ASIF Iqbal ... backs Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy in limited-overs cricket.—IF
ASIF Iqbal ... backs Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy in limited-overs cricket.—IF

KARACHI: While questioning the coaches’ role particularly when the players are facing technical problems in high-pressure games, former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal believes the country’s recent Test series loss to New Zealand in the UAE where the conditions fully suit the hosts is a major concern.

“While gauging the present state of Pakistan cricket on the basis of the team’s recent performance, it is unfair to just talk about the Test series which our team lost 3-0 in South Africa. Not many teams have won Test matches in that country, and not to forget Pakistan [seventh] currently are not well-placed in the ICC Test rankings,” Asif responded to a question on the current condition of Pakistan cricket during an exclusive interview with Dawn here at Karachi Gymkhana on Tuesday.

“To me, the way Pakistan lost their Test series to New Zealand in home-like conditions in the UAE is the real cause for concern because the place has been a happy hunting ground for our team over the past decade or so. The other worrisome aspect of this series is that our batsmen faltered while chasing [relatively] smaller totals,” he continued.

“As regards limited-overs cricket, Pakistan are doing very well and are placed number one in the current world Twenty20 rankings which is a healthy sign. Also in ODIs, our team has produced reasonably good performances.”

Asif emphasised that a Pakistani coach could be the right recipe to address the issues faced by the current national team.

“I would like to see a qualified Pakistani [head] coach who is a respected figure in our cricketing circles, the one who understands our culture. It would help develop better communication between coaching staff and players. Under him we can have qualified assistant coaches, including foreign.”

Replying to a query on the perennial problem of fragile Pakistan batting which yet again crumbled in the South Africa Tests, Asif while acknowledging the batsmen’s shortcomings questioned the role of coaches.

“We always criticise our batsmen for not coming up to the mark, particularly in Test cricket. However, one needs to ask what role have the head coach and batting coach, who are specialised in their fields, have been doing for more than a couple of years to address the problems faced by our batsmen in crunch games under pressure situations,” Asif, who led Pakistan in the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, said.

“Some of our present batsmen have played 50 or more Tests, and yet they have been committing the same mistakes. But what have the coaches been doing in rectifying these mistakes of our batsmen who are talented but do not deliver consistently? I think coaches, how they manage their professional responsibility, should also be questioned,” he maintained.

Giving the example of batting great Rahul Dravid who was appointed the coach of India’s U-19 team which paid rich dividends, Asif said similar steps were needed by Pakistan.

“Dravid was named head coach-cum-batting coach of India’s U-19 squad, a move that worked successfully and helped them produce quality young players some of whom were promoted to the senior team which on their recent tour to Australia performed exceptionally. Pakistan also needs a permanent U-19 team coach, an experienced ex-cricketer who could groom our players for the junior as well as senior team,” he elaborated.

Responding to a question on the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed who has been criticised for the team’s recent defeats, Asif said the whole picture needs to be looked into.

“I stand by my [recent] media statement that Sarfraz should not be the captain of Test team. The reason is that when the team loses a ‘home’ Test [in UAE], it puts added pressure on him which can affect his captaincy and batting in limited-overs games where his team have done pretty well ever since they won the 2017 Champions Trophy. And no doubt he is the right choice to lead Pakistan at the [2019] World Cup.”

When asked to give his view on this year’s 50-over World Cup being staged in England and Wales, the ex-Pakistan captain affirmed there were no out-and-out favourites at the mega event.

“In World Cup, any team playing better than their opponents on a given day will win the trophy,” he said. “If you recall, India downed mighty West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final; similarly Pakistan out of nowhere clinched the 1992 edition. Therefore, Pakistan [despite their unpredictability] are as much favourites as any other team at the World Cup.”

Asif, a veteran of 58 Tests, feels the existing overall state of Pakistan cricket with Ehsan Mani as PCB chairman is fairly good.

“The good thing about our cricket is that we now have a new PCB chairman who is a genuine cricket administrator unlike some of the previous Board chiefs who were political appointees with passionate love for the game but not having the understanding of how to run a cricketing administration,” he said.

“Cricket is now a complete industry, and therefore we need a chairman who can bring proper corporate culture into the game by appointing relevant professionals. Every department related to the playing of the game, like selection committee and staff running academies, should be having experienced cricketers having the relevant knowledge.”

As regards the role of the PCB administration, the former right-handed batsman said, the future of Pakistan cricket must be kept in mind.

“Departments like marketing and finance should be functioning to generate maximum funds, not just to pay the [current] professional cricketers, but also to promote the sport at the level of schools, universities, clubs and associations from where talented players actually emerge,” the 75-year-old Asif insisted.

“Moreover, we should focus more on enhancing the role of our National Cricket Academy which should be the breeding ground for future stars, not privately-run academies.”

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019