Currently employed as Head Coach and General Manager for Austria men's and women's cricket teams, Mohammad Haroon has amassed a wealth of experience in coaching cricket teams in Europe.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Haroon spoke on a variety of topics including his experience with the Austrian Cricket team, the appointment of Misbah-ul-Haq as Pakistan Head Coach and Chief Selector and why he is not in favour of the recent changes introduced in the Pakistan domestic system.
By Amir Husain (24th September, 2019)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about how you came to work with Austria Cricket.Mohammad Haroon: I joined Austria Cricket at the start of this season, and I do feel that they have a lot of potential to succeed. This judgement comes from my many years of association with European cricket where I have worked with the Norway side and I can see that Austria has great potential and the proof of that is that they have always done well in ICC tournaments. Fortunately for me, I was initially asked to spend some time with the Austrian side this summer and was then given the role of General Manager and Head Coach for both men’s and women’s sides. This is a similar role to what I had for Norway although the exact designation was different. My assignment also coincided with the Austrian side’s preparations to participate in the 2019 Romania T20 Cup, also referred to as the Continental Cricket Cup, which took place last month. This was the first time Austria had been asked to participate in this tournament which is held yearly in Romania. As this was a tournament which the ICC marked as an international Twenty20 tournament, this was a chance for all participating teams to play in T20I matches and Austria did not disappoint.PakPassion.net: How well did Austria do in the Continental Cricket Cup?Mohammad Haroon: Let me start by saying that the Austrian side had some good players who had been associated with the side for a while but this summer, under my supervision, this was an opportunity for a fresh start with a new set of players. We now have 14 players in the squad out of which 10 are new and young players. With this side in the tournament, we didn’t start off too well as we lost to Romania in the first game where we failed to chase 138. I believe that was because we were still a new team and playing as a group for the first time in a major tournament. I am glad to say that after that defeat, our boys bounced back and we won handsomely, creating some T20I records along the way as well. For example, one of the Austrian players, Mirza Ahsan, scored fifty in just 13 balls which is the second fastest after Yuvraj Singh who scored the same in 12 balls. Austria then created another world record by winning a T20I against Turkey by the highest margin when chasing a total with 104 balls still to be bowled. With such performances under our belt and after winning this tournament, the new players started to believe in themselves and started to gel well with each other. We are now looking forward to doing well in ICC’s T20I tournaments next year.
PakPassion.net: What is the exact composition of the Austrian men’s team in terms of locals and expatriates?Mohammad Haroon: Our team consists of one Australian and some players from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India so this is very much a side of mixed origins but most of the players are expatriates. The Women’s side which has also done well recently has mostly players who were born and bred in Austria and learnt their cricket here.PakPassion.net: How is Austrian cricket organised in terms of leagues and clubs?Mohammad Haroon: There are about 26 to 27 clubs and practically speaking, we have three grounds where cricket can be played. The system in Austria is not particularly strong in terms of the depth as out of all the clubs, there are about 15 teams that play during the whole summer. However, this year we have started to make improvements in this system by organising an Under-19 league with some clubs. So, these clubs will have a youth setup now and with the help of Austrian Cricket, these clubs will become stronger. Austria Cricket is providing a platform for these young players to play cricket and represent their clubs.PakPassion.net: The inspiration for Austria must be the way in which Ireland and Afghanistan have risen in international cricket?Mohammad Haroon: The elevation of Ireland and Afghanistan to full members of the ICC is a matter of huge inspiration for other countries who wish to follow that path. Austria will be keen to follow this road to success and reach the heights that Ireland and Afghanistan have reached. Apart from Austria, we have USA, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and UAE who wish to move forward and in that sense ICC’s move to give international status to T20 games played by these countries is very helpful as it will motivate these countries to improve their game.PakPassion.net: Your thoughts on the appointments of Misbah-ul-Haq as Head Coach and Chief Selector, and Waqar Younis as Bowling Coach?Mohammad Haroon: In my view, Misbah was undoubtedly a great captain. He was Pakistan’s most successful captain and the numbers don’t lie. He is also a very honest and humble person whose heart and soul are filled with the best intentions for Pakistan cricket. Similarly, Waqar Younis has played for Pakistan and also coached the country in the past as well.Misbah’s appointment has come as a bit of a surprise to me, especially given that this decision was taken by PCB Chief Executive Wasim Khan who is trying hard to bring changes to the system in Pakistan based upon the vision of the current Prime Minister and a legendary cricket player, Imran Khan. Wasim comes from an environment in which positions are filled by people who are the best fit for the job, so it surprised me that he has chosen Misbah who is not the right person for the role given to him. The reason I say this is because I feel that playing cricket and coaching an international side are not the same and I do not see a situation where Misbah will be able to deliver the same success as a Head Coach as he did when he was part of the dressing room and part of the XI in his playing days. I also feel that holding the joint position of Head Coach and Chief Selector is too big a task for one person to handle in a big cricket-playing country like Pakistan and Misbah will struggle doing this job. The better approach by the PCB should have been to let Misbah coach the Pakistan Under-19 side or a regional side for him to settle into this role. He cannot be given a national side to coach as a platform to experiment and get used to the job. This is a huge risk from a PCB point of view and is also a challenge for Misbah’s reputation because he has done exceptionally well in his playing career without putting a foot wrong. This is a challenge for his perception of the game and if things don’t go well, then he will be blamed for many issues and people will quickly forget about the services he has rendered in the past for the nation as Pakistan captain. I would really like Misbah to succeed as I feel he is genuinely committed to improving