Known as the 'Sultan of Swing', Wasim Akram is widely regarded as The Greatest Left-Arm fast-bowler ever to play cricket. In four hundred and sixty international appearances for Pakistan, Wasim picked up over nine-hundred wickets and also scored over six thousand and six hundred runs which also marked him for greatness as an all-rounder.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Wasim Akram spoke about the recently concluded Test series between England and Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq's future, the dismal situation of Pakistan's ODI team, lack of quality all-rounders in Pakistan and why he feels that Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad need to concentrate on discipline on and off the field to regain and maintain their places in the team.
By Saj Sadiq (11th September, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Looking back at the recent Test series between England and Pakistan, how impressed were you with Pakistan's efforts?
Wasim Akram : It was an unbelievable effort by Pakistan. I was pleasantly surprised with the way they performed. At Lord's they won the toss, put 300 plus on the board and Yasir Shah did the rest. At The Oval Pakistan came back very strongly after two bad defeats in the middle Tests. So they deserve a lot of credit for the way they bounced back. A lot of the credit goes to Misbah-ul-Haq for his leadership. He's very experienced and calm and he knows the game inside out. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of the Pakistan Test team this summer, they were competitive and a very good match and challenge for England in their own conditions and it showed that the ability to produce quality Test cricketers is very much still alive in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net : What of Misbah's future? Do you see him continuing and if so, for how long?
Wasim Akram : He's still the fittest guy in the Pakistan team alongside Younis Khan. It's all about passion. If he is still passionate to carry on playing for Pakistan then he should continue playing. Ultimately it's Misbah's call as to how long he carries on playing. What is important is that the youngsters in the Pakistan set-up should learn from both Misbah and Younis and when the time comes, take over the reins from them. That to me is the real concern, as I don't see that transition happening at this time and that could leave a big hole when Misbah retires.
PakPassion.net : With tough Test series coming up away to New Zealand and Australia, I guess that the ideal scenario would be for Misbah to continue until at least after those series?
Wasim Akram : It will be incredibly tough for a new captain to come in and lead in the New Zealand and Australia series away from home. It will virtually be an impossible scenario for a new captain to start as captain for those tours. What needs to be done is for the Board to get Misbah to lead the Pakistan Test team for the tours of New Zealand and Australia, assign a good and reliable deputy and then let that deputy take over the Test captaincy after those tours.
PakPassion.net : Azhar Ali is the vice-captain in Tests, do you think he has the leadership qualities to take over from Misbah as the next Test captain?
Wasim Akram : Firstly he needs to ensure that he can hold his place in the playing eleven through consistent performances and not let his troubles in the fifty over format affect his Test form. When you are struggling as a player or captain in one format then that is going to affect your captaincy in other formats and captaincy is the last thing that should be on your mind and it will just add to the pressure he is facing. We don't have enough great batsmen or batting talent to absorb the pressure away from Azhar Ali and I am yet to be convinced that he is the right man to lead the Pakistan Test side after Misbah's retirement.
PakPassion.net : Is Azhar Ali the right man to continue leading Pakistan in the One-Day format?
Wasim Akram : He's struggling as a captain. It may be best to relieve him of his duties as ODI captain and play him just as a batsman if he is performing. The biggest problem though is that what other options do we have? It seems like Sarfraz Ahmed is the only other option which I would be fine with, but I don't think changing the captain in ODIs will make much of a difference at the moment, given the way the team is playing.
PakPassion.net : As a former Pakistani cricketing great, what does it mean to you to see Pakistan at the top of the ICC Test rankings?
Wasim Akram : It's very exciting, it's incredible really. Especially given that Pakistan has not been able to play any international cricket on their home soil since 2009. This just shows the world the levels of passion we have in Pakistan for cricket and the talent we have. Whilst we do have the raw cricketing talent in Pakistan, my concern is that we are not nurturing that talent and ensuring that this raw talent is ready for the rigours and challenges of international cricket.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan has produced great all-rounders like yourself over the years. Why are they not producing genuine pace-bowling all-rounders?
