One of the most popular overseas players ever to have played in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), Grant Elliott played 105 times for New Zealand scoring 2233 runs. He has been a key member of the Lahore Qalandars squad and played a part in some of their most memorable wins in the tournament including the iconic 'bat drop' moment at the end of the run-chase against Islamabad United in 2017 edition of the tournament.
Part of the TV studio team at the 5th edition of the PSL, Elliott spoke to PakPassion.net about his experience of visiting Pakistan, the reasons behind Lahore Qalandars' disappointing performances in the PSL, the never-ending production line of Pakistani pace-bowlers and his hopes of a New Zealand tour of Pakistan next year.
By Saj Sadiq (9th March, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Have you had much of a chance to explore Pakistan during your current stay?
Grant Elliott: It’s a busy work schedule for me and the studio hours are long especially when it’s a double-header so it’s a bit difficult to explore Karachi. But on one of the days off I have been out and about with my hosts Fakhar-e-Alam and Azhar Ali and met the Sindh Governor Mr. Imran Ismail and had tea with him which was an excellent experience as he is a very pleasant man.
PakPassion.net: You’ve obviously been watching the Pakistan Super League (PSL) very closely from the TV studio, what do you make of the standard this time around?
Grant Elliott: I think the PSL is a very good standard of cricket. The one thing that has really struck me this time around is that you have young guys who are performing like Naseem Shah and Haider Ali. They’ve come out and have really impressed and I think that’s a real positive because in a strong competition to see young guys play with such flair and composure at times has been really promising. I think we are seeing the fruits of labour now in the Pakistan Super League in its fifth season. In the Indian Premier League, we have seen India’s fielding really improve throughout the life of that tournament, so standards do improve over the course of time in these tournaments. What really stands out for me in the PSL is the quality of fast-bowling. It’s amazing how many of the guys in the PSL bowl at speeds of 140KpH or more, especially if I compare that with New Zealand where I think we might just have only two or three such pacers bowling at those speeds in the whole country. There is such a rich base of talent in Pakistan, but it needs to be scouted and found properly which is something that franchise cricket will actually help to do. It will help to spread the wings of the franchises and it will help in finding talented cricketers in their respective regions.
PakPassion.net: Why is it that the local batting talent is not coming through in the Pakistan Super League?
Grant Elliott: From a batters point of view, PSL pitches present some excellent challenges as the conditions are quite tough in Pakistan and differ from ground to ground. You have Rawalpindi which is quick and then you get to the pitch in Multan which turns quite a bit, so your skill level has to be pretty sharp to be able to contend with those sorts of conditions. But I disagree with you in a way because when I look at the Pakistan national team, I see that this country has produced so many excellent batsmen over the generations. From what I have seen, the young batters coming though at the moment look pretty good to me and should have a great future in international cricket.
PakPassion.net: Do you think having four overseas players in the starting eleven in the Pakistan Super League is restricting opportunities for the local players?
Grant Elliott: No I don’t think it’s restricting opportunities of local players as at times some of the teams like Quetta Gladiators have only played three overseas players. I think the balance is just right and what that does is like what we saw Rilee Rossouw do the other day, when he scored a hundred off forty or so balls. So, when you get young bowlers like Naseem Shah bowling to him at the death they are upskilling as well by bowling to the world’s best players especially in T20s and that can only be a good experience for them. I think the more foreigners you get playing, the better, but I think four is a good balance for the strength of the competition and for also giving enough local guys an opportunity. Also, I think there is talk of bringing in another team to the competition so that will give more opportunities to the local players too.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the Pakistan Super League is ready to accommodate a seventh team next season?
Grant Elliott: I do like the idea but what it will mean is that the competition goes on for longer and these competitions are good when they are three weeks, crash, bang and you have a winner. We’ve seen the Big Bash extend its competition and for me it felt like it went on for too long. As a spectator you almost lose interest and you just wait for the semi-finals and final and then see what’s happening. So, I think you still need to keep people engaged and that’s obviously the revenue in there as well which is in that engagement, and where you are making sure the crowds are coming in.
PakPassion.net: How do you think the Pakistan Super League is helping in reinvigorating interest in the game in Pakistan?
Grant Elliott: What is really fascinating for me is that even though top-level cricket has not been played a lot in Pakistan over the years, yet we’ve seen outstanding crowds in Multan and Rawalpindi. So, it’s clear that bringing the game to these cities is helping spread the word of the game and grow the game in the country. Maybe that’s where Pakistan can find their next best player which could be their next Inzamam-ul-Haq or Ijaz Ahmed or Wasim Akram. I think it’s fantastic what PSL is doing in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: We are seeing players like Shan Masood and Shadab Khan being given the opportunity to captain a PSL franchise which can only be a good thing for Pakistan cricket?
