exposed to such pressure before such a pressure game.

So much of preparation was gone to waste. Beaten by India for the first time in a World Cup game was never easy to take. We were dented mentally by the loss which was unbearably heavy to bear. I remember we shut ourselves in our rooms, largely because of the disappointing result and partly because we feared a backlash from our emotional fans. People back home were cribbing and doubting our commitment; according to the press, they were categorising us as a team in disarray and they were keen on targeting our socializing. They thought that we were giving more preference to. Time, I guess, in the end was the best healer, but those days before our next game felt awfully long.

TelePk.Com: After the India game Pakistan lost one more game against South Africa. This time the rain caused the downfall but after that Pakistan beat Australia, Sri Lanka and also won the crucial game against New Zealand. Which was the form team? Do you remember that particular match against New Zealand?
Rameez Raja:
Pakistan versus New Zealand - the pool game - was extremely important for us, for there was no room for a hiccup. I remember from the game that Danny Morrison was in the middle of a very quick spell and accounted for [Aamir] Sohail and Inzi [Inzamam-ul-Haq] in the first over of our chase. Javed was welcomed by couple of rude bouncers which he boxed away ungainly and by that time Javed had given up on the pull shot but he had to find a way to quite Danny Morrison. He also knew that I was almost a compulsive hooker and after the end of that burst which he mostly received on his gloves he confirmed the game plan to me: if he bowls you a bouncer, go for it. In the next over I obliged with a boundary, not knowing that Javed from the non-striker's end would walk back to Danny shouting in his ear, "Bowl him another one and he'll kill you!"

I played my cricket very differently to Javed. I was more an introvert at the crease, quite happy to settle down to a hum drum existence. Javed, on the other hand, was a feisty individual, always needling the opposition to throw them out of rhythm and on this occasion trying to control the game from the non-striker's end. I asked him to please stop because his shouting was shifting my focus from the job and Danny was getting quicker. But I must admit that his chirp helped me loosen up in a strange way.

TelePk.Com: After the initial hiccups came the real turn around for Pakistan. They won three crucial games in the league stage. What was it that triggered the turn-around for Pakistan?
Rameez Raja:
After being beaten by West Indies, India and South Africa we were in a mental mess. But this was a team led by the captain that was unwilling to die a coward's death. Imran [Khan] was able to keep the fiber of the team together by becoming more accessible to us. Increasing the work load and planning the charge by learning from the mistakes. The fact that we were being sliced by home press, who not only had our obituary published but dates of our expected flights from Australia to Pakistan were also highlighted in the papers so that people could gather at the airport to stone our coffins. This made us stick together and sit up to prove them wrong. We had hit rock bottom and the only way we could have gone was up. It was time to fight for the team and for our honour and reputation, so a mini meeting was set up by some of the players without Imran, where we vouched to pay back the critics with interest and to resurrect the image of the team and it's captain by fighting till we dropped dead. We were now full of anger and combining it with the team talent and a new-found burning desire to prove the world wrong we became an unstoppable fire ball, clicking just at the right time to nail Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand twice. We knew that New Zealand would be easier conditions to handle after all the technical and mental bruising that we had experienced on bouncy Australian pitches. New Zealand had to be easier to counter.

TelePk.Com: Crucial semi final game against New Zealand, did the team think that they could beat New Zealand one more time to make it to the final?
Rameez Raja:
Our cricketing luck was peaking at the right time, in fact we were mentally so drained out after watching the Australia versus West Indies pool match, which decided our entry to the semi-final, that afterwards it felt like winning the World Cup. We were locked up in our rooms watching that game and the moment we got that result that we were hoping for we burst out of our rooms in the aisles, shouting and hugging each other like toddlers at play school. We had obviouslt come a long way from the thrashing at the hand of the Windies in our first game; that one point that we earned against England at Adelaide will keep us afloat. We were convinced that our form, luck and that one point were pointers towards better things to come.

