Blessed with a silken touch and regarded as one of the finest batsman Pakistan has ever produced, Mohammad Yousuf represented his country 381 times scoring 17,300 runs. Along the way in 2006, he attained the honour of scoring the most runs and highest number of Test centuries in a calendar year in Test Cricket. Now entrusted with imparting his immense experience on Pakistan’s batsmen, Mohammad Yousuf has been performing his duties as batting coach at the National High Performance Centre since August 2020.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Yousuf spoke about the reasons why batting standards have declined, the importance of First-class cricket in the role of producing high quality batsmen, why technically correct batsmen can succeed in all formats, what Azam Khan needs to do to improve himself, Saud Shakeel's potential and why Kane Williamson is the perfect example to follow for young Pakistani batsman.
By Saj Sadiq (1st July, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Why has the standard of batting in Pakistan declined in recent years?
Mohammad Yousuf: I don’t think this is an issue that is limited to just Pakistan as this is a problem which is affecting all nations. The fact is that the quality of cricket has declined around the world and that is primarily due to the quantity of cricket that is being played. The number of world-class batsmen these days are so few and far between when you compare it to previous generations. Every international team used to have 2 or 3 world-class batsmen in their starting eleven, but nowadays you will barely see 2 or 3 world-class batsmen in cricket as a whole which is very worrying.
PakPassion.net: Why do you think batting standards have declined around the world?
Mohammad Yousuf: Given the way Cricket is commercialised nowadays, there should really be no surprise to see that batting standards are tumbling. Watching a game of cricket, nowadays, is almost like you are watching a film or a drama. The wickets are very placid and it seems that cricket is more about providing entertainment to the public and less about showcasing actual technique and the ability of the players. So, the more sixes you see, the better it is for the broadcasters and the Boards. The fact is that ever since the Twenty20 format was introduced, modern-day cricket seems to be purely about entertainment and nothing else.
PakPassion.net: Whist you say batting standards around the world are in decline, India continues to produce wonderful batting talent. Why is that?
Mohammad Yousuf: The difference between India and the rest of the world is the fact that they have always had great batsmen and strength in depth when it came to batting. Having said that, I do feel that at the moment their batting standards are not as high as they used to be. Whereas before, their top 6 in Test cricket would all have been world-class opponents, highly respected and highly talented cricketers, what you might find now is that just 2 or 3 of their top 6 would be considered world-class, and certainly not at the level they once were. Virat Kohli is the stand-out performer for them in all formats and Rohit Sharma is great in white-ball formats, but apart from these two I don’t think there are any outstanding batsmen in the Indian line-up.
PakPassion.net: Do you think Test cricket is under threat from the shorter formats?
Mohammad Yousuf: Absolutely. Whereas Tests in the olden days used to be a crucial part of the cricketing calendar, most countries now look at Test cricket almost as an afterthought. There are only a few countries like India, New Zealand, England and Australia who are taking Test cricket seriously. What you tend to find nowadays is that white-ball formats are the money-spinners and the priority for many countries with a Test or two thrown in to make up the numbers. In my opinion cricket in today's world is all about money and this is a serious concern, especially when it comes to the future of Test cricket.
PakPassion.net: Why is Pakistan struggling to produce high-quality and reliable opening batsmen for the Test format?
Mohammad Yousuf: I’ve been in the system now for 8 or 9 months in my role with the Pakistan Cricket Board. But even in this role it’s impossible to work with all of the players who need working with. I’ve been watching some of the domestic action, some of the T20 domestic matches, Under-19 cricket and some Grade II matches and undoubtedly from what I can see, there is work to be done regarding opening batsmen at all of these levels. But what is very important is to note that the key to producing top-quality opening batsmen is a strong First-class structure. I look at the example of India and how strong their First-class structure is where their Ranji Trophy produces some wonderful batsmen. It’s also pertinent to mention here that most of the Indian batsmen are only brought into the Indian Premier League if they have done well in the Ranji Trophy. They don’t rely on these talent hunts and drag players in from anywhere and everywhere, instead there is a proper structure where you have to perform in the Ranji Trophy and then that opens doors up for you in other competitions and other formats. And by doing this, you are producing technically sound batsmen who know the basics of batting and can then go on and play and do well in all formats.
PakPassion.net: Is there a danger that in Pakistan, there is too much importance given to performances in the Pakistan Super League?
Mohammad Yousuf: I think that’s something for the selectors to answer really. What I will emphasise though is that First-class cricket has to be the priority and the main criteria for selection, and all countries that are prioritising First-class cricket will always produce good cricketers. Those nations that don’t prioritise First-class cricket will struggle to regularly produce world-class cricketers.
PakPassion.net: Why is Pakistan struggling with its middle-order in white-ball cricket and how can you help to solve this issue?
Mohammad Yousuf: That’s a tough question. From my point of view, the only thing I can do is to work with the batsmen that are sent to me and look at their areas of weakness and where I can try to improve them. I can also work with batsmen at training camps when they are organised such as the recent one where there were 26 players selected to work with the NHPC coaches in Lahore.
PakPassion.net: Speaking of the 26-player camp at the NHPC, were there any players that particularly impressed you?
Mohammad Yousuf: There was a youngster called Mohammad Taha who has been playing Grade II cricket and had a decent season last time around. He’s a 20-year-old left-handed batsman from Karachi. I worked with him for a couple of days, and he showed great improvement in his technique. He had an issue where he was moving across to the off side too soon and I worked on this issue with him. I spoke with him and explained to him that I also had the same issue at times during my career and after 3 days of working with me, there was a vast improvement in this area of his batting which was very pleasing for me as a coach.
