KARACHI: As Pakistan’s interim bowling coach for Asia Cup and World Twenty20 championship, Azhar Mahmood was witness to what happened backstage as the national team crashed to humiliating defeats in both the contests.
And the former Pakistan Test all-rounder wasn’t happy with the sort of tense atmosphere he saw in the dressing room.
He blamed insecurity and lack of trust among players and officials as the prime reasons behind Pakistan’s below-par showing in Bangladesh and India.
“During my spell with the team at the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 I saw a group of players who are very insecure. There is the constant fear from many of the players that they will be dropped for the next series or tournament,” Azhar wrote in his latest blog on Pakpassion.net.
“The selectors and Board need to give a proper run to players in order to remove this insecurity. For example, look at the treatment of Iftikhar Ahmed who was picked for one match where he didn’t even bat, but was then dropped. This sort of thing should not happen as it’s demoralising for players and adds to their insecurity. If you select a player, give him a proper chance,” he stressed.
“What I also saw during the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 was a lack of trust amongst the players themselves, a lack of trust of the Board by the players, and also a lack of trust of the coaches by the players. If a player is dropped, he takes it personally, as if he feels that the coach or captain is against him and has some sort of personal vendetta against him. There isn’t the openness and honesty that there should be amongst the group. The lack of trust is a huge problem and needs addressing.
“A culture of trust and honesty needs to be created and this is important. The players are simply trusting nobody at the moment and only thinking of their own position in the team.
However, Azhar rejected the impression that there were groupings in the team.
“This is absolute rubbish. There were no issues amongst the players during the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 and there were no groups as has been reported. The simple fact is that our players are not good enough at the moment.”
But Azhar did add that many of the players were playing for themselves.
“One of the aspects that was a real concern was that some players are playing for themselves and not for the team. This stems from the team culture and the lack of trust and results in players only thinking about their own position in the team and not what the team’s requirements are.
“At the moment very few of the players are willing to play for the team, as they are too busy worried about their own position in the team. For too many players personal goals are coming ahead of the team goals. Our players’ goals are small, they are setting themselves small targets instead of looking ahead and thinking where do I want to be in three or four years.
“Some of our cricketers are in a comfort zone. They don’t want to come out of it and aren’t willing to learn or change. They don’t want to go that extra mile and work that bit harder on their skills or do fielding drills. A coach needs to work on fine tuning, but what can a coach do if players will not come out of their comfort zone or have that insecurity in them that will not allow them to come out of that comfort zone.
“It hurts me to say this but the pride and passion of playing for your country is missing from some of the current Pakistani cricketers. You are representing your country, not your local club team! The Pakistan women’s team were an example to the men’s team at the World Twenty20, as they played with passion and pride.”
Azhar believes that Pakistan players should learn a thing or two from Indian star Virat Kohli.
“We have talent, but you have to have the work ethic, as talent alone will not help you succeed. Again I use the example of Virat Kohli. He has talent, but look at his work ethic and the amount of hard work he does to supplement that talent. It’s easy for the players to blame the coaches or the PCB, but at the end of the day it’s how much they want it and how much hard work they put in, which will produce the results.
Shahid Afridi has been criticized by various quarters for his captaincy in the two events but Azhar wrote that the all-rounder was unlucky that his decisions didn’t click. “Afridi was a changed man during the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 and he wanted to do things better. Unfortunately some of the decisions he made did not come off. If some of the decisions that he made had come off, then everyone would be saying how inspired the decisions were.”
Azhar revealed that he has made various recommendations to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
“One of the points I addressed was that the PCB needs to hire a sports psychologist to get the players mindset right and get their thinking to be a lot more positive. There’s too much negativity in the Pakistan dressing room and that needs to be eradicated. There needs to be more self-belief amongst our cricketers and that is missing at the moment.
“My other main recommendation to the Board was for the players’ work ethic to be improved and for players to take practice a lot more seriously and also to practice a lot harder instead of going through the motions.
“Another point I have made to the PCB is to hire a better quality of domestic coach. We need people who can improve the game awareness of our cricketers at domestic level and also improve our cricketers’ fitness and make them more aware of nutrition.”
Changing Waqar Younis or any other coach will make no difference unless the basic problems are solved in Pakistan cricket. Coaches can come and go, but unless the fundamental problems Pakistan cricket is facing are actually addressed, simply changing personnel will have no effect.
The first issue is domestic cricket and its current structure. There is quantity but not quality. There are far too many teams and the quality of cricketers coming through into the national team is not up to the standard that it should be. When players come into international cricket they should only need fine-tuning by the coaches, but what is happening is that players coming into international cricket in Pakistan are having to be told about diet and training, which are things that they should already know and should have learnt at the grass roots level. Our players coming into the international team have no clue about work ethics or nutrition.
Fitness levels of players
The fitness level of our players is very poor. The PCB needs to adopt a policy where players have to be up to a certain level of fitness in order to play for Pakistan. Let me give you the example of Imran Tahir. He was told by CSA that there will be no compromise on his fitness if he wanted to play for South Africa. He was told that before he could play for South Africa he would have to reach the adequate level of fitness, which he did and has maintained. This is an example of what the PCB needs to implement. We are five years behind the fitness levels of other teams in international cricket yet some players moan if they have to train for more than ten minutes. This is not the behaviour of professionals. Look at Virat Kohli as an example, he was turning ones into twos throughout the World Twenty20, I don’t think too many of our players could manage that. We lose so many runs whilst batting due to poor running between the wickets, due to a lack of fitness. The same goes for Pakistan’s fielding which is largely poor due to below par levels of fitness.
The PCB needs to plan ahead and look to the future at all times. They need to identify potential international captains and ensure they are given every opportunity to captain in domestic cricket. Give them the chance to captain in domestic cricket, see how they do and from there choose your international captains.
The captain and coach in all formats have to be in the selection committee. You simply cannot have a situation where players are picked for a squad and the coach or captain have no say in it at all.