Most cricket things were touched upon by Imran in the team meeting, but while discussing specific field positions for the New Zealand batsmen it occurred to us that the Eden Park ground in Auckland was oddly shaped. It had about eight corners and in that regards a difficult ground to man and set fields. For example, fine leg fielder had to be literally placed at short leg; midwicket was another brain teaser especially bowling from the Pavilion end. I was given the task to map the ground a day before the game so that the bowlers knew exactly where to place the boundary riders. It's another matter that my wonderful art work probably confused then more than anything else, but in a way it managed to lighten us up.

It turned out to become the Inzi match. A match that he was not willing to play; not been able to sleep on the night of the game because of the status of the game he asked for some sleeping tablets from our coach Intikhab Alam, our coach. But instead of a peaceful night that he was looking forward to, the drugs reacted and Inzi ran between bed and toilet the whole night more forcefully than he ran in between the wickets. On the morning of the game, he conveniently declared himself unfit; however Imran tried his best to reason and tried to convince him that this may be our last game and he needed one last big effort from him. Inzi was not budging and neither was Imran. In the end the captain prevailed and declared his verdict in a ruthlessly curt manner, closing all exit doors on Inzi, telling him that he will have to bat and play even if he has to play and bat in a wheel chair; the rest, as they say, is history.

In those days chasing 270-odd was not any run-of-the mill-chase, especially in the semi -final of the World Cup. It was a total team effort with the bat that earned us a memorable win,. Imran promoted himself at the No. 3position, and it turned out to be a good move, an inspirational move, and he and I were involved in a stabilising partnership. The sparks were provided by Inzi, who played the innings of his lifetime and Javed was the calming partner in that match-winning partnership.

In the New Zealand innings Martin Crowe played a superb, risk-free classical knock. The fact that he was not available because of a pulled hamstring was the turning point of the game. His leadership was not only inspirational but losing a settled captain was a heavy blow that New Zealand could never recover from.

TelePk.Com: Pakistan beat New Zealand to make it to the final, but in a way New Zealand was the team of the World Cup, and was led by a very good captain Martin Crowe. What are your thoughts on Martin Crowe's captaincy?
Rameez Raja:
Martin Crowe was an imaginative leader who maximized his team's potential and resources by thoughtful captaincy and out-of-the-box tactics to flummox oppositions. He used the local conditions brilliantly and made the opposition think and admit to New Zealand's presence in the 1992 World Cup. His famous trick was Deepak Patel with the new ball, which turned out to be a master stroke, a move that was tailor-made to extract advantage out of New Zealand pitches and it stunned the opposition with a bit of drama as well. The off spinner showed great control with the new ball and bowled an aggressive line to pick up wickets. For me, Martin Crowe was the captain of the 1992 world Cup.

TelePk.Com: In the other semi-final the Duckworth-Lewis system came into play and South Africa were very unfairly knocked out What are your thought on that South African team led by Kepler Wessels?
Rameez Raja:
South Africa was an unknown quantity with an unknown record at the one-day competition. They were technically a kind of minnow team as far as experience was concerned, with only Kepler Wessels, Allan Donald and Jonty Rodhes known to the cricket world, or at least to us. They had already beaten us in a practice game so we respected their presence at the World Cup. It was a tightly-knit unit which thrived on team work rather than individual brilliance and were a superb fielding side. Teams wanted to take them for granted but were constantly surprised by their spirit and self belief. The Aussie conditions suited them as it was similar to home conditions for them and importantly it suited their bowling combination, which was dominated by fast bowling. The controversial rain rule certainly robbed us from a chance to beat them in a pool match. The 1992 World Cup will be remembered and discussed when the same rain rule abruptly and unjustly closed the doors on them in the semi-final. They left lasting memories of the World Cup led by Jonty's brilliance in the field, especially when he floored all three stumps running from point to run out Inzamam. His airborne finish is probably the most memorable picture of the 1992 World Cup.

Imran was convinced throughout the highs and lows of our campaign that the World Cup is going to be ours because his hospital needed the World Cup glory to get started.

