February 11, 2017

'Pakistan are not playing the standard of cricket the world is demanding'

The team's chief selector, Inzamam-ul-Haq, talks about his one-captain vision, and the flaws in the country's cricket system
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"If players get dropped, that doesn't mean they have become bad. We need to assist them to come back. It's my job to sit with them, give them confidence" © PCB

What has your experience so far as chief selector been like?
Selecting players is a difficult task, but it's interesting as well. When I came in, leaving the Afghanistan coaching job, I did it for the sake of my own country. It's my honour to serve a country I represented for more than 15 years. I spoke to Waqar [Younis], Mushy [Mushtaq Ahmed] and several other player before joining and I have found it really a challenging job. We were hanging around ninth in ODIs, facing the axe from the ICC Champions Trophy, so there were a lot of things to be sorted.

It's tough, because people expect results instantly, which isn't possible. When I took charge, I didn't get much time to dig deep. From the England series we went to the West Indies series, then New Zealand, followed by the Australia tour. And our domestic season has also been underway. I didn't get enough time to focus and look around, judge players, but still we managed to start building a combination, and that needs some time to settle. People don't realise that it's a process and they should be patient.

How is the current talent pool different from your era as player?
Cricket is different from what I have played in my time. T20 has drastically changed the face of cricket and the approach in every format. If you go back to the early 2000s, technique used to be a major parameter to judge a player, but nowadays we have to look at whose strike rate is better. If you go back ten years ago even, 230 runs in a day with three wickets down was decent and people were okay with that, but not now. In Australia recently, Australia scored at a rate of over 4, and we were hanging around between 2.5 to 3, which isn't acceptable these days. So that's the big difference. In our time 250-260 was something, but these days even 325 runs are not safe to defend.

Would you say players coming from domestic cricket are underdeveloped and raw?
Yes. I don't believe that any player who scores well in one first-class season should be picked up for the national team straightaway. A player can only be considered if he is consistent enough in two to three successive seasons. I again have to go back to my time to give an example. There was a time when players came and got groomed at the top, with the national team. Now you don't have a chance - things are very fast, and you've got to have everything and be a ready-to-go player, otherwise it's tough for you.

You have to come up learning everything from domestic cricket, and that comes only when you are playing it, taking every game seriously, enhancing your capacity with every passing game, otherwise it will be tough for you to make it into the team.

Do you think there's extra pressure on you because the coach, Mickey Arthur, hardly comes to Pakistan or watches Pakistan domestic cricket?
We need to realise that when we get a foreigner as coach, he needs some time to understand the culture and norms of the country. So we have to give him some time. He spent some time with Karachi Kings in PSL, so he got a glimpse of the talent, but until he comes to Pakistan he will never be able to get a broader picture of our talent pool, and it will obviously be tough for him to develop chemistry with new players. He is around in the PSL, but that doesn't really give him a proper picture.

"We are not even able to find one captain, but still we look to explore three captains for three different formats. Isn't this funny?"

We are helping him cover this aspect. He has started to get an idea about our players after spending seven, eight months in the job. After West Indies, we will have plenty of time to sit down and assess the performance of our domestic players and plan accordingly. His assessment is important.

When it comes to any result, does that mean you have to take more responsibility than him?
Coaches and selectors are all part of the system. There is no point in blaming each other for any loss. It doesn't help at all, it holds you back. We are all part of the system, and if we take credit for victories, then we all are the ones to be blamed for the defeats as well. We should realise the mistakes, discuss and change accordingly.

At the same time, I believe it's the captain who has more importance, with greater responsibility. We selectors and coaches eventually sit behind the rope and the captain is the one who gets his team in and fights on the ground and executes all the plans. I was criticised as captain for doing things my own way, and now as chief selector I am being criticised for giving the captain a big say in selecting the team.

Players often criticise selectors when they are dropped because they think they didn't get enough chances to prove themselves. Do you talk to players before dropping them?
I have started a culture of talking to players. A recent example was Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal. I have spoken with both players and told them about the complaints about them, which they need to fix before being considered for the national team. If players get dropped, that doesn't mean they have become bad. We need to assist them to come back. It's my job to sit with them, give them confidence. The coach needs to work with them, and the captain also needs to talk to them and tell them what he requires from them. You cannot turn your back and push them away from the system. They are part of the system. It's a process that needs to be put on track for smooth functioning. Players are our products and we cannot afford to have a gap between us. Being dropped is tough and painful, but it's good for the players, as they have to go back and fix their problems and come back hard.

How much time do you think a player should be given to be judged?
This varies. There is no time frame or number of matches or any such criteria. It's more about how you cope with international cricket. Sometimes we don't find a spark in a player after three or four series. Another player impresses you within a few matches, showing all the material that is required for international cricket. So it's tough to say that a certain number of series or matches can help us to mark a player.

