By Hafsa Adil
This article was originally published on November 14, 2014.
Despite the locks and the looks, Aaqib Javed was never the quintessential Pakistani fast bowler. Drafted into a team boasting Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and captain Imran Khan, he was the man with a thankless job – keeping one end tidy with his fast-medium bowling in order for the Ws to attack from the other. It was with this brief that he landed Down Under with the Pakistan side but left the continent with his life and, indeed, career turned upside down.
After several coaching stints with the Pakistan Cricket Board, Aaqib has now settled into the role of head coach of the United Arab Emirates side, whom he will soon lead to their second ICC World Cup – once again – to Australia and New Zealand. This past Tuesday, as he waited for his part-time cricket team to arrive at the ICC Global Academy grounds in Dubai, Dawn.com caught up with him to deliberate on Pakistan’s chances at the upcoming tournament and for a time-travelling session back to the 1992 World Cup.
Hafsa Adil: Take us back to the time when the squad left for the World Cup. What were the expectations like?
Aaqib Javed: Leaving Pakistan, we were actually quite confident. With a bowling attack comprising Wasim, Waqar, Mushi (Mushtaq Ahmed), me and Imran and batsmen such as Miandad (Javed), Malik (Salim), Aamir (Sohail) – we weren’t feeling too bad.
We reached Australia two weeks before the tournament and put in a great deal of work in our preparations. But just as the tournament was about to get underway, we lost Waqar to injury. When your entire bowling composition is disturbed, it is a major setback. We didn’t know who our third bowler would be. Our seam bowling options suddenly became very limited and when you are in Australia and New Zealand, it is very difficult to compete with just two seamers in the side.
During the first few matches, our concerns were translated into results as playing with two seam bowlers cost us. As the tournament progressed, based on our results, the players began to lose hope of making it to the second round. Slowly, we could see it slipping away from us.
HA: How did it change, then?
AJ: What do they say about fate? That when you’re destined to achieve something, luck favours you. It was after the match against England (which was washed out, resulting in a draw) that our negative frame of mind slowly began to turn around.
We thought, “if we have survived even after the worst of performances (Pakistan were bowled out for 74), maybe we can make it forward if we win the rest of our group matches.”
We then went to Perth for our match against Australia. It was almost impossible for an Asian side to beat Australia at Perth but that was our day. Just before the match, Imran came into the dressing room, spoke for about 20 minutes and turned our psyche around for the rest of the tournament.
He instilled a belief in us. He had this unique quality, a quality that every leader must have: to make people believe in what he is saying.
Personally, whatever cricket I had played before that match or after it, nothing could ever match those three-and-a-half hours. The mental state I was in, I had never experienced it before and never did after.
I can’t describe that feeling. It was...I knew it was our day. I was restless, couldn’t wait for the match to begin. I thought “aaj koi nahin rok sakta mujhe (no one can stop me today)”. I took three slips because I knew I was going to be on the mark. It was the same for everyone else. (Pakistan beat Australia by 48 runs in that match)
We played New Zealand next. They were unbeaten and one of the favourites for the tournament, but still no match for our confidence. Perth was the turning point – we didn’t know what had hit us (humain pata hee nahin chala kay humain hua kya hai). The momentum was such that it took all the pressure off us. Even before the final, we felt zero pressure. We knew only we could win the tournament.
It was the perfect exhibition of how a positive mind-set can change your fortunes overnight. After winning that match we knew – we didn’t expect or hope – we just knew that we’d reach the next round.
So going back to those 20 minutes, that’s when he switched our minds around. Those 20 minutes were the reason we won the World Cup.
HA: The great cricket writer Osman Samiuddin often uses the term “haal” while describing this Pakistani momentum that you keep mentioning. Is there really such a thing as “haal” in cricket?
AJ: See, when you’re playing a team game it is very difficult to have all the players come together to play as one entity and think alike. Even with the best of teams, when they lose they have a side where four players are going in pushing forward and the rest backwards. So in such situations, you need one person to rise, gather everyone, align them in one direction and push them forward.
Even without Waqar we had understood our mechanism: new ball to be shared between me and Wasim, then Mushi, Imran and so on. Limited bowling options but full of confidence.