TelePk.Com: The big game - the final of the World Cup - against England.. After so many ups and downs, what was it like to be playing in the final?
Rameez Raja:
Reaching the final was a testimony of our hard work and never-say-die spirit. Imran was convinced throughout the highs and lows of our campaign that the World Cup is going to be ours because his hospital needed the World Cup glory to get started. He was excited to play the final for another reason also, so that he could wear his 'cornered tiger t-shirt' again, which he had worn way back in the 1987 World Cup semi-final which we lost to Australia. There was the all important meeting before the final in which Imran centered his talk around the glory of the occasion, asking us to enjoy the atmosphere of the big final for there won't be many occasions like this in our careers. He was trying to marry excitement with performance so that nerves do not play the villain in this relationship. There was no real game plan discussed for it appeared that finally our captain was willing to trust his team to deliver the knock out punch. On the morning of the final he had his famous t-shirt on and before going out for the toss he delivered his famous one-liner, and pointing towards his t-shirt he said, 'The motto of the day is play like a cornered tiger'.

I remember going out there to bat on a glistening surface and almost being blinded by the shimmer that was bouncing off it because of the sun light. The whitish, off white colour of the track was absorbing the white ball and making it difficult to pick. Add a bit of pressure to that and it made one recipe of an early drama. It was a dramatic start because we lost early wickets but the base was provided by Imran and Javed who used their experience to guide the innings expertly through a difficult phase, even though at a slow pace, but ensured that we had enough wickets in hand to go for the charge. It was a great mix of method of individual brilliance that came together to rescue us to 250. With runs on the board we knew that we had enough fire power and variation in our bowling to win it.

We also had immense faith in Imran as a bowling captain to use his resources intelligently. Mushy's guile and Waz's [Wasim Akram's] two exceptional balls that got rid of [Allan] Lamb and [Chris] Lewis all but shut the doors for England. The big decision to reintroduce Wasim into the attack was taken at the drinks break as Lamb was threatening to knock us out of the game. An over-the-wicket reverse outswinger to Lamb and an incutter to Lewis of the next ball changed the course of the game for good. We fielded brilliantly on that day and I was fortunate enough to finish it off with a catch at mid-off off Imran Khan.

TelePk.Com: What did the win mean to Pakistan cricket and your supporters, the people back home?
Rameez Raja:
The win put Pakistan on the world map. People at home compared the joy of the win to Independence in 1947. A sea of people awaited us at the Lahore airport; we were carried away on shoulders onto a motorcade of open cars and showcased on the roads as world conjurers. Our lives had changed for the better.

TelePk.Com: Imran Khan in the twilight of his career and many people believed that he was finished as a cricketer. But he bounced back and led the team brilliantly to it's first ever World Cup triumph. What did you think of his leadership as captain of the Pakistan team?
Rameez Raja:
Imran led by example and jumped at every occasion to take the challenge head on. He was a fine example of a captain translating his smart cricket thoughts and moves to practical execution. He was brave to take uncomfortable decisions and base his cricket on aggression. It was either playing for a win or a loss, never to draw games. He was our captain, our coach, our trainer, our selector, the chairman of the board for all us. I never knew or bothered who the selectors were under his captaincy, for if I convinced him I was good enough to play in the team then no could do a thing about him.

He had an eye for talent and he backed it to the hilt. He unearthed and defined Wasim, Waqar, Inzi and Mushy. Javed would have a constant altercation with him regarding Inzi's poor form during the early stages of the World Cup. Javed was of the view that Imran was wasting his time on him, whereas Imran would rubbish of his view point by telling him that Inzi was going to win him the World Cup, which by the way he did. In the end he was also rewarded for his honest intentions. He did not get along always with a couple of important players in the team but he never played politics to get rid of them. He had a bigger picture in mind; that is to win matches for Pakistan.

TelePk.Com: Well Rameez, if you had to pick one defining moment of the 1992 World Cup what would it be?
Rameez Raja:
For me the defining moment of the 1992 World Cup was the drawn game against England where we were shot down for 74 and still managed to avoid a loss because rain came to our rescue. That one point turned out to be our life saver, an oxygen tent that kept us alive throughout the World Cup.

Thank you, Rameez, for talking to TelePk.Com

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