Known for his forthright views and his deep insight into the game, former England captain and current television pundit Nasser Hussain had a ringside view of Pakistan’s tour of England earlier this year.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net Hussain spoke about Pakistan’s decision to tour England during the Coronavirus Pandemic, his views on what Azhar Ali needs to do to preserve his position as Pakistan Test captain, what Babar Azam should be aiming for to becoming a great of the game, how impressed he is with Shaheen Shah Afridi and the importance of England’s proposed tour of Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (5th November, 2020)
PakPassion.net: How impressed were you that Pakistan toured England at such a difficult time?
Nasser Hussain: I was hugely impressed that they came over to England when the virus had really taken-off here and when some of the press reports coming out of the UK would have made shocking reading in Pakistan. Firstly, the West Indies and then Pakistan to come to England and spend so long in a bio-secure bubble away from their families for so long was incredible and the sacrifices they made were truly exceptional.
PakPassion.net: Where do you think Pakistan fell short in England?
Nasser Hussain: The standard of cricket produced by Pakistan was exceptional. However, where they fell short was in the second innings at Old Trafford and even in that game Pakistan were bossing it and they just needed to finish off with one substantial score from one of their batsmen such as Babar Azam in the second innings. Had they done that they would have had a substantial lead which would have left England with too many to chase. But even from the position they were in when Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler got together, Pakistan were in a strong position and should have won and probably gone on to win the series.
PakPassion.net: What did you make of Azhar Ali’s batting during the Test series?
Nasser Hussain: He played a good knock at the end of the series, but he needed to get his head down and should have got more runs earlier in the series when they were much needed. He had the experience of playing previously in England but was struggling with his technique and LBWs, but it was nice to see him make the required changes and solve that problem.
PakPassion.net: There are some rumours that Azhar Ali should be replaced as Pakistan Test skipper. Do you think that would be justified?
Nasser Hussain: It’s part and parcel of being a Pakistan captain and it goes with the territory. If you have a couple of quiet series, the pressure mounts on you. He has captained the side very well, he’s a good diplomat of the game and he’s a good guy who you want to do well. He is a good captain, but it’s essential that two disciplines as a skipper have to go well, either you have to win series, or you have to get a lot of runs. At the beginning of the England tour he was doing neither so the pressure mounted. What he has to do now is to get his head down and get runs; if he can get runs then I think his captaincy is fine and he should stay in the job.
PakPassion.net: How highly do you rate Babar Azam?
Nasser Hussain: Babar has what it takes to become one of the greats. In white-ball cricket he’s up there with the best of them. He’s up near the top of the rankings in T20Is, and in fifty over cricket he is exceptional too. He did OK in the Test series against England bearing in mind England is not an easy place to come and play Test cricket. He just needs that consistency in Test cricket to be up there with the likes of Virat Kohli. Babar’s done that for 6 to 9 months so far, he just needs to be consistent for a longer period of time.
He does have a slight technical problem in the area just outside off stump, a little bit like Kohli had when he first came to England and he was found out. Babar’s a wonderful player and batting isn’t just about the amount of runs you get, it’s about the way you get them and when Babar’s batting well he’s so pleasing on the eye, he’s an aesthetically pleasing player. He’s an outstanding player, make no mistake and he’s just got to make sure that if he wants to be a great of the game and he’s pushing that, and for that you have to be consistent all over the world and get runs in all conditions.
PakPassion.net: What were your impressions of Shaheen Shah Afridi?
Nasser Hussain: He’s inexperienced and is learning his way in international cricket. I was impressed with Shaheen and I like his attitude and the way he runs in all day. If there is one asset that he can pick from Wasim Akram then it’s to swing that new ball from outside off stump. He swings it from straight and swings it down the leg side, but if he could swing it from outside the off stump that would make him a tougher proposition for batsmen.