Pakistan team’s performances but having the best intentions and being actually competent in the job are two different things.PakPassion.net: Was it disheartening to see someone like Misbah-ul-Haq with no real coaching qualifications being preferred over qualified candidates?Mohammad Haroon: This has been a source of debate in many cricket playing countries, and many countries have found the right and logical answer to this question. In Pakistan, however, this is an ongoing debate and I am not sure how it will be resolved. To be honest, this whole method of advertising a post for a Head Coach in Pakistan to prove the credibility of the process whilst always having a candidate in their minds is not the right thing to do. PCB seem to go through the process but hire the person they had in mind before the advertisement was put out. Even Mickey Arthur was appointed based on a recommendation, but I do understand that sometimes this has to be done as people hiring international coaches don’t always have the right experience or expertise to select someone just on the basis of a CV. They prefer to have some recommendations so that they aren’t held hundred percent responsible if things don’t go right with the appointment. In this way, they will always have someone to blame to save their own reputations. I suppose the age old saying that success has a lot of fathers, but failure is an orphan hold true in this case. I have a feeling that with Misbah being brought in and given a lot of responsibility and God Forbid, if things don’t go right for Pakistan, the blame will be shifted to Wasim Khan so let’s see how this pans out.PakPassion.net: Do you feel that such policies are discouraging qualified people such as yourself from applying for coaching positions for the Pakistan side?Mohammad Haroon: Let me say that I applied for a coaching role in the PCB in response to an advertisement about 5 years ago and didn’t even receive an email acknowledgement of that application. There really then is no point for people such as me, regardless of how successful they are, to apply for a coaching position because chances of being even considered are minuscule. It's not just me but I know of many qualified domestic coaches who have been working in departments in the past and even have relevant international experience who have not been considered and instead someone inexperienced like Misbah-ul-Haq has been appointed with the idea that he will make things better for Pakistan cricket.PakPassion.net: What are your views to the recent changes to the Pakistan domestic system?Mohammad Haroon: These changes do not make any sense to me. PCB have a set of players who have been playing in the last 10 years or so in the old domestic setup and all that has happened is that they have been given a new platform to perform where they will play on the same pitches, where games will be officiated by the same old umpires, but magically what is expected from all this are different results.For me, these changes will not make any difference, and this is actually bad for Pakistan cricket. This is because in the old system, there was investment being made into Pakistan cricket by the departments and they were also providing a source of livelihood for the players as well. In all this, PCB was not having to spend their own money on the players. The PCB could have left the system as is and if they were really interested in making a change, they could have selected some good cricketers and made them play 4-day cricket under the PCB’s auspices. What I do not understand is why they had to copy systems from places where cricket is not the only source of livelihood and where people have other options to earn money? They could have also looked at the PSL and created a version of that as a separate system in addition to what they have in 4-day cricket. In fact, with the PSL in place where the crème de la crème of players is playing in one tournament, there is no need for another such system. Although, to be honest, even the PSL isn’t the most ideal system as it doesn’t improve any cricket at the grass roots level. Coming back to this new system, when children see how after playing years of cricket some senior players have been left without means to earn a living, will they want to pursue cricket as a career? If the idea is to produce 10 good cricketers, then you need to have a pool of 1000 to work with, but that idea is being destroyed by reducing the number of cricketers in first-class cricket.PakPassion.net: Has Pakistan cricket lost something by not including Mohammad Asif this season?Mohammad Haroon: Mohammad Asif performed very well on his return to cricket after the expiry of his ban. I believe having him part of Pakistan cricket would have been good for the country, but I do not think the powers that be want him included. He is obviously broken and has made a decision to move on which I feel is a loss for Pakistan cricket. I had the chance to watch the first-round games of this tournament which were all high-scoring matches. The quality of bowling was very low with hardly anyone who could bowl a bouncer or seam the ball. In my view, if Asif had been playing in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy this year, he would have challenged a lot of batsmen and not having him in any of the sides is a great loss for the country.PakPassion.net: Do you feel that changes to the domestic system have been done with the right intentions?Mohammad Haroon: The old Pakistan system was based upon the idea of a strong club structure. In the new system, this concept is not being mentioned at all. The previous system had autonomous bodies running the game and whilst they were not perfect, they were selecting players with some independence. Now PCB have changed this to a centralised system which has been designed by some people who have been sitting in the PCB for a long time. To be honest, it makes me laugh when I see the same people coming on the media and talking against the old system and being advocates of a new system. If they had any shame, they should have resigned and let someone else come in and implement the changes. To me this looks like a situation where these people are just looking to protect their monthly salaries. We all know that some of the Pakistan star players were from a poor background and then small departments brought in those players on stipends of PKR 1,500 and gave them a platform to show what they could do and once they had proved their worth, they were given better remuneration. What I find very odd then is these same cricketers are standing in front of TV cameras and telling us that the same system that brought them fame and fortune was bad. If Wasim Khan wanted to make the right change to the system, then he should have lived in Pakistan to analyse how people play cricket in the country and should have also tried to understand the culture of cricket and then taken the appropriate decision. I feel that the decision to change the system has been done in haste and it seems that not many people are willing to say anything negative against it but I will not stop as I am very passionate about it and I hope my voice can change things for the better.