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Atiq-uz-Zaman
Atiq-uz-Zaman

"I am honoured that Lancashire thought of me worthy enough to be the head coach of their women’s cricket team — it’s not an easy job, it is very tough,” says Pakistan’s former wicketkeeper-batsman Atiq-uz-Zaman while talking about his year-long contract with the aforementioned county team. He also compares the cricketing set-ups of Pakistan and England, his role in the transformation of the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) cricket team, and why he feels that departmental cricket should be protected at all costs.

“We currently have three England players with us, namely Alex Hartley, Kate Cross, and Sophie Ecclestone. We have several players from the England Academy as well, which include the likes of Emma Lamb and Ellie Threlkeld. Eve Jones is also a part of our team and she is a very good player.”

Zaman believes that his is a challenging role because women’s cricket is a lot different from that of men’s. “You need a different set of ethics, pressure handling tactics and communication skills. It tests your patience as well,” he says.

Former Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman Atiq-uz-Zaman has been appointed the head of the Lancashire women’s team. He opens up to Eos about the stark differences between England and Pakistan’s cricket set-ups

He then talking about how he was associated with Pakistan’s women cricket team as the fielding coach and assistant to the then head coach Kabir Khan in 2017. According to him, it would not be wrong to say that he learned a lot about women’s cricket from that brief stint. He attributes getting the Lancashire women cricket team’s head coach job to his experience with the Pakistan women cricket team.

“I was even interviewed for the position of Pakistan women’s team head coach but I couldn’t get that job because the board preferred a foreign coach,” Zaman opens up.

When asked to compare the two set-ups, he says, “There are a lot of differences between England and Pakistan. You aren’t appointed unless your philosophy is in line with that of the organisation.

“My affiliation with Lancashire goes way back. First I was made the coach of their under-13 squad, followed by being given the responsibilities of their U-12 and U-11 teams. Last year, I worked with their U-13 and U-19 squads, both of whom won the County Championships. Working with their U-19 squad was special because it is very tough to win two-day games convincingly.”

He sheds light on how Lancashire has been pretty generous to him. “They have not only given me work, they have also educated me. I did my Level I, II and III coaching and my Masters in Sports Coaching from the University of Lancashire. You don’t see such grooming in the Pakistani set-up because of the ‘spoon-feeding’ culture. Even the players are usually very independent in England, so keeping good communication is key. Perhaps, it is easier to coach the Pakistan women’s team than Lancashire’s. But I believe I have the ability to live up to expectations. It was also very heartening to see how our international cricketers Sarfraz Ahmed, Kamran Akmal, Umar Amin, Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt, Shan Masood, Bazid Khan, Nain Abidi, Kainat Imtiaz and Bismah Maroof congratulated me on social media. Hopefully, the Pakistan Cricket Board [PCB] will also appreciate the work I have done.”

“Departmental cricket has always been stronger, whereas regional cricket has gone down the hill with time. How is it wise to help one grow at the expense of the other? The argument that the players will earn a lot more in regional cricket is vague. Only the players who are already doing well financially will reap the benefits. The players who are supporting their families because of departmental cricket are going to find it very tough to do so once it is completely abolished,” he points out.

Speaking very highly of the domestic side he coaches in Pakistan, he says, “We have completely changed the SSGC’s dressing room culture and ours is very similar to that of the English county teams. I am trying to bring the ‘positives’ from their cricket to ours and taking the same from ours to theirs.

“The SSGC has also played a key role, along with Lancashire, in my personal development. I started working from Grade-II and took the team to Grade-I. They gave me the space to hire the players I wanted in the squad.”

He clarifies that he is working with Lancashire on a summer-based commitment and will be working during his off-season with the SSGC cricket team. He says that he still is the head coach of the SSGC cricket team and wants to be their coach for years to come.

There have been rumours since last year regarding PCB’s thinking about finishing departmental cricket or merging regions with departments. Zaman lashes out at the PCB, “I think there are more cons than pros of abolishing departmental cricket in Pakistan. Why should departmental cricket support and own regional cricket? Why can’t the PCB just help regional cricket grow strong by completely separating the two tournaments?

“Departmental cricket has always been stronger, whereas regional cricket has gone down the hill with time. How is it wise to help one grow at the expense of the other? The argument that the players will earn a lot more in regional cricket is vague. Only the players who are already doing well financially will reap the benefits. The players who are supporting their families because of departmental cricket are going to find it very tough to do so once it is completely abolished,” he points out.

“I don’t get why there is so much fuss about departmental cricket. It doesn’t take money from the PCB, it pays its players, support staff and bears the expense of the ground out of its own pocket. So why does departmental cricket bother the PCB so much?” he asks.

“Departmental cricket is free from politics, whereas in regional cricket nepotism is found everywhere. So before taking any such drastic measures, it is wise to think it through. Completely separating the two will not only benefit the players but it will also grow a fierce competition between the two, which in turn, will eventually help Pakistan cricket,” Zaman advises.

The writer is a member of staff
He tweets @HumayounAK

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 24th, 2019