Indian team fan Sudhir (right) and Pakistan team fan Mohammad Bashir during a training session in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja wants India-Pakistan matches to be held regularly for the cricket fraternity around the world.

Speaking to Gulf News, Raja, who has figured in nine Tests and 29 One Day Internationals between the two neighbours, virtually appealed to the countries to unite for cricket.

“It is a sad situation now. Why not the two countries play in bilateral series?,” he asked.

“People to people contact is so important. For example, during the 2004 India-Pakistan series in Pakistan where I was working for the Pakistan Cricket Board, it was the best experience for Indian and Pakistan fans. They sat together, ate together and enjoyed the game. I think that is the way to go about and if that is not possible now then we need to increase the international formats for India and Pakistan to play (in multinational series) because so many fans all around the world, not only India and Pakistan fans but cricket fraternity wants to see them play against each other.”

Raja feels that Test cricket too can be saved through India-Pakistan series.

“Test cricket is struggling to find a shape and only an India-Pakistan Test series can save it because there is no bias for Test cricket, especially in Asia. During an India-Pakistan match, there are chances for players to become a hero, so players rise above themselves and this is good for the game. An India-Pakistan match has lot of fan following and it results in a lot of eyeballs.”

Raja would have loved to see Virat Kohli play for India but feels that his decision to rest deserves to be respected.

“Ideally, Kohli should have played but I don’t know how fit he is now. Personally, I want Kohli to play all the matches but I think the reason why he is being rested is also not a bad one because he is giving importance to Test cricket. For a superstar of the game to do that and think on those lines is so healthy and so refreshing — though for the fans here it would have been wonderful to see him bat.”

Raja feels his former captain Imran Khan, now the Prime Minister of Pakistan, is special. “It was quite interesting talking to him at the oath taking ceremony because he spent nearly 50 minutes with his old cricket pals as he invited about six to seven of us who won the 1992 World Cup. Despite the occasion, within a couple of minutes he was talking about cricket and he compared Kohli to Sachin Tendulkar. He still watches cricket, so it is a great change for Pakistan not only politically but otherwise also because he has always been an honest trier and he will do that for the country as well.”

Raja, who watches all Pakistan matches as a commentator, is happy at the rise of the team as a powerhouse in ODIs. “It is a young side and the average age is 22 or 23. However, they need to focus more and make the bench play more regularly because nobody is indispensable and I think that is the theme they are trying to develop. Fakhar Zaman has made a lot of difference because they were struggling to have that kind of a batsman at the top of the order to give them a fantastic and fast start. They have achieved that goal now and I think the others need to pull their socks with the bat.

“The bowling looks very potent. They need to, maybe have a regular spinner up the sleeve as well. Overall it is a fit and young team led extremely well by Sarfraz (Ahmad). So they look a high quality product.”

Who could be the favourite to win the Asia Cup? “That is a tough question because there are so many teams at par. Look at what Bangladesh produced, three down for nought and really to go through that phase. Mushfiqur Rahim played superbly. Afghanistan, with three spinners on a spinning track, will be handful as well. Pakistan obviously looks to be a well-rounded side and India would want to make amends against Pakistan. So it is all up for grabs and I feel it could be an India-Pakistan final.”