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