Your mind gets confused only when there’s a doubt about what you want or how you are feeling. When someone or something clears that doubt – and your mind is free of clutter – your momentum will remain the same.
For us, the momentum from Perth carried on into the England series (following the World Cup) and kept going for a long time. You keep riding that wave for as long as there’s no major setback, for example a change of captaincy or management.
Sourav Ganguly did it for India for so many years, until Greg Chappell came and put such a brake that it took them several years to get back up again with MS Dhoni.
You see, the people running cricket boards or managing teams must have a deep understanding of the game. If the team is doing well consistently, the managers should be able to identify the fulcrum and just let them be. If you mess with it, there is a breakdown from which you can’t recover overnight.
A positive mind-set takes you all the way up to the top. So when you are displaced from the top you keep swirling down and you can’t just get back on top right away. Look at Australia, they were on top for almost a decade but once they came down, they realised how difficult it is to get back up.
The right mental approach is vital. A coach, manager, captain or even any other senior player can be the pivotal person. For us, it was Imran Khan. It was all him. The ‘92 World Cup belonged to him and his mind-set. It was his brainchild. If it weren’t for him there’s no way we could have even thought about winning, let alone reach the final.
HA: What was it that he said?
AJ: He came to the dressing room wearing his cornered tiger t-shirt and said “I have thought long and hard, spent a lot of time on this and now I have figured it out: From here, we will not look back. People are announcing your return flights but I am trying to figure out who we will play in the final. Not for a second should you think that we are going back.
Just think about the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), the final. I am thinking about it already. From today onward, we will beat these guys and I’m sure nothing and no one can stop us. Everything is coming together for us now.”
What’s that saying about the universe conspiring to make things happen for you? That’s what he meant.
Baat tou saari dunya karti hai, lekin kaun kar raha hai aur keh kya raha...asal cheez woh hai (Look, anyone can speak, give pep talks but what matters is whom it is coming from)
HA:What was your role in the side? Did Imran specify it?
AJ: When it was the three for us, my role was different. We would see which way the wind was blowing and I would just bowl against the wind. I had to bowl tight and be economical in order to create pressure for Wasim and Waqar to strike. You play this game as a team and I was happy doing my bit.
When Waqar left, I realised that I would have to strike now and started thinking differently, like a strike bowler. I guess it worked out okay because even with two bowlers we won the World Cup.
HA: What about Inzamam’s turnaround?
AJ: Once again, you have to give credit to Imran. Whomever he selected, it wasn’t without reason. A complete thought process went behind it. He knew what he could extract from a player. Inzi ran away from the responsibility, he didn’t want to take the pressure but he was forced. Imran said, it doesn’t matter if you don’t score a single run (tu chahe zero kar, chahay hila na jaye...tu bas khel) – just play. Why? He’d say, "You have no idea about your own talent."
Had it not been for Imran, Inzi would have barely survived in the team. That’s what happens here. You come, get your chance in one or two series and if you don’t do well, you’re out. Imran forced Inzi to make use of his talent. People would say, Inzi? What does he (Imran) want from him? But Imran knew what he wanted to do.
On the morning of the semi-final, Inzi tried to bail out. Imran asked us to talk to Inzi so we told him, when the captain is okay with you getting out on zero then what’s your problem? So he played. And how well.
HA: With the turnaround in place, what did Imran say after the Australia game?
AJ:He didn’t really need to talk again. All the boys had their minds set on what he had said earlier. He’d put an idea in front of us, gave us confidence and it worked. From then on, all he would say was: “See? I told you we could do it. Just wait and see what you do next. You will not even let these teams come close to you.”
HA: Your catch to dismiss Graham Gooch off Mushtaq’s bowling in the final was one of the best in the tournament. Did you really think you could pull it off in the dramatic manner that you did?
AJ: Players go to the ground and they have several thoughts going through their head: How will we win? What if we lose? With us, it was different. We’d go to the ground to win. We knew it. When you go there to win, you’re searching for opportunities to contribute and make a difference. I was desperately looking for the ball. Your brilliance or skills don’t count for much in such situations. What makes the difference is what you’re thinking.
At times you’re thinking “I hope the ball doesn’t come toward me (yaar yeh ball meri taraf na ajaye)” but in that moment I was thinking, “Come on. How, when, where can I catch the ball?” That’s the difference. It’s all in the head.