Wasim Akram : This is a valid question and one that the person who is running First-Class cricket in Pakistan should be held accountable for. Where are these all-rounders, why aren't we grooming such players? Why is the First-Class structure being changed every year? What is needed to get things running properly in Pakistan cricket is for an ex-cricketer to be running things. At the moment Pakistan cricket is in a state of shambles with no continuity and no planning and constant changes to the system. What can you expect when player's diets are being ignored and players are given biryani for lunch in domestic matches. How can we expect them to become world-beaters and be fit enough? That is simply not going to happen.
PakPassion.net : What can the Pakistan Cricket Board do differently going forward?
Wasim Akram : The Pakistan Cricket Board makes a lot of money from international cricket and the Pakistan Super League. A guaranteed percentage of those profits should be invested in domestic cricket instead of letting domestic cricket rot. Also as mentioned earlier, the PCB needs to be run by a former Pakistan cricketer who has a handle on things and knows what should be the priorities. More investment needs to be made in A tours and Under 19 tours and more attention given to Under 16 cricket in Pakistan. One positive step is that Mudassar Nazar is back working for the PCB but he can't work his magic straight away, it will take him two or three years to start identifying and grooming that talent.
PakPassion.net : 9th in the ICC ODI rankings is nothing short of embarrassing isn't it?
Wasim Akram : It's totally embarrassing. We are only one place above Afghanistan and it looks like for the first time in our history we will have to play in the qualifiers for the next World Cup which is unthinkable really. We are not getting the basics right in our One-Day cricket. Obvious things like the batting order are being messed up and the balance of the team isn't always right with tail-enders coming in at number eight in the batting order. We need to give players like Amad Butt an opportunity in One-Day cricket. Let's invest in such players, give them a proper chance and only then will we see improvement in our Limited-overs teams. What I have seen in our performances against England in ODIs worries me and it concerns me that the same mistakes are being made again and again and an outdated and weak version of fifty over cricket is being played.
PakPassion.net : The body language of the Pakistan team during the One-Day series has looked awful at times. Is that solely down to the captain?
Wasim Akram : You cannot solely blame the skipper. At times when the toss has been lost then the shoulders have been hunched and the body language has been poor like it was at Trent Bridge. You have some experienced players out there who should be motivating the others. Look at Wahab Riaz, he went for 110 runs at Trent Bridge and he looked a spent force. Bowl a few slower balls every over, mix it up, don't just keep running in bowling the same pace every ball. I know some of the boys are tired but that's not an excuse to have such poor body language. You are professionals, if you get picked, you have to perform and be motivated. Look at Shoaib Malik, he has really disappointed me, he goes to third man in the field and stands out there. His job as a senior player should be to talk to the bowlers, help his captain and I have not seen that happening at all. From the outside he has looked disinterested and not very keen for most of the series.
PakPassion.net : Hasan Ali looks like a decent prospect for the future doesn't he?
Wasim Akram : Yes he does. He's a nippy bowler who is a yard quicker than he looks. He can definitely improve further and his attitude looks right. It's good that he is working with Azhar Mahmood as that will be a big help for him and I feel that he is definitely a bowler who the selectors should persevere with and work with.
PakPassion.net : The lack of yorkers from the Pakistani bowlers of late must be a concern for you?
Wasim Akram : I wish I had the answer for this question. Either you have the ability, or you don't. If you have the ability, then it is your go-to delivery. If you are low in confidence or don't have the confidence to bowl yorkers then you will not bowl them. I just feel that the confidence levels of some of the Pakistan pace bowlers is quite low and that's why we are not seeing many yorkers.
PakPassion.net : Is it time to recall Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad to the Pakistan Limited-overs teams?
Wasim Akram : Look, discipline isn't just required on the field, discipline is also required off the field. My message to both of these guys is if they get a chance again to play for Pakistan in future concentrate on your performance; stay away from press and social media distractions. They are still good enough to play for Pakistan but they need to look at their performances and concentrate on that only and not get involved in any of the other stuff that has hampered them in the past. The chance to play for your country does not come every day, don't throw that chance away. You do have different individuals within a group of players in a team sport and the idea of having management there is to manage them and to manage all of the different characters. I wasn't a very easy character to manage, neither was Waqar Younis but our managers and our captains managed us according to our mindset. But at the end of the day both Shehzad and Akmal needed that wake-up call of being dropped and they have had that and hopefully they will have learnt from this and can move forward from it.