KARACHI: With the entire world is battling the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq emphasised the need to keep the country’s cricketers motivated and focussed by urging them to focus clear while being confined indoors because of the lockdown.
In a marathon teleconference on Tuesday, former national side skipper Misbah — who is also the chief selector — touched upon a variety of topics related to Pakistan cricket after offering words of sympathy for people who have been affected by the current situation.
“Obviously there is only one thing which is the topic of all our conversations wherever we are residing, whether within the country or outside of Pakistan. It is our social responsibility not just to look after ourselves but also help out all those in distress because of this unprecedented [Covid-19] pandemic,” Misbah said.
“We must not lose hope in the fight against this because there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Collectively speaking, our lives are affected but it doesn’t mean we should stay idle. There’s lot we can all do by educating the masses how to overcome the massive calamity and staying safe. Our sole responsibility at this point must be to help each other by whatever possible means.”
Asked how the players of the national side coping with the lockdown, Misbah pointed out that he is constant touch with them and has given tasks to remain in top physical shape.
“The motivational factor is very important for every single individual. The current situation is not ideal by any imagination but we have to explore ways and means to keep the players focused. There’s nothing the sportsmen can do outdoors and the best way is to engage in activities to maintain fitness,” the 45-year-old explained.
“And how are we keeping our players motivated? The answer is that all of them are busy challenging each other in recreational activities like pushups etc. I have tasked them in groups so that they are preoccupied in matters relating to maintaining top fitness and keeping themselves in physical shape.
“Because if the players don’t after themselves there could be a big problem thereafter once they start playing whenever that will be. Therefore, it is extremely vital for the Pakistan Cricket Board [PCB] to ensure our players keep focus on looking after themselves on individual basis in this period [of forced isolation]. The major worry is to prevent players being stuck down by rustiness due to the [lockdown] scenario all of us are facing.
“And if we look at it the other way, there is always optimism of them being returning [from the prolonged break] with more intensity and hunger than ever. At the end of it, we want them to play with heart and passion as they had been in the past. Obviously, everyone needs practice but I think the motivational factor is the key to everything we do because this is the time for any player to understand himself and handle the situation in the best possible manner. The basics are something that never goes away from the mind unless you switch off completely.”
In retrospect Misbah said the 2019-20 season was memorable because Test cricket made its return back to the country for the first time since March 2009.
“With the season ending prematurely, I think it’s the right time to speak about the journey of our cricket team which definitely faced challenges on the way since I took over [as head coach-cum-chief selector]. The most heartening aspect for us was the return of Test cricket in Pakistan after years of isolation because it was something which was long overdue,” he reminisced. “We enjoyed success on the Test front [against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh] on the home soil after another series defeat in Australia. But touring Australia in the past had never been easy for previous [Pakistan] sides because of the unfamiliar conditions.”
Misbah showered praise on the young players and expressed satisfaction over their ability to play lead roles.
“There were positives with younger guys taking responsibilities and playing major roles. If we look at Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah and how they have developed then I can say our fast bowling resources in safe hands. These two have shown the impact in the long format cricket,” he commented.
“In terms of T20 cricket we are moving in the right direction. In the last series [versus Bangladesh] the youngsters shone and overall, Babar Azam has definitely been the star performer if gauged by his wonderful form in Test matches as well as T20 Internationals. Moreover, he has handled the pressure well while his [T20] captaincy is also improving.
‘Our Test openers Shan Masood and Abid Ali had done well. Overall speaking, there is no reason to feel despondent because the signs of improvement are there for all to see and judge.”
Misbah said it was imperative for the game’s ruling body to make sure the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) is played out as per the original cycle.
“I think there is no point if some of the teams are unable to play while the rest get opportunities to complete their list of World Test Championship fixtures. That would be totally unfair because every team won’t have the same chance,” he remarked. “The International Cricket Council [ICC] must look into this very seriously because the writing on the wall is emerging with the scheduled matches being put on backburners in the prevailing circumstances.
“I see no reason if the inaugural championship is played beyond the original deadline [June 2021] so that the remaining matches are played out as planned.”
When asked to comment on the recent Pakistan Super League, Misbah it is up to the PCB to decide whether the knockout fixtures should be played to determine the champions or otherwise.
“This is a dicey issue because ideally the [four] teams in contention want the matches to be played if there is space in the calendar. But if somehow this can’t be done due to logistic issues, then the PCB has to look at other options. Burt personally, I think the remaining fixtures should be played.”
Misbah further said the fifth edition had given him a good look at some of the margining talent. “The PSL did unearth some really good youngsters who can be considered for future selection. Haider Ali is one batsman who can go places because he has got everything to succeed at the top level with a fine tuning of his overall game. Then there are others like Khushdil Shah, Umar Khan, Ahmed Safi Abdullah, Dilbar Hussain, Akif Javed, while Azam Khan came of age but this kid must work on his fitness.”
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020