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Spotlight: Shoaib Malik

"I will never stop anyone from fulfilling his religious duties":Shoaib Malik

At 25, with 18 Test and 137 one-day internationals under his belt, Shoaib Malik is the third youngest captain to lead Pakistan in the team's history. But his selection is not altogether a surprise choice for this sensitive position after the team's controversial stint in the West Indies.

He clearly has a good cricket mind and is very clear on what he wants to do with the team. His biggest asset is that he remains one of Pakistan's most improved players in recent months.

In an interview, Malik spoke of the challenges that lie ahead of him and the tragic death of Bob Woolmer during the World Cup.

Captaining Pakistan has never been an easy job for anyone. Even the most respected and experienced players have faced problems on this front.
Captaincy is never easy, no matter which team you lead. You carry the aspirations and hopes of a nation. In addition to this, you have to ensure that not only do you perform individually, but that you get the best out of the other players as well, who are all individuals with different backgrounds and personalities. Cricket, at the end of the day, is all about team work.

I have no grand plans on how I will manage this role. But I have been a regular member of the team for the last five years, and I know every player well. I know each player's likes and dislikes and his professional capabilities. Most importantly, I have always got along well with everyone.

I realize, that as captain, I may, at some stage, have to take some tough decisions. But as long as my conscience is clear and the people and board back me up, I can do it. I am not a weak person and I know that if I keep on performing well, it will become easier for me to get things done my way.

The death of my father last year has also made me a more mature person. With responsibility, one tends to change for the better and have a more positive and mature outlook towards life.

There are a lot of allegations and perhaps misconceptions about the team environment and culture, specifically the talk about Inzamam-ul-Haq making the players ultra-religious and him holding too much power. What is your take on these allegations?
As far as religion is concerned, we are all Muslims and we pray five times a day. I will never try to stop anyone from fulfilling his religious duties or beliefs. My main desire is for each player to perform to the best of his capabilities, because that is what he has been selected to do in the national team. Inzamam never forced anyone to say prayers or take part in religious activities; the players who wanted to do it did it as part of their belief. But yes, it is now part of our culture in the team to pray together whenever possible.

After the disappointment of the World Cup, people are trying to find excuses and reasons for the debacle. But people have forgotten that under Inzamam, the team enjoyed a lot of success. If we fared poorly in the World Cup, it was only because we just didn't click and didn't get enough time to regroup. We basically have always been a side that can come back from the dead. But in the World Cup everything happened so quickly that it left everyone shattered. And don't forget, the absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif had a big bearing on us. They would have made a big difference to us in both the matches we lost on pitches that assisted the bowlers.

Inzamam says he wants to continue playing Test cricket. As captain, what do you have to say about this?
Inzamam is a great player and one of the best batsmen in the world. However, selection of all players will now be gauged on the basis of their form and fitness. But personally, I feel it will be a long time before we can find someone of the calibre of Inzamam.

There is a history of players leading revolts against junior captains. Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, for example, both faced this situation. Does this bit of history concern you?
I really don't know the background of those incidents. But one thing I do know is that there is a lot of unity in this team, and if some senior or junior player has a disagreement with me or with my methods, he can discuss it with me, and we can sort things out. That is the sort of thing that Inzamam and our coach, Bob Woolmer, promoted. So that is not going to change. I always believe that when the lines of communication are open, disagreement and divisive issues do not take permanent root. I am still young, and I will be leaning on the seniors to guide me and back me up.

What are your short- and long-term goals as captain?
The board has appointed me till the end of the year, and in this period we have three important assignments. The Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, the South African Test tour of Pakistan, and then we go to India for a full series in November. My immediate aim is that we do well in these assignments to regain the confidence of the people and put the team back on a winning track. The long-term goal, obviously, is the next World Cup, and I believe we have the talent to create a strong one-day outfit. But I would certainly like to push for more consistency when it comes to the selection of players. We need to find a reliable opening pair immediately.

It is said that you were the blue-eyed boy of Bob Woolmer and he had singled you out as captain material. How much has his death affected you as a person?
The entire team is distraught with his death. He was more than our coach. He got along well with everyone and was very friendly and comfortable to work with. When you lose such a person, you feel a big void, and it takes time to fill it. Woolmer helped me and always pushed me to play beyond a point that I never thought I was capable of. I would have loved to work with him as captain. But now we just have to move on, and I am sure we will have a similar relationship with our new coach, whoever he is.

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