What do you look for in a player?
Cricket has become very fast. Your nerves and temperament are tested. I look at a player to see how strong he is mentally and how he can cope under pressure. That's the major thing I look at to judge a player for the long run.

"I have to appreciate that Amir, Rahat, Wahab have played four tough series without picking up an injury, from England to UAE, then New Zealand and Australia. They should be given credit that they are still on their feet and are now playing in PSL" © AFP

Another important thing I look at is the player's ability to finish the game. Some score runs but do not finish the game. You put an effort in for your runs but you didn't do the required hard work for your team to win. What's the point of scoring 120 when the team requires 140? What's the point of a five-wicket haul when you need to take six wickets? Imran [Khan] bhai used to tell us to follow the scoreboard. Sometimes your 20-odd runs in a winning cause are much more important than the hundred you score.

There was a time when India was a big [batting] side on paper, and each one of them was scoring big, but they weren't winning totals. On the other hand, the Pakistan side wasn't that big, scores were smaller, but they were calculated smartly. If it required eight per over, Saeed Anwar wasn't concerned about his own tally, he followed the scoreboard. That's the exact element missing in our team right now. The board asks for something, you are doing something else. We need players who take the responsibility. I don't want to blame anyone but this is our weakness.

The average age of retirement in cricket is around 37-38, but Misbah-ul-Haq has now gone beyond 42. How do view this?
There are two ways of seeing this. You could appreciate Misbah for remaining relevant by keeping himself fit and performing. He made a case that if you are fit enough and contributing, then you can play as much as you want.

In one-day and T20 cricket, age does matter and does reflect in your game. In Tests you can get by on being fit and performing, but yes, there is a cycle. So players like Younis [Khan], who is also touching 40, and Misbah, who will be 43 in a few months - both of them are okay so long as they are not a burden on the team.

You have recently said publicly that you are considering Salman Butt. Is he really needed?
He has scored enough runs in first-class cricket, but we also have to see what the team requirement is at this stage. It's not necessary that any player who scores runs in first-class cricket can straightaway be drafted into the team. But at the same time it's a healthy sign that we have enough players who are competing hard to get selected. That healthy competition is a strength for us. Eventually this sense of competition will help us and Pakistan. For Salman, I am going to sit with Mickey and see what he has to say and what he requires.

Do you believe in rotating players?
I believe in a rotation policy, but less for batsmen and more for bowlers. No captain wants to dislodge a winning combination, and there are players like Mohammad Amir who the captain doesn't want to be benched because with him they have a chance to turn around the game. But we need to realise that it's difficult for a bowler to play all three formats. At the same time, for a batsman, it's different - his form is about how much he plays.

"Cricket has changed drastically with modern techniques and mindsets. Why do our batsmen score 13 off 70 balls? Why are they not able to take singles? Why can they not rotate the strike?"

People might have said that our bowlers didn't do much in Australia, but I have to appreciate that Amir, Rahat [Ali], Wahab [Riaz] have played four tough series without picking up an injury, from England to UAE, then New Zealand and Australia. They should be given credit that they are still on their feet and they are now playing in PSL, while Australia rotated their bowlers during the series. There is an idea in the pipeline to keep these bowlers fresh by rotating them, and we are making a pool to achieve this. But this idea isn't easy within our culture.

The PCB constitution says that the chairman has the power to appoint a captain using his own discretion. Do you think the selection committee should also be responsible?
What can I say about this? I don't think this is an issue for me. The chairman discusses with us and takes suggestions from all stakeholders in Pakistan cricket before appointing a captain. It also depends on how good your understanding with the chairman is. My recommendations are given value. Still, I don't mind taking the responsibility either.

You have advocated one captain for all three formats. Can you explain the thinking behind this?
This has became a big debate these days. We have all observed that we don't have a ready-made captain or an automatic choice for the captaincy. We are not even able to find one captain, but still we look to explore three captains for three different formats. Isn't this funny? People need to be realistic and practical about things. There are ideas that sometimes make good headlines and sound good but are not feasible.

How much can a T20 captain learn by captaining a side that hardly plays ten games in 365 days? Similarly in ODIs, 25 days in a year, so there is always a limitation for a player to evolve as captain because he isn't playing and captaining much. There obviously should be an element of leadership material in you, but by and large, the more you play, the more you evolve as a captain. The idea is to make one captain who can lead the team with one vision. We need one captain, one vision, one direction, and a captain who can lead us through tough times.

Would you say Pakistan are sceptical about the captaincy because they have no solid contender to take over long term?
Sadly, we have been facing a lot of problems and finding a ready-made captain is another. Being a good player is different and a good player who is captaincy material is different. I have taken this issue up in a recent meeting with regional coaches.

