Regarded as one of the most promising talents of his time, Mohammad Wasim rose to fame after becoming only the fourth Pakistan player to score a hundred on his Test debut. Wasim made his international debut in 1996 and in 43 appearances for Pakistan, scored 1326 runs, playing his last international game in 2000.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Wasim spoke about his experience of coaching the Northern side in Pakistan domestic cricket, his views on changes in the domestic system, how Azhar Ali will cope with the disappointment of being removed as Pakistan Test captain, Babar Azam's promotion to Test captain, the talent of Haider Ali, Zeeshan Malik and Rohail Nazir and Pakistan's chances during the tour of New Zealand.
By Amir Husain (26th November, 2020)
PakPassion.net: How does coaching compare with commentary and being a player?
Mohammad Wasim: Coaching represents a different challenge to that of being a player or being a commentator. This is something I always wanted to do and even during my playing career, I had coaching in my mind as a role I wanted to enjoy and do after my retirement. It’s been five years since I started professional coaching and it’s not been easy by any means, because there is a different kind of pressure.
As a player, you feel that the game is in your hands but as a coach sometimes you get frustrated as you are no longer in control about what happens on the field. For a coach who has been an ex-player, the biggest challenge if he wishes to succeed in that role is to forget their playing days. This is because you look at things differently as a coach as opposed to a player. So, you need to identify which things are under your control as a coach and how to empower the players and to get the best out of the players. Despite the tough challenges this role poses for me, I have to say that I am really enjoying the role.
PakPassion.net: What qualities does one need to succeed as a coach?
Mohammad Wasim: As a coach you have to forget what you did well and not so well and what you achieved as a player. Comparing and still thinking about your own playing days with your role now as a coach will never work. When managing players, you have to remember you are expected to be a friend, father-figure, older brother and confidante. The most important thing is that you have to remember that every player is different, the way every player thinks is different and you cannot manage and treat every player the same way. To get the best out of some you have to put your arm around the shoulder, for others they just need a quiet word every now and then and for some they need to be pushed and reminded of their abilities on a regular basis.
As in any role in cricket, coaching is a continuous learning process, you are looking to improve yourself all the time and looking to get the best out of the people you are working with.
PakPassion.net: How high do you rate the standard of domestic cricket since the changes made by the current PCB administration came into effect?
Mohammad Wasim: The quality of cricket at the domestic level in Pakistan has always been a subject of intense debate. Over the years, we’ve had different systems in place but last year’s changes have been massive in the sense that the number of teams have been cut down and there is a clear impetus towards quality, rather than quantity. The quality of cricket has definitely gone up and the competition is tougher. You can judge that by the fact that bowlers struggled a lot last year. But this year, the bowlers have fared better and shown improvement as they have learnt from their experiences and understand the pitches better. Overall, the standard of cricket has definitely gone up as we saw in the National T20 Cup, where the standard was similar to many of the well-known T20 leagues around the world.
When we speak about First-class cricket, we can see that the senior players are doing well and a very good bunch of youngsters are also coming through. What the new system is now offering is a good career path to players where if they perform at the second XI level, they can move to the first XI. Hopefully next year, once the Coronavirus Pandemic is under control, we will have other domestic competitions played as well, such as those involving city and club sides and that will show the real benefits of changes to the domestic system.
PakPassion.net: What further changes would you like to see in Pakistan’s domestic system?
Mohammad Wasim: We, the selectors and coaches, did propose to PCB some changes to the domestic system but those could not be acted upon due to limitations imposed by the COVID-19 situation. Due to that, all matches were being held in one city and under bio-secure bubble restrictions. Hopefully, when the health and safety situation improves next year, we will see some more improvements. Regardless, the quality of cricket has seen a massive improvement after the initial set of changes were put in place. Not only are the players getting better at facing the challenge of stiff competition, the overall logistical aspect and 5-star facilities off the field are helping them perform even better.
On the whole we are moving in the right direction but then we must understand that whenever a new system is put in place, you start thinking about what other improvements you can make. So, we are in the middle of defining those types of changes and hopefully we will see those changes in place next year. But we need to be patient as all these changes will take some time to be bedded down and take effect for the benefit of Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: Will Azhar Ali bounce back from losing his position as Test captain?
Mohammad Wasim: There is no doubt that Azhar is a strong character. He has already experienced a similar situation when he was removed from ODI captaincy but after that he performed well in Test cricket. I have known Azhar for a long time, and given his character and the fact that he is a strong individual, I know he will be disappointed in the way things have gone but he will bounce back from this setback. He has done that in Test cricket in the past where whenever he struggled for runs, he came back strongly with big hundreds and contributed positively to the team. I am sure this disappointment will be on his mind, and it may take some time for him to recover, but I can it won’t affect his batting or on the field decisions.
PakPassion.net: What do you think of Babar Azam’s appointment as Test captain?
