Legendary Pakistan batsman discussed Pakistan's performances on the tour of New Zealand, dissected Pakistan Under-19s' efforts at the World Cup and spoke about Sarfaraz Ahmed's captaincy.
By Amir Husain (8th February, 2018)
Pakistan’s recently concluded tour of New Zealand ended in a near disaster for the Champions Trophy winners as they lost the ODI series by a 5-0 margin but managed to redeem some semblance of respect by winning the T20I series.
Whilst Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men can rightly derive some satisfaction from reclaiming the Number 1 position in ICC’s T20I rankings, the fact remains that serious questions are being asked about the current state of Pakistan cricket and its future direction, both at the senior and the Under 19 level.
For Javed Miandad, who was regarded as one of the top batsmen of his time and one who amassed 16213 runs in 357 international matches, the spate of disappointing performances as headlined by the loss against India Under 19s in the ICC Cricket World Cup is merely an indicator of the malaise which is currently afflicting Pakistan cricket. In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Miandad felt that the gulf between the quality of the two Under 19 teams was clearly visible, with the Pakistan Under 19s possibly fortunate that they reached the semi-final stage in the first place.
“The loss to India in the ICC Under 19 World Cup was by a big margin of 203 runs which is hard to take but if truth be told, our team was lucky to have progressed that far given the inexperience of our players. Of course, victory and defeat are part of any sport, but we need to accept that there was a huge difference in terms of skills between both teams. Also, we should not be too hard on our boys as we saw how recently in South Africa, the Indian senior team which has some very big names failed miserably in 2 of 3 Tests, so such things can happen, and we cannot be too harsh on the Pakistan Under 19 team.”
The furore that engulfs any defeat against Pakistan’s arch-rival seemed to centre around the fact that India Under 19 were coached by the immensely experienced Rahul Dravid, whilst the Pakistan coach was Mansoor Rana. Could such a gulf in experience be the real reason for Pakistan Under 19s loss?
“Having a coach like Rahul Dravid sounds very exciting but I have never been a great supporter of big name coaches at such a level. At this level, it more about guidance than someone teaching you the basics of the game as that should have been done at the earlier stages of a player’s development. In sports, teams lose and get relegated in leagues, but the blame is never put on coaches alone. The fact is that if your raw material i.e. the quality of the players for the team is questionable then how can one expect a coach to fix that and make them a winning unit?”
Javed Miandad has never held back in his criticism of Pakistan’s domestic cricket system which in his view has been a major impediment to the dreams and aspirations of many aspiring cricketers. The issues with the senior and junior teams are but symptoms of a larger problem as he explained, “India is a huge country with a bigger population than Pakistan, yet our players are able to challenge India in cricket which tells me that we have the potential, but we simply do not have the system that can support and get the best out of that potential. From the lack of good training facilities to sub-standard wickets, the problems that our youngsters face in playing cricket are just indescribable. We have children starting to play cricket in side streets instead of learning their game in proper grounds. When people understand how our kids learn their cricket, then they will understand the reason for our current cricketing issues. I am sorry, but the present-day authorities due to their unprofessional behaviour have destroyed the system that used to produce teams which could beat the top teams of the world like the West Indies at a time when they were unbeatable. This was the same set-up from where counties would pick many players for their sides as they found the quality of the cricketers to be so good. To me, our regional cricket has failed to produce players, despite consuming money. In contrast, in places like Australia there are regional teams such as New South Wales which continue to produce world-class players on their own, so clearly there is something wrong with our setup.”
Known for his ability to rescue Pakistan from impossible situations and to be able to turn games around when all hope was lost, Javed Miandad probably sees a lot of himself in the manner in which India’s captain Virat Kohli continues to impress with his batting. To Javed Miandad, Kohli’s impressive form in all formats of the game is the perfect example of what technically correct batsmen can achieve.
“What I really admire about Indian batsmen and the reason why they are so successful, is the fact that their batting technique is correct. In Virat Kohli’s case his batting method is what allows him to score runs not just once but almost every time he comes in to bat. If a batsman’s technique is bad, he can put some runs on the board once in a while, but he will not be able to do that consistently which is exactly true in Kohli’s case. To me the mark of a great batsman, like Kohli is the fact that he can vary his technique by quickly understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the bowlers. Kohli is a genius who is the best batsman in the world.”
Pakistan’s ODI series debacle in New Zealand left most fans and experts scratching their heads especially after it was felt that the side had turned a new leaf after their Champions Trophy win. A veteran of many ODI battles and also a key member of the World Cup winning team of 1992, Javed Miandad feels that the Pakistani batsmen did not show enough patience when constructing their innings.
“ODI pitches are by definition helpful to batsmen and we saw that New Zealand had no issues, and they also played in a calm manner with controlled aggression. In contrast, our batsmen seemed to be in a hurry and did not have a target in mind. If you play in that way, without thought or planning, the result is what we saw in the ODI series. You have to play with patience and preserve wickets and understand that this is a 50-over game, not a shorter format. The batsmen need to know their target and then bat accordingly as opposed to trying to score without an end goal. When you play in that haphazard fashion, you end up with most of your wickets gone by the middle of the innings and more panic sets in. The 50-overs game is what I refer to as proper cricket. In this format, you also need to know which deliveries to leave and not just try and blast every ball you see.”