It is bizarre that we do a lot of experimentation at international level just to find how good players are with leadership. If players fail at that level, we have to start over, and that is a waste of time. I have told all the coaches to identify players who are captaincy material at domestic level and allow them to flourish. Recently I saw a senior player, Sohail Tanvir, lead the Rawalpindi side regardless of him having no near or distant chance of becoming Pakistan captain. Why not make a young player who has leadership potential a captain and groom him accordingly?

"The [board] chairman discusses with us and takes suggestions from all stakeholders in Pakistan cricket before appointing a captain. It also depends on how good your understanding with the chairman is" © Getty Images

I have told all the domestic coaches to identify players who have the spark in them, who they think realistically have a chance to become Pakistan captain. Get them in the system, give them experience. Otherwise there is a probability that any player made captain suddenly at international level can collapse.

It seems like the entire structure needs a jolt. Do you agree that Pakistan cricket is in serious decline?
We don't need to take it as a decline. We are one step behind the rest of the cricketing world. We need to raise our standard in every aspect of the game. See, in one format we are at No. 6, another at No. 7, and No. 8 in ODIs, so that is an alarming situation. We are not playing the same standard of cricket the world is demanding. First things first, we need to accept our mistakes and understand our problems. Otherwise you never improve. Until we accept our mistakes and as long as we remain in denial, we will never take a step towards making an improvement.

We have got to enhance the level of our game at every level: standard of pitches, first-class game, umpiring, facilities for players, fitness. We have to get ourselves competing equally with the world.

This is a long process. Don't expect things to start changing in six months. The chain has been broken. We need to fix it so that the system can function properly. Until associations, departments and the PCB do not work together, things are never going to change. All have to contribute and play their role with honesty, otherwise we can never achieve our goal.

Another problem with our players is the strike rate. I have asked all the coaches why our players are not developing and evolving with time. Cricket has changed drastically with modern techniques and mindsets. Why do our batsmen score 13 off 70 balls? Why are they not able to take singles? Why can they not rotate the strike? These are the questions that need to be asked. A player's base is laid in first-class cricket, and once it's instilled in you, it's tough to roll it back.

Mickey Arthur or any head coach cannot change players at international level. You are actually making his task more difficult by expecting a lot. He unfortunately has to get these players to learn about basic things, like strike rate, running between the wickets, and then he is also making an entire match plan for you. So until these things do not come at domestic level, we cannot improve.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Zaaid on February 13, 2017, 21:40 GMT

    @CRICFAN84069930 thank you for acknowledgement. Just today, Misbah's Islambad united added 40 years old Rafatullah to their squad. Agreed that he is a consistent performer in national t20 tournaments but the primary purpose of PSL is to groom young talent. Islamabad's squad is full of players who would either probably never be able to represent Pakistan (Asif, I Khalid, Zohaib, R Raees too for me) or can play for Pakistan for 2-3 years more at max (Irfan, Ajmal, Sami). The unlucky youngsters included forceably in under 23 category; Misbah would use them so pathetically that he would make sure their confidence is shattered. Just look at what he did with Amad Butt and how he used Shadab; compare it to how McCullum is giving confidence to players like Fakhar, M Irfan. About Babar Azam, I know it's not a solid stat but still it's noteworthy to mention that his only significant innings in tests came when Misbah wasn't captaining.

  • Shuhab on February 13, 2017, 21:28 GMT

    I think the key is to find a way to play cricket in your home country. Count in your home records combined with your current overseas track and your rates should boom big time!

  • Andy on February 13, 2017, 18:58 GMT

    contd.. Singles take pressure off the batsmen & also make it tougher for the bowlers to constantly change their line. By having the same player to play all 6 balls, it gives the bowlers upper hand in creating pressure & thus getting their wicket. Anyways, being an Indian, I'm not really aware of what the probs are at the root level in Pak. @uetian31: You seem to be forgetting the fact even though India did have a bad record overseas, they've been performing decently in ODI's away from home barring few series here & there even prior to 2011 WC. I can say with my eyes closed India has been a better team than Pak in ODI's at least since 2011 WC. I'm not a man of stats just of principle. I believe if any team is doing good, its no wrong in taking a leaf out of them on how they are able to do it & how it could be applied to one own self in own way. SA were struggling with their squad back when they lost to Pak, they lost to other teams as well if I remember correctly during that period.

