Writing in is his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood praises the fast-bowling trio of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasan and Hasan Ali for their splendid performances and excellent effort during the recently concluded series against the West Indies, feels that Yasir Shah has now regained his confidence, clears the air with Sohail Khan and looks forward to the iconic India-Pakistan clash during the Champions Trophy.
By Azhar Mahmood (21st May, 2017)
Mohammad Abbas - hard-working and a joy to work with
He has been a consistent and very good performer in domestic cricket and has a very wise head on young shoulders. He has been top of the domestic cricket performers and he deserved his chance for Pakistan. He knows about the basics of bowling and I have been very impressed with him. His domestic cricket statistics are not by luck, they are because he knows what he is doing and he knows how to get batsmen out. His strength is that he is hitting the seam all of the time, he's a front-on bowler and uses his wrist very well to move the ball both ways. His action is very good and his alignment is spot on and that's why he has the ability to bowl a very good line and length. Not only can he bowl well with the new ball but he can reverse the old ball also. He's a hard-working cricketer who wants to learn and wants to improve and he is determined to play for Pakistan and that is the attitude that a player should have. It's a joy working with Abbas and I think he will only get better and better because of his determination and eagerness to learn. We are looking to work on his One-Day skills and I feel that he can become a very useful One-Day bowler also, especially with the new ball.
Mohammad Amir - getting back to his best
He bowled well in New Zealand and Australia but he bowled a bit too short in both of those series. That length looks spectacular with the ball flying to the wicket-keeper but it rarely gets you wickets. But then in the One-Day series in Australia he started to bowl a better length, a fuller length and he was aiming for the stumps rather than the ball flying over the stumps. Amir was with me at the Pakistan Super League and we worked on a few things regarding his bowling and the improvements were evident in the series against West Indies where he consistently bowled well. Sometimes it's just minor adjustments that are needed and make all the difference and it's difficult to work on those things in the middle of a series. However the 10 day camp we had in Lahore before the West Indies series really helped and allowed us to work on a few minor changes. If there are some technical adjustments needed, they are much easier to work on away from a match scenario and that's what we did with Amir.
People forget that he came back into international cricket after an absence of five years which is not easy. He was called up to the Pakistan team probably having not played enough First-Class cricket and it was always going to take time for him to get back into the swing of things. He's not really had much rest since coming back into international cricket but now he's back bowling long spells and I feel that the more he bowls the better he will get. When you are a fast bowler there are always going to be niggles and minor injuries but I don't think there is any major fitness issue with Amir and I think the West Indies series showed that he is getting back to his best.
Hasan Ali - the perfect attitude
I like this guy's attitude. He wants to play, he wants to learn, he wants to do well and he wants to perform well for the team and for himself. He has the perfect attitude and exactly the attitude you want from your players. When I first saw him bowling in the first edition of the Pakistan Super League, he reminded me so much of myself when I came into international cricket. He's another like Abbas who knows how to bowl. We are working on a few things with him and I am sure we will see more positive results from him in the future. We are looking to reduce his run-up as he over-accelerates sometimes. His run-up was 86 feet which we reduced to 80 feet in the West Indies and we will be looking to cut it down a bit more so he gets more momentum towards the crease rather than decreasing his speed as he approaches the crease. If this works then I think he will bowl quicker. He's stronger and fitter now than he was when he first came into international cricket and I think Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali are the future of Pakistan cricket.
Wahab Riaz - continuing to work with him
We continue to work with Wahab and it was pleasing to see that in the Test match that he played in the West Indies he did not bowl any no-balls which is the first time he has not bowled a no-ball in a Test match and that is a great achievement for him. People have to remember that I do not have a magic wand where I can transform any bowler. We are working hard with Wahab and the results are gradually coming and improvements are visible.
Yasir Shah - regaining his confidence
His confidence was really down after the tour of Australia and we worked on lifting his morale and restoring his confidence. He responded with 25 wickets in the Test series in West Indies which was fantastic. However Yasir and I had a chat after the West Indies series and we both agreed that he could have bowled better as he was bowling a bit short and that the level of accuracy was only there in patches. I said to him you feel you didn't bowl well yet you took 25 wickets, think of how many wickets you could have taken if you had bowled even better.