He was a handful for left-handers because of his line and he was swinging it from their off stump. If he could swing it in from just outside the right-handers off stump that would be very effective. I think there’s a technical area lacking there, whether it be going a little bit round arm or his use of the crease. But his pace was up in England and I was very impressed with him.
PakPassion.net: In contrast with Shaheen Shah Afridi, did Naseem Shah fall short of expectations?
Nasser Hussain: I must admit that I was less impressed with Naseem Shah, but that may be due to the way he was used. He had to be used like England use Jofra Archer – short, sharp bursts. Look at the game at Old Trafford, Naseem went a long time without bowling when he should have been the go-to bowler for short, sharp spells. Chris Woakes came into bat at Old Trafford at a time when he had been struggling for runs and had been having a hard time against the short ball. I thought Naseem was being saved to have a go at Woakes but he was never really used for that. He has the asset of pace, is skiddy and has an aggressive nature. He’s learning and if given time to grow, he will be a very fine asset for Pakistan. I’d like him to get closer to the stumps when he bowls as he was bowling from a bit too wide of the crease. Both Naseem and Shaheen need to be constantly worked with regarding their technique so they need some good bowling coaches working with them all of the time.
PakPassion.net: Do you think Mohammad Amir has made the right decision regarding his retirement from Test cricket?
Nasser Hussain: Just like Pakistani fans I was disappointed by his decision to retire from Tests because I felt there was so much more that he could give. I know his statistics were going in the wrong direction, it wasn’t going right for him and he had injuries and then like any other cricketer he had to decide what he was willing to put his body through and what was the best route for him.
As a cricketer, retirement from certain forms of the game is the only thing you are really in control of. Other people are in control of when you get axed and when you get left out, so I’m never overly critical of when people retire either from the game completely or from certain formats, because only you know what you are going through physically and the sacrifices you have had to make. But having missed 5 years, you would think that he would want to make up for lost time and play as much cricket as possible and then if you are left out you can say, well I made myself available.
I’ve been a massive fan of Mohammad Amir and he has bowled some wonderful spells such as that one in the Champions Trophy final. When he’s bowling well and swinging it there’s no greater sight in white-ball cricket, but he’s not quite done it in Test cricket on a consistent level. His decision was disappointing, but only Amir knows his body and his mind really. But if you are going to retire from a format then you have to make sure you come back strong in the formats that you are playing and you give it absolutely everything in white-ball cricket. So, if he is going to focus on white-ball cricket, let’s hope his statistics and his performances go up.
PakPassion.net: An England tour of Pakistan in the New Year would be great news for Pakistan and world cricket wouldn’t it?
Nasser Hussain: Absolutely. The hurdles to this tour are not insurmountable, but with Covid-19 active in both countries, everyone will have to put that into the equation now. Let’s hope the infection rate falls in England and they get the go-ahead to proceed and then vice-versa, let’s hope the Covid-19 rates stay low in Pakistan.
But most importantly security issues have to be looked into, however much Pakistan want England to come over. The security and safety of the players is of paramount importance. If these two boxes are ticked, then I think in the present climate you have to put it to the players and the players have to be given the final say. They are grown adults and they have to make the decision on whether they will go and are willing to take any risks. However, once those decisions are made, I think ECB’s decision to start talks about the tour will be a good one and I for one am hoping that the visit goes ahead and because it will be great for Pakistan and for world cricket. The simple fact is that Pakistan needs cricket back at home and I really hope the tour by England goes ahead.
PakPassion.net: Would you be prepared to go to Pakistan if England agree to the tour?
Nasser Hussain: If those two boxes are ticked, I would have no problems going out to Pakistan and commenting there as I’ve not done that in Pakistan. I have been there as a player, but I’ve not been to Pakistan as a commentator so that’s a box that I would like to tick. It’s a lovely country, I’ve always enjoyed touring Pakistan and for obvious reasons I have some very fond memories of Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: How tough is the bio-secure environment for the players and everyone else involved?