HA: How can you think about drawing or losing if, as a sportsman, you're going in to compete?
AJ: If you look at the way Pakistan is playing right now: third Test in a row, Misbah-ul-Haq won the toss, went in to bat and put up a massive total. So if you are New Zealand, how difficult would it be for you to think about winning? When you are stuck in such a situation, you cannot really think about winning. You are barely surviving. These three Tests will now seem like three months to New Zealand given the way Pakistan is playing.
For Pakistan, it will be the opposite. Having won so easily, these matches won't seem like a big deal to them now. Just because of their positive and confident mind-set. The mental aspect is the biggest pawn in cricket.
HA: What do you think about Pakistan’s recent captaincy drama? Should Misbah-ul-Haq lead at the World Cup?
AJ: It’s all a case of poor management. There must be a solid reason to make or remove a captain. If you compare Misbah’s captaincy record with others who criticise him on television on a daily basis, you will see how far he stands out. Mohammad Yousuf is always blabbering against Misbah. Shoaib Akhtar is always swearing at the captain on national television. I don’t understand what they want.
The board management should be very firm on captaincy. Look at his record: Under him Pakistan beat England 3-0, beat Australia 2-0, did well against South Africa. Which other captain has given you such results?
I don’t see anyone being this good at such a difficult time. You don’t have a home series, you keep losing players to controversies and bans, cricket development in the country has slowed down, board management keeps changing every other week. Here’s a man, a genuinely decent man, who has kept everything together and you’re after his life.
Suddenly, there emerges a group that starts clamouring for Shahid Afridi to be made captain and creates a controversy. Has anyone compared his performance with Misbah’s? If you don’t have great options then you don’t need to change anyone. The same goes for Younis Khan’s place in ODIs. If you don’t have anyone good enough to replace him then why remove him? When you’re not ready for a change and you do away with an experienced player, you end up embarrassing yourself.
HA: Is Pakistan’s team composition balanced enough to compete with the best?
AJ: The team is good. Their batting is also coming together and they have found a good wicketkeeper in Sarfraz Ahmed. They just need to slot in a seaming all-rounder like Anwar Ali or Bilawal Bhatti. If Misbah is given a free hand and confidence, there’s every chance of them going all the way.
HA: Will their Test form carry over into ODIs? Especially given the way they lost the ODI series against Australia.
AJ: When the team came here, the board, selectors, management, players – they were all confused. No one knew for sure if Misbah was the captain or not. How do you expect them to give good results? There’s no way a team can succeed if they’re playing under one captain one day and a different one another day. Everyone was going in a different direction. Misbah must be allowed to lead the way he wants to and he’s given a free hand over selection, not bound by requests and parchis.
Everyone, be it Shahid Afridi or anyone else with captaincy aspirations, must be told that firmly that there can only be one captain and there will be only one captain, and if they give such statements again then they shouldn’t ever be allowed near the team again. It’s as simple as that.
HA: Does it really matter if you peak at the right time in a tournament?
AJ: Going into any tournament, you have favourites, minnows and dark horses but the team that clicks at the right time is the one that is crowned champion. This ‘right time’ comes in the middle of the tournament. Some teams start all guns blazing and run out of steam halfway through the tournament or at the knockout stage.
Once again, Misbah should be given so much confidence that even if they lose a couple of matches, his team should have faith in him. And he should have the confidence to tell them it’s ok.
Sometimes you even have to kill the excitement at the start of these big tournaments.
HA: Why can’t Pakistan beat India at the World Cup?
AJ: It’s all psychological. They make the same mistakes: get too emotional, try to do things in a hurry, shut their brain off. The more you try to play an extraordinary game under pressure, the worse the result. As soon as they start feeling pressure, they should just kill the pace and slow things down.
Our mind works the best when it is not pushed too hard. As soon as an India match approaches, they lose their sleep and try to play an extraordinary game. They just need to play as they would against any other team. That’s the only way to deal with such situations. Otherwise panic turns into a stigma and it gets very difficult to get rid of.
Even Indian players are under pressure but because of this trend, they have developed a belief that they can’t lose to Pakistan in a World Cup. Belief and confidence are what matter and help big teams do well. They develop a confidence in their ability to overcome any opposition in any tournament.
HA: How and why do teams choke?
