Former Pakistan bowler and current Director of Cricket Operations for the Lahore Qalandars, Aaqib Javed, was recently at the forefront of the PSL side's aim to discover fresh new talent ahead of the 2017 edition of the Pakistan Super League.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Aaqib spoke about the success of the recently held Lahore Qalandar's Talent Hunt program, his views on the raw talent and skills represented by Ghulam Mudassar and Yasir Jan, the importance of Brendon McCullum's appointment as captain, the success of the PSL and his belief that the time is ripe for the final of the next edition of PSL to be held in Pakistan.
By Amir Husain (9th October, 2016)
PakPassion.net : What is your exact role at Lahore Qalandars?
Aaqib Javed : My formal position is Director of Cricket Operations at Lahore Qalandars. In terms of what I do, one thing to emphasize is that I am not the Head Coach of the PSL team. What I am tasked with is to help in building the Lahore Qalandars brand; something which is a bit more than just a PSL team. So, I am here to finalise the team and its management and to run various programs like the recently concluded talent hunt program followed by a tournament; both of which were very successful.
PakPassion.net : How successful was the Talent Hunt program in your view?
Aaqib Javed : I believe that the Talent Hunt program was a huge success. It was unique because in a period of twenty-three days, we trialed over one-hundred and ten-thousand players which is probably the toughest assignment I have ever undertaken in my life. To give you an idea of the absolutely staggering numbers of players we saw, consider this. In Faisalabad we saw upwards of fourteen-thousand players; In Gujranwala we had about twenty-one thousand hopefuls at some stage and Lahore had even more which was close to twenty-five thousand entrants. Such a program to find talent would be considered a dream come true for any team and it was indeed an honour to host enthusiastic players like that.
Obviously given the size of the program and the opportunities it represented for the participants, there was a lot of pressure on me from well-meaning coaches to select their wards which was quite amusing but also made me realise how important it was to pick the right people. In this regard, I had a team of twenty-one coaches working with me as selectors and I told each of them that they had to be honest and not listen to any outside interference when making decisions. I jokingly added that if in taking those honest decisions you get in trouble then Lahore Qalandars will look after your family when you are gone. Thanks to the Almighty, this whole exercise passed off OK and we are still alive!
Like I said, the trials were a success as well and such was the zeal that we had many people turning up without proper shoes or dressed in traditional Pakistani Shalwar Qameez. Thankfully, we had made some provisions for this issue and had about eighty kit-bags and a similar number of pairs of shoes so that no one who was there would have any disadvantage. Fact is that we were a little overwhelmed by the response to the camp and to this day I find it tough to think about and explain to people that we saw upwards of one-hundred and ten-thousand cricket players for these trials and then chose teams out of those players. Surely, this must be a world record of some sort; I don’t think anything like this has ever happened in the history of the game.
PakPassion.net : The Jazz Rising Stars T20 Tournament which followed the trials also appeared to be very popular.
Aaqib Javed : After the success of the trials, we then followed it up with a wonderful tournament. Apart from the enthusiasm of the players themselves, what was most impressive was the crowd attendance. We had close to thirty-thousand spectators inside the ground and a huge number of people waiting outside to get in. And this was not a tournament where well known cricketers were playing. In fact even I would have struggled to name most of the players participating simply because they were all unknown players. All the crowds wanted was to see something new as what was on display did not have any big names in it. Such was the thirst and desire to watch cricket on our home soil. To me this was our real success as we created something which was of interest for close to fifty-thousand people.
PakPassion.net : So was the idea to cover most parts of Punjab for this program?
Aaqib Javed : We wanted to do something positive for Punjab. We wanted to show the world that there is much more to this province than negative stories related to terrorism. We started from Bahawalpur, then went on to Multan and then DG Khan. Now let me tell you that nothing like this has ever happened in the city of DG Khan. This is the type of place which is so remote that you wouldn’t know about it until you go there. But we did take the trials there. We also travelled to Faisalabad, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Lahore. All in all, we offered this opportunity to sixty percent of the population of Punjab which equates to around one-hundred and twenty-million people. This should give a clear idea of the area and population coverage of our program.