Grant Elliott: I really like how those two have led their teams. The more leadership you can give to young players, the more they are going to go into the national team. As a result, you won’t just have one captain who barks orders and leads but there will be 11 players on the field who are all leaders who have been encouraged to take on a leadership role. With such players who have been conditioned as captains in the way they speak, the way they act, the way they look after themselves in terms of their nutrition and their fitness, you get players who tick every box that is needed. That’s how you become a stronger team when each of these leaders lead from the front and they do everything possible to make themselves the best possible athletes they can be.
PakPassion.net: Are you impressed with the never-ending production line of Pakistani pace-bowlers?
Grant Elliott: When we speak of the new bowlers, Shaheen Shah Afridi has been really impressive. He has presence on the field, he never gives up, he tries so hard and it looks like he is running in even harder now and is generally a very impressive young guy. The catch he took in the game against Peshawar Zalmi other day was simply outstanding. The fact is that if you can get guys like that who can lead in that sort of way on the field, then they can help bring up the next group of talented youngsters. It looks really positive and with Azhar Ali as the Test captain, a good leader and great guy, these young pace-bowlers have a captain who will back them all the way in the longest format of the game.
PakPassion.net: How tough is it to see your former team Lahore Qalandars struggling for large parts of the Pakistan Super League?
Grant Elliott: Oh man, it’s tough. It hurts me to see Qalandars struggling. Whilst I am encouraged by their recent back-to-back wins, I do feel that they are going to have to do something different. We are in the fifth season and the same things are happening. They’ve got the best opening partnership in the competition, fastest run-rates, highest runs as openers in overs 1-6, but they just fall down in the end which has been the trend for them. You have to look at it from the auction point of view and that’s probably where the problems start in the personnel you choose. In contrast, Multan have chosen well and have looked really strong and covered all their bases. The only thing Multan may be missing is an out-and-out fast bowler, but otherwise their team looks good which reflects where they are in the table and is something perhaps Lahore can learn from.
PakPassion.net: The Lahore Qalandars management and owners have received a lot of criticism, is that fair in your opinion?
Grant Elliott: No I don’t think so, in fact the big positive for me is that the owners of Lahore Qalandars are fantastic, great people, who want to make a difference in Pakistan and I really respect what they have done and how they are trying to grow not only the game, but they are also trying to change people’s lives. We have seen that with Haris Rauf who has come through the Player Development Program and he’s gone to Australia and done really well there. I was actually on that coaching trip and helped coach the Qalandars development team in Australia when Haris was part of that squad. Then he got a club deal in Australia with Aaqib Javed’s help and now he’s bowling 150KpH, playing in the Big Bash and for his country and heading towards achieving superstar status which is amazing. In isolation there are some really good things happening with the Qalandars, but collectively it’s about getting those combinations right. I always say that the teams that get their combinations right from the start and only change one or two players are the teams that actually do well and play consistent cricket to get themselves to the play-offs and finals.
PakPassion.net: How does one day being Head Coach of Lahore Qalandars sound to you?
Grant Elliott: I haven’t gone into coaching yet and it is something that with a young family is a tough ask. But I do think it’s something that I will be quite keen on in the future. I do enjoy helping players grow and learn, and I enjoy fertile learning environments where people can express themselves. The key is to make players believe they can do the impossible and that comes through relationship-building with the players.
PakPassion.net: Who do think are the stand-out team at this year’s PSL?
Grant Elliott: Whilst I like the balance of the Multan side, I do think all of Multan, Quetta, Islamabad and Karachi have very strong top-order batters. Batsmen get you to play-offs and bowlers win you competitions. If the conditions suit Multan and if it turns, they are going to do very well and go far because a lot of the other teams have based their line-up almost on Dubai-like conditions. Having said that I will admit that it’s tough to pick one team which stands out but what I do know is that this edition of PSL is a really tough and exciting competition.
PakPassion.net: New Zealand are due to tour Pakistan next year, is that a tour that you hope will happen?
Grant Elliott: I guess it all just depends on the security and how New Zealand cricket see it when they go through all their security protocols. The good thing is that cricket is thriving in Pakistan and there have been a number of teams that have toured and hopefully it will continue. I think PM Imran Khan and PCB CE Wasim Khan are doing a very good job in bringing cricket back to Pakistan. Sport helps galvanise a country and it’s so important that young people grow up playing sports so anything that can promote this is great by default.