PakPassion.net: Who else have you been working with mainly at the 26-player camp in Lahore?
Mohammad Yousuf: Kamran Ghulam had a very good domestic season but we identified some areas of improvement that we have worked upon. In addition, Israrullah and Omair Bin Yousuf have also had some work done on their batting. My ultimate aim is to make these batsmen improve their techniques, so they are ready for the challenges of First-class cricket.
PakPassion.net: What is the protocol behind players being sent to you to work with at the NHPC?
Mohammad Yousuf: What generally happens is that if a player is struggling with the national team and there are issues with his batting then they are sent to the NHPC. Saqlain Mushtaq initially looks at the issues and discusses them with me and asks me to work on those areas with the player. I work out a plan with the player, discuss the issues with him and then we do some video analysis and identify the areas that need working on. I will then discuss the issues with the player and if he agrees that those are indeed the issues that need working upon, then we commence work upon on those areas.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on Azam Khan as a batsman?
Mohammad Yousuf: I worked with him for a few days during Ramadhan. He was at the NHPC with a view to reducing his weight so he was working mainly with the fitness trainers. From what I have seen of his batting, he clearly enjoys hitting sixes and he’s still young. Hitting sixes is important in T20s, but a proper batsman has to look at the match situation first and foremost and also look at what the team needs. I’m sure he will improve but what he needs to do to work on is to analyse the match situation and what his team needs ahead of his own desire to hit big sixes.
PakPassion.net: There is a lot of hype around Abdullah Shafique at the moment. What are your thoughts on him?
Mohammad Yousuf: To be honest, I’ve not seen a lot of Abdullah. He was at the camp, so I saw him briefly but because he has been picked for the national side that means that we don’t really see a lot of those players at the NHPC. Also, the white-ball players in the camp have been instructed to play practice matches amongst themselves. What we really need is for him to come to the NHPC and work with us for a month or two during the off-season so that we can have a proper look at his batting and work on a few things. We hardly see some of these players due to them being on national tours and then playing in T20 leagues around the world. We tend to see more of the players who are dropped or who are part of the Test squad.
PakPassion.net: Haider Ali has struggled of late. Why do you think that is?
Mohammad Yousuf: I’ve yet to do any work with Haider Ali, but what I’d like is for him to spend a period of a week to even 20 days with me at the NHPC because then I can do a proper assessment of his batting and see what he is made of. Of course, tournaments like the PSL are important financially to the boys so it’s difficult to remove them from such tournaments to instead work at the NHPC. But it’s also important for the players to themselves ask the PCB if they can come to the NHPC when the opportunity and time is there. This is a two-way learning process for both the players and for the coaches like myself to work with boys like Haider Ali.
PakPassion.net: You have worked with Saud Shakeel. How highly do you rate him as a batsman?
Mohammad Yousuf: I like Saud’s batting a lot. In my view, he has a beautiful cover-drive, in fact his cover-drive is one of the best I have ever seen. He is a hard-working cricketer who wants to succeed and has a real desire to do well. He has potential but what he needs is some fine-tuning which is also something that a lot of players need. These are the sort of minor adjustments that I work on with these boys which can make a lot of difference. But at the end of the day, it’s all about how much desire these cricketers have to learn and how much hunger they have to succeed, as that is vital to their performance and eventual success.
PakPassion.net: What is the most important thing that you say to the boys who you are asked to work with at the NHPC?
Mohammad Yousuf: I talk about just one thing with all players I coach - Technique, technique and technique. Whenever you are struggling, whenever you are under pressure, it is your technique and technical ability that will get you out of trouble and nothing else will. If you have technique to fall back on, then you can cope with pressure, if you haven’t got any technique then you will scratch around and fail 8 times out of 10 when you are under pressure.
PakPassion.net: What do you say to the cricketers who come to you for advice about your own experiences in cricket?
Mohammad Yousuf: My advice to all of them is that no cricketer is ever the finished article and there is always plenty more to learn. If you think you are the complete cricketer, then you will never succeed. I say to them that throughout my career I had highs and lows, good days and bad days, but I always wanted to learn, I always wanted to improve. If you are willing to learn and improve and work hard, then you will go far.
PakPassion.net: Is Twenty20 cricket spoiling the technique of batsmen?
Mohammad Yousuf: It really depends on the individual and what brand of cricket they want to play. I give you the example of Babar Azam who is a technically gifted batsman and who has shown that he can score runs in all three formats. It all depends on the individual and how they want to bat. The fact is that whichever batsman has the right technique, they can succeed in all formats.
PakPassion.net: Who are the modern-day batsmen that you tell young Pakistani batsmen to learn from?
Mohammad Yousuf: I always ask the boys to watch Kane Williamson’s batting. I enjoy watching him bat, his approach and how technically sound he is. He is a fantastic role-model for any young cricketer. He plays the game in the right way and has not compromised on his technique despite playing in T20 leagues and it’s quite clear to me that he is someone who pays a lot of attention to and works a lot on the technical side of his batting.
PakPassion.net: Former Pakistan batting coach Younis Khan recently said that whilst on tour he cannot work on batsmen’s technical problems. What are your thoughts on this comment and is that something you encountered as a player?
Mohammad Yousuf: The players Younis Khan is referring to are not with me at the NHPC so I cannot work with them. What I can say with some conviction is that when I played cricket, I made myself available to learn at every opportunity, whether that was whilst I was on international duty, whether that was when I was playing club cricket, or domestic cricket, or when I was at PCB camps. If you are committed to your game, you have to utilise every available opportunity to learn. There are no hard and fast rules regarding improving oneself.