Pakistan pace-bowlers - improvements are visible
The mindset had to be changed as previously the bowlers were satisfied with two or three wickets in an innings but now I have said to them that it's about five-fers and match-winning performances as a bowler. There has to be a hunger and desire to turn in match-winning performances and to get away from the sub-continental mindset of pace bowlers where they play a supporting role to the spinners. I've said to the pace bowlers that they need to give our spinners more help and give them a better chance of winning matches in the second innings, by taking more wickets in the first innings of a Test match and by and large the improvements are visible. I've asked the boys to improve the mindset and not to worry about others, but to concentrate on their own performances every time they go on the field. I've said to all of the bowlers that don't get complacent and every time you go out there, look to improve your best bowling figures in whichever format you are playing. It's about changing the mindset and about the thought-process and we have to continually look to improve and better the individual performances of the bowlers.
Farewell Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq
Younis is a great friend and we go back to 1992 when we met in club cricket in Islamabad. People tend to forget the struggles and all the hard work he put in those first eight or so years before he made his international debut. He put in a lot of hard yards in those first eight to ten years of his career in club and domestic cricket. I have never seen a more committed, disciplined and hard-working cricketer than Younis Khan in the Pakistan dressing room. Younis was always the same way if he scored 100 or 0, on and off the field and that's the beauty of him. A great human being, a great guy and a great cricketer and the sort of character you want in your dressing room.
Misbah took over the Test captaincy in 2010 at a very tough time for Pakistan cricket and he brilliantly handled his captaincy term, not only in that initial period but throughout his tenure as captain. He took the Test team to number one in the rankings but strangely enough, his critics continue to find negatives. In my opinion he was a great servant of Pakistan cricket and the way he handled himself and the team deserves a lot of praise. His critics say he mainly played in UAE, but that is not his fault; players do not sort out the fixtures and where matches are played. He did it in his own style and in his own way, but he did it. He deserves credit for his services to Pakistan cricket and for what he did for and with the Pakistan cricket team.
Replacing these two greats is going to be very difficult. You can't easily replace a guy who has scored over 10,000 runs in Test cricket and a guy who lead from the front like Misbah did. But life goes on and we need to find replacements for them and work with those replacements and hopefully the replacements can go an beat the records set by Younis and Misbah.
India versus Pakistan - a great opportunity to become a hero
These matches are a great opportunity for players to shine and become heroes whether they are a veteran or a newcomer. I remember my debut against India and I thought this is the time for me to perform and I thought that if I can perform in this game then I can become a hero. There is never a dull moment in these matches wherever the match is played and whoever holds their nerve and whoever can take the pressure will come out as the winner. Expectations are always huge and it's a game which is usually won in the mind. India's batting is strong and our bowling is strong so it promises to be a great occasion with both teams standing a good chance of winning.
Sohail Khan - no issue from my side
I have always treated all of the guys who I work with equally. I don't care where they are from, which team they play for or anything else. That's the way I am and that's the way I have always played my cricket. Sohail knows that I have worked hard with him at every opportunity and I am the one who at a press conference said that Sohail is working very hard and has lost 7 Kgs when others were questioning his levels of fitness and criticising his second and third spells. I believe Sohail Khan can bowl well and there are no doubts about that. There were some comments and rumours that Sohail was not picked for Pakistan due to myself, however I did not say to anyone not to pick Sohail due to personal differences and also I am not a selector. I have no problem at all with Sohail, he is like a younger brother to me but there are always differences in thoughts and things happen even in families, but for me Pakistan comes first and everything else is secondary. I've worked hard with Sohail, I have been honest with him and Inzamam and Mickey Arthur have clarified in the media recently why Sohail was not picked. I'm the bowling coach, not a selector, but perhaps I do need to have a say in the selection of the bowlers, especially if I am responsible for the performance of the bowlers.