India are an inexhaustible force in home conditions and Ramiz Raja was part of a side that inflicted a rare series defeat on India in India. The former Pakistan skipper tells Vijay Tagore why it is such a big deal to beat India at home. Excerpts:
Why are India difficult to beat at home?
They have become a very solid side, the hallmark of which is the balance in bowling. There used to be emphasis on spin and making spinning tracks. Now you can see a growth of fast bowlers. There is a lot of self belief among the bowlers.
Is it a recent development?
Yes. India always possessed a great batting talent. The change has come in the bowling department. The bowlers have improved so much that it has given India the edge. Umesh Yadav, for example. He bowls really fast. He symbolises the change in Indian cricket.
The team is going through a transition phase...
The transition has been smooth. Youngsters have come through to take places of the ageing stars. The fall from grace has not occurred. Also, the team has done well under MS Dhoni. Good captaincy, good back-up of young players and good bowling combination have helped the side. The IPL also has helped these young players to have the self belief to pull through at the international level.
What could be the reason for the smooth transition?
Domestic structure should be one reason. Because cricket is so popular in India, everyone wants to play the game here. There are a lot of opportunities and there is a lot of money. Right talent is being picked. There is less politics at the domestic and grassroots level. A lot of good work has also been done by the association.
When you say smooth transition, you must be hinting at Cheteshwar Pujara.
And Virat Kohli too. Look at the two batsmen. Who would have thought that Rahul Dravid would be replaced so quickly in the mind and performance. Pujara has taken the pedestal and has delivered. He is a serious talent at No 3. I understand there are some good youngsters waiting in the wings. There is a lot to choose from and a lot to be proud of. That is why they are difficult to beat at home.
Are you comfortable with the policy of preparing turning tracks?
You got to prepare pitches that suit the home team. I have no problems with that policy. Otherwise, cricket will become dull. When the Asian teams go out, they get to play on tough pitches. That is the beauty of international circuit. Those who score in the sub-continental conditions end up becoming world class players. That’s why India is the last frontier for many teams.
How do you look at India’s strategy of starving England of quality spin in the build-up to the Test series?
I don’t think that strategy was ever going to worry England. There is a lot of IPL cricket now and many players have come here and played. Indian cricket is getting exposed to English audience and English cricketers. They know the deal.
So, how do you see the current series panning out?
To beat India at home, you need mental toughness and a sound technique to play spin. You also have to play sub-continental style of cricket. I didn’t see England play like that. Their selection lacked wisdom. I would have picked a Monty Panesar. When India batted, England were far too defensive. When in the sub-continent, try to replicate the gameplan of the home side. England did not do that. That’s why they are behind.
What are your thoughts on the resumption of cricket ties between India and Pakistan?
It is fantastic that the ties are being resumed. Cricket defies borders. People-to-people contact is welcome. You know there are many fans of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag back home in Pakistan. It’s going to be a great series. Pakistan have good ODI and T20 teams. By the way, in Tests, they are ahead of India in the ICC rankings.