Mohammad Wasim: There is no doubt Babar has proved himself as a batsman in all formats, but when it comes to captaincy in Tests, this will be a different challenge. We have seen some glimpses of his ability as captain in white-ball cricket, but the red-ball version will present a different set of questions for him, especially on a tough tour of New Zealand. However, I am sure the seniors like Azhar Ali will be around to help him find his feet in Tests. With Babar’s appointment, PCB’s vision of having one captain for all formats is much clear and hopefully this will bear fruit soon.
PakPassion.net: Is there a danger that the responsibility of being Test captain could become a burden on Babar’s shoulders?
Mohammad Wasim: Captaining the Test side will be tough for him, but I’m hoping that he will deliver. It will be important that he continues to perform well as a batsman as others in his team will take inspiration from his good performances and only after one or two series will we get a clearer idea of his leadership skills. He is young but very talented and we need to give him time to grow into this job. What will be interesting will be to see how quickly he learns the art of captaincy in Tests. He has had experience of leading the side in white-ball cricket, but red-ball cricket requires a different set of skills such as patience and a planning style that Babar will need to get used to. However, I am sure with the help of seniors and Misbah-ul-Haq by his side, things will work out for him on the tour of New Zealand and we will see a better and more confident version of Babar emerge.
PakPassion.net: How highly do you rate Haider Ali and what does he need to improve on?
Mohammad Wasim: Haider performed brilliantly for Northern last year which was his debut season in First-class cricket, scoring 645 runs in just 7 matches. He could well have ended up as the top-scoring batsman had he played in all the games which he could not as he was an emerging player. I have always rated him as an excellent player in red-ball cricket because he is an attacking batsman who can play with a good strike rate and loves to dominate bowlers. He is good against pace and equally good against spin bowling and most importantly, he knows his game which is amazing for someone who is so young and this shows that he has a very mature head on his shoulders.
As for white-ball cricket, he has just started in this format and we need to see how he does as a lot of young players do well in this format at the start – and I can even mention my name in that regard. I am hoping that he will continue to perform and improve. We have only seen him for Pakistan in white-ball cricket, but the fact is that you cannot be that consistent in something like T20 cricket due to the nature of the game. To me, if you as a batsman can win two out of five or six games in T20, then that is a satisfactory outcome. Based on what I have seen of Haider, I still rate him as a better red-ball player than a white-ball one.
PakPassion.net: Why is Asif Ali struggling of late?
Mohammad Wasim: Asif’s game has always been about power-hitting and in that regard, he is the best option in Pakistan. In that category you also have the likes of Khushdil Shah, but for me, Asif is one of the best power hitters in Pakistan. It’s a pity that he hasn’t been that consistent because I know him and have seen him play well in domestic cricket and he even started off well in international cricket as well. Having said that, I do feel that he needs to improve on a few things and that is something I am working with him on at the moment as he plays red-ball cricket for us.
He has all the shots but at the end of the day, it comes down to shot selection. For a batsman, it’s always nice to have many strokes but that can also be the reason for your downfall. I also feel that he has been slightly unlucky and not been consistent enough even though he was given a few chances at the international level as well. Even in this year’s National T20 Cup, he was a little off colour but then things have been tough for all players and coaches due to the prevailing circumstances brought on by COVID-19. Whilst the players involved in the national side had a good chance to play games whilst in England, the domestic players did not have that luxury during the lockdown phase earlier this year. You could clearly see in this year’s National T20 Cup that players who had played with the Pakistan side were in better shape physically and mentally as opposed to those domestic players who pretty much came into the tournament from home, after not having played cricket for a long time. So, Asif Ali was also affected by this problem and he struggled but I am hoping that he will bounce back soon.
PakPassion.net: How highly do you rate Rohail Nazir and are you surprised that he hasn’t yet played for Pakistan?
Mohammad Wasim: I don’t think he is that far away from making his international debut. He is probably number 3 in terms of wicketkeeper-batsman in the country. He is also one of those who performed well last year in red-ball cricket and also captained the Pakistan Under-19 side, and also lead Northern against the MCC. He is a strong character who understands his game well and also has those leadership traits that are needed for a captain. There is a long way to go for him, but he is learning fast. And whilst it’s more fashionable to talk about how good a wicket-keeper like Rohail is with the bat, I would break rank and say that his ‘keeping is what makes him brilliant. Of course, he can bat too and especially in white-ball cricket where he proved himself last year when I gave him chances in the top order where he got a few fifties. And this is how I try and improve player’s chances of playing for the country by playing them in the right position. For example, if Pakistan need a wicket-keeping batsman who goes in at 7 or 8 and finishes the game then sending Rohail as an opener will not prepare him for his role in the senior side. Rohail has the ability to not just bat well but he is a clean striker of the ball who can hit sixes. He does need to work on his batting especially in red-ball cricket where the ball is doing a bit, but as far white-ball cricket is concerned, his batting is right up there with the top players in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Can Shadab Khan be an option for Pakistan in all three formats?