AJ: Due to a lack of emotional control. If you are unable to control your emotions when confronted with a tough situation you get carried away. If you can't let go of your past as a person, a team or a country it becomes impossible.
You can't delete your past, your history unless there's a revolution or major setback, a jolt. Unless that happens you can’t get rid of these tags like chokers, minnows, etc. If you're expected to behave in a certain way as a team or a person, it gets very difficult to let go.
Before Imran, our teams went to big tournaments but couldn't win because as individual players they were all Bradman or Lillee or Sobers but as a team they were zero. He gave us the concept of a team. You need someone to address these situations.
Unless you have someone who can help you get over your history, every time you are in a tough spot you will think back and go over your history and think, “Oh no, we are going to go back into the same situation as before and snap, you spiral down.”
HA: How do you prepare minnows for a big tournament like the World Cup?
AJ: We set them a target of winning two out the six group games. If we ask them to make it to the next round, they will never be able to pick themselves up after losing their first match. They will stop thinking about winning that one match. But if they know they have six chances of which they have to take two they will have to try every day, in every match.
So even if they lose the first four matches they will know that they can achieve their target in the last two matches. You must keep reasonable, realistic targets.
HA: When should Pakistan reach Australia and New Zealand in order to have the best preparation for the World Cup?
AJ: Two weeks before the tournament. They will also come to the UAE and play here at the ICC Academy, where we have Australian pitches and soil. So they will get a chance to prepare here as well.
HA: Pakistan’s bowling attack, of late, has been heavily reliant on spinners. Will they have to change this for the World Cup?
AJ: With Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez [Hafeez's action has been reported since then] they have enough spin options for the pitches they will get in Australia and New Zealand. They then need three seamers and one seaming all-rounder. Those can be Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz. The fourth option can be someone like Anwar Ali or Bilawal Bhatti, who can bat as well. This will allow them to have five batsmen and the wicketkeeper.
No matter how well Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah bowl here, Pakistan won’t need them in Australia and New Zealand. In case Saeed Ajmal is cleared and is back in the team, then you can have two seamers and a seaming all-rounder.
HA: Will Pakistan’s bowlers need to adjust their line and length?
Yorkers are a must, especially in New Zealand as the grounds there are small. If you bowl a length delivery it will land in the aisles. Anyone with a good yorker will survive.
HA: How do you think Mohammad Irfan will fare?
AJ: With two new balls, Irfan can be phenomenal in Australia. He is able to get good bounce, his ball seams so he should be quite threatening for the opposition batsmen in those conditions.
HA: And the batsmen?
AJ: With Hafeez, Shehzad, Younis and Misbah they are left with one slot for Asad Shafiq or Sohaib Maqsood.
They don’t have to worry about pinch hitting. Batting isn’t easy on those pitches so they will need Younis and Misbah. They can’t go to the World Cup without Younis. At number three, you need a player who can play a long innings, someone with experience.
Batsmen will have to change their game drastically when they go to Australia and New Zealand. Almost 60 per cent of their approach must change. They might try to drive and come down the track in the sub-continent but over there they will have to rely on cuts or pulls.
So the game will shift from front foot to back foot. If you don’t have a good cut or pull, you’re stuck.
HA: What would be the average target that Pakistan could defend?
AJ: Matches in New Zealand will be high-scoring ones and even in Australian grounds like Brisbane or Adelaide. But in places like Perth, Sydney and Melbourne it will be difficult to hit big shots.
Pakistan should be able to easily defend 280 or even 250-plus scores. If you compare bowling attacks apart from Pakistan and South Africa, I don’t think any team has a threatening attack.
HA: Going back to the final, what did Imran say after winning the World Cup?
AJ: “What did I tell you guys?”
You can only win when you go into win. He always told us, “don’t go thinking about losing, think about winning and don’t worry if you end up losing in the process.”
It sounds very simple but ask any team how many times all their players are going in with a winning mind-set?
You can talk all about it in press conferences but to actually maintain a winning mind-set is difficult.
Whoever you speak with (from the ‘92 side), they will talk about that one meeting at Perth. We weren’t even thinking about winning before that game. And when you’re not thinking, there’s no way you can do it.
It’s all very clear in my head. I still remember it perfectly. It’s just one moment … when your life changes.