PakPassion.net : Are you pleased that Lahore Qalandars have set the standard for this kind of player development in Pakistan?
Aaqib Javed : We are absolutely delighted that others are also copying us. After all, the purpose of all this effort is not just to beat four other franchises; that would be very short-sighted of us. What we wish to achieve is to establish a mindset but then at the end of the day, this is a business and we want Lahore Qalandars to be known as the number one brand in the world.
PakPassion.net : Can you tell us a bit about Lahore Qalandar’s agreement with BBL sides Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers?
Aaqib Javed : This is what makes this whole project absolutely fantastic. What we are in the process of doing is to take an unknown player from the streets of Pakistan, give him a chance to shine at the Gaddafi Stadium in our tournament and then on 7th of November of this year, we leave for Sydney to play games against BBL sides Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers. The best of the best from this almost two and half-month long process will be on their way to Australia to play series against the two teams. I would say that is a great thing to happen for any young player and of course we are very proud of this plan. Obviously, we will also consider four or five of the best of these players for our Pakistan Super League team as well.
PakPassion.net : You are no stranger to helping Pakistan cricket in discovering new talent as you did something similar in 2004 during your stint at the PCB. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Aaqib Javed : Regional cricket is an important pathway for fresh talent to emerge and be recognised at the highest level but unfortunately, we did not have this in place until 2004 when I created the system of regional cricket during my tenure at the PCB. Before that, we had a system of district level cricket. The way that worked was if you were an exceptional player at that level but your team did not qualify for First-Class level, then you as a player were lost in the system with very little chance of making it to the top.
The way I re-designed this structure was to introduce the concept of region, where a region would be composed of five to eight districts. So we had school and club-level cricket within districts and then there were inter-district tournaments as well. The idea being that the best players from anywhere in Pakistan could become part of the districts, have an opportunity to shine at that level and then move on to regional teams. Any player from any rich or poor part of Pakistan now had a chance to rise to the top. We started with nine district level teams which I felt was the ideal number but that idea was abandoned after I left and now we have over twenty district teams which is ridiculous.
PakPassion.net : Whilst it is commendable that Lahore Qalandars have undertaken this initiative, it would appear to some that the PCB is failing in their responsibility to unearth new talent?
Aaqib Javed : I don’t agree with that point of view. Every country has some form of talent spotting mechanism. Football in U.K. has this in place for a while but in cricket also, every county goes and spots talent for itself. So this is not the responsibility of the Pakistan Cricket Board . If we take the example of England, we will see that the ECB does very little to find new talent. Instead they depend on the coaching and discovery programs run by the counties and in return the counties are eligible for a share of ECB’s earnings. The counties are responsible for looking after their school and club cricket system and therefore nurturing new talent. This is the case in other parts of the world including Australia and South Africa. It boils down to the counties, and in a sense the local communities, to take on the role of finding new talent.
This, unfortunately, is what we are missing badly in Pakistan. The regions and local cricket associations are so weak and badly organised that they are failing miserably in identification of fresh and exciting talent. When I assumed the position of Director of Cricket Operations at Lahore Qalandars, my first goal was to achieve something positive for Pakistan cricket. And believe me, this Talent Hunt program was not cheap as it cost us close to $USD 1.2 Million. Although we recouped some of those costs via sponsorship but we ended up paying a significant amount towards our goal of helping Pakistan cricket and of building the Lahore Qalandars brand.
PakPassion.net : You have picked Ghulam Mudassar as a promising talent for the future. What impressed you about him and did you see any other stand-out players during the trials?
Aaqib Javed : I know it may sound incredible but I saw Ghulam Mudassar bowl not more than five deliveries on a Facebook video and that impressed me. This is sometimes how you pick young and new talent. We called him over to Faisalabad for trials where he impressed us enough for us to offer him a contract. We offered him a ten-year contract because a talented player like him needs financial support. If you can fulfil a player’s financial needs, then that player will feel relaxed and also focus on his game. I really wanted to work with him a bit more but he got called-up for Pakistan A’s tour of Zimbabwe which is good for him. However, I do feel it’s a little too early for him to play in the PSL on behalf of Lahore Qalandars.