  • Andy on February 13, 2017, 18:52 GMT

    Feel sorry for the state of affairs with Pak cricket who produced once upon a time all time greats & many talents, who may have become legends had they been part of other teams faded away because of abundance of talent. I have an issue with Inzi's interview on only 1 aspect though, he cited India's inability to win matches even after scoring big but I fail why he can't ask his players to change like they did in the recent past. Players need examples & I honestly don't see any player in current Pak squad that other players could look upto in batting dpt especially. It would have been good had laid an example as Kohli or Steve Smith for his players on how to rotate strikes if not hitting an boundary. Coaches & selectors play an important role in that as its only in the recent past, India had developed this strategy of scoring singles if not boundaries, we still recall the past when the oppositions stopped boundaries, wickets used to fall as pack of cards due to pressure.

  • Aftab on February 13, 2017, 18:22 GMT

    I think blaming only Misbah would be unfair. Lack of Accountability and Professionalism is the major cause where Pakistan Cricket is today. After the 1992 Word Cup victory, our cricket consistently on decline. PCB is to be blamed not players. The PCB can demote players but keep bringing players back in the team shows players are bigger than the PCB. If we look at the players under central contracts (A, B, C), individually they all have potential to be great players but lack of team chemistry and professionalism is holding them back to be successful. Cricket is a team sport not individual sport. Once the players figure out, I think we will see better results. Its sad to see our players lack in basic fundamental of cricket which I don't think needs to be coached. That comes within the desire and for love of the game. So much has said about improving the current domestic cricket standard but nothing has been done. Shame on PCB

  • molab14586992 on February 13, 2017, 16:50 GMT

    Salute to you sir ZAID excellent you are 100% right in misbah being the culprit he seems to hate young talent and tries to decompose them Azhar and Asad are lucky they adapted to misbah otherwise their story would have been the same all of these players were talented indivisuals but misbah is very annoying and i hope i hope that he is not planning the same for Babar azam as he seems to be our last hope it is misbahs fault look how tendulkar and kohli had a good bond and that makes you confident all misbah wants to do is make himself the hero i still remember 2007 final and i knew this man is not a hero but a villan

  • yaseen1110592 on February 13, 2017, 15:50 GMT

    Firstly Misbah should be given full credit for developing the negative thinking in the team. Things to be done immedietely to improve the team performance across all formats. Remove Misbah immedietely, Keep, Ahmed Shazad, Umar Akmal, Naser Jamshed and Sohail Tanvir away from the game permanently. Make Sarfaraz Ahmed Captain, Mohammed Amir as Vice Captain. Select Asad Shafiq and Sami Aslam only for Test team, Bring youngsters in team with fire in Belly. Warn Batsmen about value of their wicket and strike rate Warn Wahab Riaz about his erratic bowling. He is just being selected for pace, but pace without control not necessary. Bring Back Harris Sohail

  • Syed on February 13, 2017, 6:59 GMT

    Inzimam retired after 2007 world cup in which Pakistan failed to qualify for main round as they lost to Ireland. He was then given a farewell test match so that he could score 15 odd runs and overtake Miandad tally of 8832 but failed by only 2 runs. No doubt Inzi was a fine batsman but never gave any athletic impression in what ever he did.

    Inzimam was full time involved in preaching till he got job of coach from Afghanistan for 2015, T-20 world cup. After WI had qualified for final they were beaten by Afghanistan ,some how this credit went to Inzimam and he was called to be chief selector of Pakistan. Imagine some one who was never involved in selection of his state side was made chief selector but still behaves like a priest. Is it not a joke that Inzimam gives lectures on fitness??? Since selection process in Pakistan done on regional basis Inzimam rather than doing preaching is coach of Pakistan team.

  • zaf on February 13, 2017, 4:04 GMT

    INZY should shame on his team selection; does AKMAL Brothers, Hasan Ali, Asad Safiq, Rizwaan, deserve to be in PAK team? PAK Team need a game changer and fighter players like; FAWAD ALAM, SHOAIB MAQSOOD, HARIS SHOIAL, SARJEEL KHAN, AHMAD SHAHZAD, KHALID LATIF etc.

  • muhammad on February 13, 2017, 3:58 GMT

    @SYSUBRCEQ0 here you go, "PAK has little bit better record in tests than India"I would not have gone into the "Record books" but since you dear Indian had brought it here so let me make your mind little light by saying this, "Pak has the best W/L ratio in ODI and TEST in the history of SC cricket" which your team got the test status in 1930's. So please give all us a break and lets wait and see how your team will do out side SC. and about your comment related to UAE, we do not have any choice due to other issues to play except in UAE. This is not controlled by pak team. Pak is not like india playing 15 odd test in row in home. We only had 3 bad series for last 6 years (Aus & NZ, SA), Even last NZ series we drew 1-1, Lost test series in SA but won ODI series and became first team of ASIA to do so, so our outside SC record is much much better then India. Also, about WI, you must have forgotten the 80's and 90's series where WI escaped defeats marginally!

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