Nasser Hussain: For the commentators it was tough-ish, but it wasn’t dreadful as we were just pleased to be having cricket back. We could pop in, do a week and then see our families for a few days, then go in again, get tested and start again for the next match. But for the players it was a lot harder, they were in there for months on end and it’s like anything else, if you are doing well, playing well, it’s not so much of an issue. But if you are struggling, not playing or not getting any runs or wickets, you open the curtains and you are there on the edge of the cricket field, then you do worry about the mental health of the players. It is something that has to be looked into because it is not something that is a one-off, as you could be going from one bio-secure environment to another one and it could become an issue. In the present climate, this definitely needs looking at.
PakPassion.net: The accusations by Azeem Rafiq have been an eye-opener for many. Has racism been something you experienced in cricket?
Nasser Hussain: I encountered very little racism at Essex. Growing up as a young boy in Ilford having been born in India and having a surname of Hussain and a first name of Nasser I did encounter some name-calling due to ignorance.
I was lucky enough to play at a club like Essex where we had a middle order of Nadeem Shahid, Saleem Malik and myself. We had a very multi-cultural county in the south of our county at Ilford where I grew up with my dad and his cricket school where we had a British West Indian net, British Indian net and a British Pakistani net and we would all take the mickey out of each other when India were playing Pakistan, or England were losing to the West Indies. It was great banter and it was fun. I grew up in that multi-cultural environment and I was very fortunate. But I understand that I was a white-ish middle-class, public school educated boy so I can’t put myself in the shoes of some of the British Asians that are growing up in certain parts of the UK.
PakPassion.net: The numbers of BAME cricketers in County cricket make for painful reading don’t they?
Nasser Hussain: I did some research recently on the amount of ethnic minority cricketers in County cricket and the numbers are still very, very low. There’s a lot of work to be done and the ECB are putting in a lot of work and effort into working with the British Asian communities so let’s see how that goes. Let’s give them time even though they’ve had a lot of time over the years. Recently they’ve got a new campaign going out and the likes of Essex County cricket club are doing a lot of work in the East End of London, so there’s a lot of good work being done which I hope will produce better results.
PakPassion.net: Jason Holder was recently critical of the lack of support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement after the completion of West Indies tour of England. Do you think more should have been done?
Nasser Hussain: I was very supportive of it then, and still am very supportive of it and continue to wear my BLM badge throughout. But things like that don’t have to come from above, things like that have to be an individual decision or a team decision. For example, Sky have never said to me put a BLM badge on, we want you to wear it, rather I just decided that’s what I was going to do so I was never under pressure to do that. I think it’s up to the individual to make that decision throughout from now on in and for a team to make that decision as well. Jason Holder, like Michael Holding are well within their rights to pass comment on this topic. It’s not something that you just do for a couple of weeks and then forget about. That speech that Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent made had a huge impact and that impact has to stay for a long time as it wasn’t just a few words that Mikey got off his chest. It’s something that we all have to think about and make positive moves to change for as long as we possibly can.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that having a cross-section of cultures has improved cricket broadcasting?
Nasser Hussain: Absolutely. There are so many different things that commentators bring to the equation. I judge a broadcasting team on all the different things they can bring to the commentary box and when I walk in, I always look at the multi-cultural context. We need batsmen and bowlers, people from different eras. Don’t just judge a broadcaster on how many Tests they played or how many wickets they took or what they’ve done on the cricket field, instead judge them on whether they are good at the job they are doing now or not.
Diversity in the commentary box is a good thing and I’m not just talking about where people are from or the colour of their skin, I am talking about diversity in terms of batting, bowling, formats of the game and how much you have, or have not played the game. We had Stuart Broad on commentary this year and he appreciated the modern outlook on broadcasting and how much things have changed. So as a broadcaster, make sure whoever you are and whatever background you are from, that you stay up to date with the modern game and not just think well in my day that’s how we did it and nothing is going to change my mind on that.