After Pakistan’s victory in the Champions Trophy, it was widely anticipated that the confidence of the win would help Sarfaraz Ahmed in his first assignment as Test captain in the series against Sri Lanka. However, to the surprise and disappointment of many, Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan in the UAE with a 2-0 Test whitewash. Whilst some amount of blame could be put on Sarfaraz’s inexperience, the general consensus was that the absence of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan were the main reasons for Pakistan’s loss. Whilst Javed Miandad may not fully agree with this assessment, he does feel that the departure of the two stalwarts should have been anticipated and better planning done in advance to avert this situation.
“There were many factors for that loss and lack of good batsmen was one of them. Now, whether we can find a replacement for Misbah and Younis is something only time will tell but what is shocking is the lack of planning. In other countries around the world, the think-tanks look at the player’s advancing age and start to plan for his future replacements. How is it that our management did not realise that this was the case? Having said that, I was never of the opinion that both batsmen should leave cricket as I know that we have no batsmen ready who can stay at the wicket, who can defend well or even be able to leave the ball when needed. I am afraid, we are not getting the kind of batsmen who have good techniques because there is no one to teach them at the junior level. Yes, they will do well in Sharjah and Dubai but they will fail in better quality pitches overseas. This is where Misbah and Younis would shine. Unfortunately, our youngsters are now being coached via words and theory and that will not help in building their confidence to take on the role of Misbah and Younis in the future.”
Javed Miandad is a vocal critic of modern-day coaching techniques which he feels are not delivering the sort of batsmen Pakistan needs today. He is adamant that his own unique style of instruction has always been more successful as he explained, “During my time in charge, I was not the one to stand on the sidelines when coaching players. In fact, in practice games, I would be on the pitch guiding players through match situations and helping them understand how to score runs or take wickets in different stages of the match. Cricket is a game where you cannot just speak about it, but you need to teach technique in a practical way too which I used to do. Incidentally, it was I who introduced the ‘slab’ which now the teams carry around with them. I realised that we cannot make good practice wickets so the best way to prepare for bounce and fast bowling was by use of this slab. To me this was the cheapest and easiest way to train batsmen and it was effective too.”
Pakistan’s batting despite inordinate amounts of attention to its problems, has failed to deliver over a period of many years. Domestic cricket has produced many quality batsmen but their inability to perform at the international level is a cause of concern as well as disappointment. To Javed Miandad, the issues with Pakistan's batting are simply down to selectors inability to take hard decisions.
“We seem to have a very relaxed and easy attitude to failure amongst our batsmen. We simply do not remove such batsmen from our teams by saying that we have no one to replace such players. The dropped batsmen goes back to domestic cricket and because he has played international cricket before, he has no real issues performing well in first-class with the result that before you know it, he is back in the international side and the cycle continues.”
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s on-field behaviour with his team members has caused some consternation amongst followers of the game. His style of captaincy which seems to involve having harsh words at players is not everyone’s cup of tea and Javed Miandad feels that the issue lies in the arbitrary way in which we develop players for captaincy, “Sarfaraz is our captain and I have no issues with him as captain but the fact is that we really do not have a system for developing players for the role of captain and this is why we are seeing someone like Sarfaraz behaving in this way with his players. I don’t think you will ever find such an example in other teams. If a captain does that in the England side, he will be sacked immediately. A player who is to be made captain is watched for years for his behaviour before he is recommended for the role, but in our country, this is not the case. In my time, we had all sorts of players with huge egos but Mushtaq Mohammad was our captain and he dealt with them with tact, as captaining a side is an art and an education of sorts which takes time to learn and needs to be completed before being given that job. Before picking a captain for the side, the selectors shouldn't just look at a player's batting or bowling or wicket-keeping skills, but they must also pay special attention to his conduct which ultimately has an effect on the morale of the team.”
Javed Miandad was never one to hold back his thoughts or mince his words during his playing career and has carried on with the same gusto after retirement. It is perhaps this same unfettered style of thinking which has made him one of the strongest critics of the manner in which the Pakistan Cricket Board has failed to effectively run the game in Pakistan. The lack of oversight within the organisation is an underlying theme in his criticism and one that he stands by quite vociferously, “We have a situation where people who work for the PCB are collecting wages for doing no work and don’t seem to be worried about losing their jobs for incompetence. We have little control over financial matters and the manner in which expenses are claimed. We are not utilising ex-cricketers to ensure that the game is given a proper direction, if we did then Inzamam-ul-Haq or Mushtaq Ahmed who played their cricket from Multan and Sahiwal would have been heads of their regional cricket associations helping develop local cricketers. To me, it is sad to see this situation but the fact is that Pakistan cricket is in a bad shape because of the lack of accountability in the PCB”, he concluded.