But let’s not stop with Ghulam. We also came across a young man called Tabraiz who had travelled from South Africa who I am convinced is good enough to travel with us to Australia later on. Similarly, we had youngsters from USA, Canada, England and UAE who appeared in the trials which was very pleasing. We have had requests from some people to take the trials over to Canada and England as well; such is the enthusiasm and also shows that there is so much talent which is waiting to be discovered.
PakPassion.net : Yasir Jan has become something of a celebrity due to his ambidextrous bowling abilities. What kind of a future do you see for him?
Aaqib Javed : Well to start with, Yasir is a very special bowler. I do not think there has been any fast-bowler in the history of cricket who has been able to bowl in this fashion. This kind of uniqueness is an amazing advantage. He is a trendsetter and believe me you will see many more bowl like him in the next few years’ time. What he has are two different types of deliveries. When bowling with right-arm, the ball will swing away but will swing in when bowling with the left-arm. To have two bowlers in one person is simply amazing.
I think he needs about six months to one year of work to realise his true potential and this is also a reason why we have decided to give him a ten-year contract so that he can concentrate on his cricket. My plan is to include him in the Lahore Qalandars team for the 2018 edition of the PSL. I must also mention the name of a young man called Saif Badar who I feel will be the next batting hero for Pakistan in possibly two to three years’ time.
PakPassion.net : How do Lahore Qalandar’s intend to improve on their performance from the first edition of the PSL?
Aaqib Javed : First of all let me say that the 2016 edition of the PSL was a very poor one from our point of view. We have already started to talk on this subject and the first step we have taken is to select the best captain. This is always the best strategy. So you select your captain and then the team. In my view Brendon McCullum is the best man for the job. From the time our decision was taken, he has shown amazing interest in the team. He seems to have taken ownership of the team which is so important. His interest can be gauged by the fact that ever since the finalization of his own position with the team, he has been wanting to know about every decent local player and their capabilities. This includes asking for detailed information about their batting, bowling and fielding abilities. So now that we have the captain selected then our next job will be the constitution of the team and let me tell you, there is no better way to do this than without the inputs of a captain who is so interested. By the way, let me say that I don’t believe in just getting a team together and going to the tournament to compete; I believe in winning the tournament. That is the only objective of playing in a tournament like the PSL.
PakPassion.net : What kind of a future do you see for the Pakistan Super League?
Aaqib Javed : Let me make a comparison straightaway. The PSL’s first edition in terms of its development and relevance was equivalent to the third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). All the players who played in the PSL were of the opinion that the competition level of the tournament was very high.
The fact is that if the PSL was played in Pakistan, it would match or beat the IPL in terms of popularity. Look, we arranged games for youngsters in Lahore and we had close to fifty-thousand wanting to watch it at the ground. So take that idea further and bring a PSL game to Pakistan and that will be the greatest game played in Pakistan ever. Whilst playing in the UAE may be unnatural as such, yet it is still so successful and that is a good way to explain what I am trying to say here.
Like we demonstrated to the PCB and to the world, we could hold a game with thousands watching the game peacefully; where we had one of our South African players, a foreigner like Cameron Delport at the ground in Lahore. This is why Mr. Sethi said that he had little doubt that the semi-finals or the final can be held in Pakistan for the next edition of PSL. In the worst case, we could fly players to the local airport from the UAE and then in helicopters to the stadium and back again to the airport after the game. I don’t think anyone will have any concerns about security. Seeing the peaceful manner in which we arranged the games in Lahore with three layered security in place, I for one am convinced that the final of the next edition of the PSL will be held in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net : Does the position of a Head Coach or a bowling coach appeal to you anymore?
Aaqib Javed : To be honest, after being involved in this type of work for Lahore Qalandars, being a coach of a team looks rather simple to me so I don’t see myself in that role again in future.