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Pakistan all-rounder spoke exclusively to PakPassion.net about the issues related to the lack of quality of players emerging from the domestic system.
By Amir Husain (26th August, 2016)
 
The former England captain Nasser Hussain’s recent remarks regarding the dearth of world-class batsmen coming out of a cricket-mad country like Pakistan seem to point to deficiencies in the country’s domestic structure. This is not a new criticism as many others, including the legendary Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan, have also expressed similar sentiments.
 
To better understand the issues related to the lack of quality of players emerging from the domestic system, PakPassion.net spoke exclusively to Pakistan all-rounder Qaiser Abbas who played one Test match, in 2000 against England in Lahore.
 
Whilst Qaiser was proud of the fact that he had the opportunity to represent his country at the highest level of the game, his memories had a bittersweet edge to them as he recalled, “First of all, I have to thank the Almighty that I was given a chance to play that one Test match. But that memory is tinged with a bit of sadness as well as I did not get another opportunity to play a Test again. This is why, whenever, I am discussing cricket on TV shows, with friends or when I get together with selectors, I always say that if you select a player, then you must give him a chance to play in two or three series. This will allow ample time for selectors to judge the utility of the player and if they are not satisfied with his performance, they would be justified in discarding him at that point. For me, the Test match I played wasn’t that memorable a game in terms of my score as I was caught at gully for just two runs in the last over before Lunch. However, I do wish that I was given more chances in that three match Test series or even in the One-day rubber, similar to how others were treated. If that chance had been afforded to me then who knows, even I could have performed well too.”
 
The leap in terms of skills required for a Pakistani domestic player to succeed at the international level has time and again been attributed to the deficiencies in Pakistan’s domestic cricket structure. The low standard of First-Class cricket in Pakistan has come under fire from experts but in Qaiser’s view, whilst there is no real reason for concern in this matter, it is important for the PCB to pay attention to the quality of pitches in the country.
 
“I feel that the standard of First-Class cricket in Pakistan is very good, however, all we need is for quality of wickets to be improved. When you have wickets that are ‘true’ then you will get to see better and more confident batsmen emerge and similarly good quality bowlers will also be encouraged. In my view, you cannot develop good bowlers until they are used to bowling twenty overs in a day. Apart from that, it’s great to see that we have the advent of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and other local matches are being televised on TV which is crucial for the development of younger players.”
 
The PCB’s recent announcement to use the Kookaburra balls for some matches in the upcoming season has been met with wide-spread approval by observers who feel that this decision in a step in the right direction but as Qaiser points out, more needs to be done to ensure that ball quality is consistent for all games in the domestic circuit.
 
“The PCB have been very proactive in changing the ball manufacturers for almost every season. Last year they used Grays and this time they will probably use the same type of ball although, they have stated that only eleven First-Class matches including final of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy will be played as Day/Night with pink Kookaburra balls. It is possible that they cannot afford to use Kookaburra for all domestic matches as that is an expensive option. Some departmental teams are of the opinion that Kookaburra should be used but I sense some hesitation on the part of the PCB on this matter. Hopefully whenever we have a home-series, we may see this ball being used on our home soil. Regardless of that, something needs to be done about this matter as even last season there were plenty of complaints about the Grays ball as it would need replacement when it got old. This is not the case with Kookaburra and I would prefer that this becomes the standard ball of use in our domestic cricket as it is also the same ball used for international cricket and will therefore help our players prepare better for a potential future with the Pakistan team.”
 
While it is heartening to see significant crowds attend domestic games around the world, the same cannot be said for games played in Pakistan. Large crowds witnessing four-day County games in England are a common site but it remains a mystery as to what is keeping audiences from taking the same interest in Pakistan. The answer to this quandary, as Qaiser suggests, is in the amount of TV coverage and absence of big names from domestic games, stating “I feel it is important that more domestic matches, apart from the Twenty20 games, be televised as that creates interest amongst the general public. It would also help for our top international players when they are not involved in tours to participate in the four-day games as well. Players like Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez frequently take part in such games but we don’t see too many other players following suit. The fact is that if current international players don’t feature in games, you will not see too many spectators at our grounds. I am surprised, though, that players like Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Junaid Khan are not playing more domestic cricket in Pakistan. Not only will that attract more crowds to the grounds but it will also be very useful for younger players who will gain in confidence and experience by playing alongside big names in international cricket.”
 
Pakistan’s inability to solve the conundrum surrounding a reliable all-rounder continues to manifest itself in problems with team selection. In recent times, the Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq and Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq have both lamented the absence of a good all-rounder who can step into the shoes of the likes of Abdul Razzaq or Azhar Mahmood. As Qaiser points out, there is no shortage of all-rounders who can bat well but the bowling speed of these players remains a key area of concern.
 
“We are producing good all-rounders but the real problem is that there is a definite lack of pace in their bowling. Take the example of Anwar Ali or Aamer Yamin. Both of these are exciting all-rounders but the pace needs to improve. We also have Bilawal Bhatti who has decent pace but then his batting needs to improve as well. The same applies to Hammad Azam who I feel is lacking in pace too. If we look at current England players, good all-rounders like Ben Stokes or Chris Woakes consistently bowl at more than 80MpH and this is really what differentiates a good all-rounder from an ordinary one.”
 
No international cricket has been possible in Pakistan due to the tragic events of 2009 but what continues to amaze cricket experts around the world is the manner in which Pakistan cricket has continued to flourish and battle on, regardless. According to Qaiser Abbas, the recent elevation to become the top ranked Test team in the world is no fluke and a clear sign that Pakistan cricket despite what it has faced, continues to head in the right direction.
 
“Make no mistake, the standard of Pakistan domestic is very high and it is a tough environment to succeed in. I hear a lot of people say that the domestic cricket needs a new structure as it is weak but I don’t think such people have ever seen a single domestic match. From experience, I can tell you that it is hard work and very tough to put in good performances at that level, especially as a batsman. The same domestic cricket which is much maligned by many has produced players who have taken us to the top of the Test rankings. I am convinced that our domestic cricket standards will only continue to improve which will be great for the overall future of Pakistan cricket as well.”