Moin has right mix to unite Pakistan

The man with the most difficult captaincy job in cricket relishes his task
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The Independent Online

As England's first Test in Pakistan for 13 years gets under way today, it will not just be the visitors who will be feeling the strain. Moin Khan, the latest in a long recent line of Pakistan captains, will be under enormous pressure to deliver his opponents, if not on a silver platter, then at least with a kebab skewer through them.

As England's first Test in Pakistan for 13 years gets under way today, it will not just be the visitors who will be feeling the strain. Moin Khan, the latest in a long recent line of Pakistan captains, will be under enormous pressure to deliver his opponents, if not on a silver platter, then at least with a kebab skewer through them.

Moin, now 30, was groomed for leadership from the Under-14s onwards, which is just as well, for captaining Pakistan remains unrivalled as the most treacherous job in sport. Since Imran Khan lead them to World Cup victory eight years ago, no fewer than nine players have skippered the country.

A Karachi man through and through, Moin is aware of the downsides and realises that his longevity in the job will, among other things like political nous, be largely linked to results. With match-rigging still bubbling away in the background, the public, especially after seeing England's woeful efforts against Pakistan's spinners in the last two one-day internationals, will be satisfied with nothing less than victory by two or three Tests to nil.

"Normally there is big pressure when we play at home, but actually I'm feeling quite relaxed. Winning the one-day series against England for the first time in 26 years has got the country on our side. Everyone is being helpful and I have the full co-operation of my players plus the support of the Board."

In the past, this has seemingly been the exception rather than the rule. In fact, Moin initially turned down the captaincy for the series against Sri Lanka earlier this year, but later accepted it. So far he has captained Pakistan in seven successive Tests, a tally he can add to the two he had as caretaker captain in 1998, when players refused to be led by Aamir Sohail during the last two Tests against Zimbabwe.

"I had to think for a long time about doing it. But I like challenges and this is a big challenge. After worrying that keeping wicket, batting and skippering would be too much, I'm enjoying it. We've done well, which has allowed me to settle and given me more confidence."

A handsome man of medium height and build, Moin has a fierce competitive streak burning within him. Team-mates say he never takes a backwards step, which - considering all the history between these two sides, and Nasser Hussain's recent comments that England are not on a peace mission - could make for an aggressive series.

"I don't want any controversy. I just want good cricket and peaceful cricket. With many of our players playing for counties, both teams know each other well, so I don't think there will be any problems."

Having made his Test debut against the West Indies in 1990, Moin also played in the 1992 World Cup final at the MCG. He did not bat, but I remember him giving me a fearful sledging from behind the stumps. Even now, you can hear him chuntering away, though, with stump microphones relaying every word into the world's living rooms, the language has become far more euphemistic.

Moin's propensity to "mix it", when provoked, was used to good effect by Michael Atherton in the Lord's Test against Pakistan five seasons ago. Apparently, Atherton likes to feel on edge when batting, but on this occasion was feeling over-relaxed. In an attempt to rouse himself, he began a verbal slanging match with Moin, who, as substitute fielder, was only too happy to take up the cudgels. Wisden does not recall who won the slanging match but Atherton made 64 in what proved to be a losing cause.

According to the local journalists, Moin's main rival is Rashid Latif, the man who captained the Governor's XI in England's last match.

Rashid, who played for Pakistan in the mid 90s, is highly popular because of his crusade against match-fixing and the perception that he is the better keeper.

With three Test centuries to his name, each in difficultcircumstances, Moin is the more talented batsman. He also had a brilliant World Cup last year. But if many can still recall Lance Klusener's mighty hitting as a highlight, Moin's scoring rate, as well as his array of shots, was actually greater than the South African's.

His players clearly respect him and this comes from his ability to communicate their feelings to the Pakistan selectors. In the past, the regional rivalries between Lahore and Karachi used to cause disruption in the dressing-room. Not any more, and, providing England do not win this series 2-0, it should remain fairly harmonious.

With the outcome of the first Test likely to be crucial in a three-match series all eyes will be on the pitch. When I asked Moin if it would spin a little bit, he burst out laughing. "Not a little bit. A lot." Either way, this determined bundle of energy will be in his element.

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