Mohammad Wasim: Shadab has already proven himself in One-Day and T20 cricket. But the real challenge for him is in red-ball cricket which he can easily do because he has what we lack in Pakistan at the moment. We don’t see too many spinners in the game nowadays although the likes of Zahid Mahmood, Nauman Ali and Kashif Bhatti have impressed in recent times. But overall, the quality of finger spinners and leg-spinners in domestic cricket is something we have lacked in the last few years. Especially when we talk about leg-spinners there is a huge question mark, which is best exemplified by the form of Yasir Shah in the past few months. This is where Shadab Khan’s presence is important as he is being prepared as a backup to Yasir Shah in red-ball cricket.
As a batsman, you can use him at any suitable position. He can bat higher up the order or come lower down as a finisher and is as versatile as it gets. He has three fifties in Tests which speaks volumes about his batting abilities in red-ball cricket, but I feel he still has some way to go before we call him a finished product. He hasn’t played too many red-ball games for us at Northern and what he needs to do now is to bowl long spells because whilst he has the variations, he does need to develop patience. This is important in the longer form of the game because unlike in white-ball cricket where the batsman is always after you and is likely to make a mistake, a different mindset is needed to bowl in red-ball cricket. Here, the batsman is biding his time and waiting for a bad ball. So, as a spinner you are expected to show patience and bowl good overs consistently which can be a challenge, but I do feel Shadab can do that. He has the talent and his fitness is good and all he needs to do, as and when he is given a chance, is to show that he is a good wicket-taking option in all forms of the game.
PakPassion.net: Zeeshan Malik is a player who you have given opportunities to. How far do you think can he go in his career?
Mohammad Wasim: I had been following Zeeshan’s progress during the time I was commentating but was surprised to see that he was nowhere to be seen when I first joined the PCB recently. He had been playing in domestic cricket but did not get consistent chances in First-class cricket which he deserved. I gave him an opportunity to shine in our First XI and he never looked back and grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
To me he is one of those batsmen who look to take the attack to the bowlers in red-ball cricket. He is very good on his backfoot and this is one important quality that coaches are always looking for in batsmen. Quite a few batsmen are very comfortable on the front foot and get many runs on pitches such as in the UAE but they struggle the moment they are in England, Australia or South Africa where there are bouncier wickets. This is why I have always believed that as a top-order batsman you need to be very good on the back foot. Zeeshan has all those qualities and not only is he good in the longer format of the game, he has also showed some real intent in T20s as well. He has all the strokes and can cut and pull with ease. I am really looking forward to seeing him perform for the Shaheens on the tour of New Zealand and I am sure he is the kind of batsman that Pakistan needs in all formats of the game where he can play with a very good strike rate.
PakPassion.net: Having previously played in New Zealand yourself, how do you expect Pakistan to perform out there?
Mohammad Wasim: Tours of New Zealand have never been easy for Pakistan. Conditions are different and the pitches will be helpful for the fast-bowlers, which probably will be the home team’s game plan against Pakistan. So, I expect plenty of grass left on the pitch, especially in Test matches. In terms of bowling, the likes of Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi will pose a threat against New Zealand so making the pitches too fast-bowler friendly could go against the home-side. The real challenge will be for our batsmen and the seniors in the side such as Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Abid Ali and Shan Masood’s techniques will be tested. The new ball and short-pitched bowling will keep these batsmen on their toes and from a cricket lover’s point of view, it will be an interesting series to watch. This Pakistan side has the capability to beat any side in the world but for that they will need to master the conditions and play some attacking cricket.
PakPassion.net: Will we see you coaching Pakistan one day?
Mohammad Wasim: It’s in my nature that whatever I do, I always want to improve and move up to the next level. It’s like when you are a player who is playing for his city or club, you always want to move up to a higher level of cricket. So, I am not saying that I should be Pakistan coach, but my aim is to progress from my current role, so let’s see where I end up in the future. I definitely don’t like being stuck in one position for too long and want to improve my skills, and also want career progression.
PakPassion.net: Are there any hidden gems at Northern who you feel have a bright future?
Mohammad Wasim: There are plenty of very talented and skilled youngsters all over Pakistan in U-19 cricket who have great futures ahead of them. When we speak about Northern, there are some players in the U-19 side whom I will move up to the second XI and then to the first XI if they continue doing well. I would like to mention off-spinner Mubasir Khan who has been doing really well for our U-19s side and there is fast-bowler Munir Riaz who is already with us in our first XI and is someone who bowled really well for Northern against MCC where he took the prize wicket of Kumar Sangakkara. Of course, we have all heard of Nasir Nawaz who is young and a very strong lad, and the way he bats is technically very correct and the best part of it is that he can bowl fast too. Having a fast-bowling all-rounder like Nasir in the side is important and this is something we are lacking in Pakistan cricket, with not many players fitting that role. We have Faheem Ashraf, Aamer Yamin, Amad Butt and it would be nice to add another few more names to that list. Nasir Nawaz can definitely be one to watch when it comes to all-rounders and has a bright future.