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Writing in his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood analyses the impact of the World XI's visit to Pakistan and praises the touring players for their efforts, expresses his appreciation of the collective role by the bowlers and batsmen in Pakistan's recent success, explains why it's right for Sarfaraz Ahmed to be captain for all 3 Pakistan teams and looks forward to the Test series against Sri Lanka.

By Azhar Mahmood (24th September, 2017)
 

Great to see international cricket back in Pakistan

It’s been an emotional past few weeks for all us as we have watched international cricket return to Pakistan after a long time. It must also have been a very special occasion for the 7 players who were playing in front of their home crowd for the first time. To top it all, the cricket played was of a high quality and the matches were very competitive too. The fans thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the support and the behaviour of the crowd was amazing to see as well.

To be honest, watching cricket being played on our home grounds cannot be described in words. Our people finally got to watch their stars perform on home soil and it must have been a great occasion for the youngsters in the audience as well as it’s one thing to watch your team play on television and a completely different experience for the youngsters to watch their heroes play in real life. All this bodes well for Pakistan and if we can get a few more home series like these in the future then we should see a significant improvement in the quality of our cricket. The atmosphere in a home stadium with thousands of people watching and cheering the team is completely different from what we have experienced in UAE; there is simply no comparison between that. The fact is that only when you play in Lahore, Karachi or anywhere else in Pakistan, that you actually feel the home advantage which is the way it should be.


Credit to the PCB and World XI players' and staff 

A lot of the credit for having a top-quality international side in Pakistan must go to Najam Sethi and the PCB. Our security personnel including the Pakistan Army, Rangers and the Punjab Police must be commended for providing a high-level of security for our visitors. Thanks to the Almighty, this first hurdle of safely holding an international series has been crossed without a problem. We are, of course, very indebted to the international players for their effort to visit Pakistan and also for playing cricket and bringing joy to millions of Pakistan cricket followers. Their encouraging remarks about the love they got in Pakistan and the hospitality they received on their visit here were greatly appreciated by all of us. They have also said that they would like to visit Pakistan again which speaks volumes about how they felt about the whole tour. The credit goes to all the players and staff of the World XI for their visit and especially to Andy Flower who organized this team with the help of the respective cricket boards and the ICC.


The World XI's visit will open doors for more tours by international teams

There should be more good news for Pakistan in the coming days as Sri Lanka may play the last T20I in Lahore and then we have been told that the West Indies will also like to play 3 T20Is in Pakistan. This means a lot for the cricket-starved fans in Pakistan and the credit for this development goes to Sri Lanka Cricket and Cricket West Indies for their cooperation with PCB on this matter. On top of that, there are plans for holding 2018 PSL games involving foreign players in different cities in Pakistan as well which is great news for cricket lovers in Pakistan. All in all, these developments point to some great times ahead for Pakistan cricket and its fans as well as for the country as a whole.


 
 



Youngsters will fill the space left by the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan

We must also realize that we will be playing the Test series without our two legendary batsmen, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan who have recently retired. Both of these players had previously formed the bedrock of our batting performances. This will be a difficult phase for our Test team as these two were our top players and it won’t be easy to fill the vacuum left by their departure. But at the same time, it is a great opportunity for our youngsters to grab this chance with both hands and make a name for themselves. It will, of course, be a strange feeling to see a Pakistan dressing room which will be missing the presence of Misbah and Younis. The two batsmen’s services to the nation are well known and all I can hope is that in time, the youngsters who replace them are able to match or exceed the records set by the two stalwarts. The fact is Pakistan cricket will move on as this is not the first time such big stars have left the scene and youngsters will rise-up to the challenge and take the place of these experienced players, and become stars in their own right.


Team work and not just individual performances behind Pakistan's improved showing

It’s not just the manner of our victory in the Champions Trophy or our performances in the Independence Cup which gives us hope of better days ahead for Pakistan cricket. Our victory in the Caribbean during our last visit there where we won the series in all formats, including a historic Test series victory, is also a pointer to our upward trajectory. The momentum, by the grace of the Almighty, is with us and the improvements continue to come in our cricket. It used to be the case that our bowling would only deliver the goods and the batting would fail but even that is not the case now. Our batsmen have not been struggling of late and if you look at the previous Test series against the West Indies and Australia, our batting gave a good account of itself whereas it was the bowling which sometimes let us down. This seems to have been a trend as our batsmen consistently scored 170+ in the Independence Cup games as well. Let me also add that the batting improvements are not just due to one person but are a team effort. We are seeing more robust partnerships between batsmen and the reliance on one player to get us those big scores is slowly disappearing. This is a great sign for a young team like ours and the response by each team member to the challenges thrown at them is very pleasing. 


Focus on Fitness

Apart from our batting and bowling where we have seen an improvement, our fielding is also continuing to improve by leaps and bounds as well. Even Faf du Plessis appreciated the athleticism and fielding efforts of our young team during the Independence Cup which must be very encouraging for our squad. This is a direct result of a culture of fitness that has been created in the team with our players looking leaner and fitter which results in an excellent overall impact on the performance of the team. But achieving this standard has not been easy and as the team management you have to stand your ground on such issues. Obviously, some people will not like this but the fact is that we will not compromise on fitness issues to the detriment of the team. The result of this stance is obvious as the players are performing better now due to being fitter than before. To be clear, fitness does not make you perform any better if you don’t have the skills but what it does do is give you a better chance to perform even better than before.


Pakistan bowling line-up functioning like a well-oiled machine

As a bowling coach, I am pleased to see that the Pakistan bowling line-up is now functioning like a well-oiled machine. Hasan Ali is a prime example of someone who is young, fit and strong who has no qualms playing all formats of the game. He is not alone, even Mohammad Amir’s bowling has been improving and his strength as we saw in the Champions Trophy and also during the County Championship is also back to its best. The same applies to other fast-bowlers such as Junaid Khan, Mohammad Abbas and Wahab Riaz who has recovered from injury. Amongst the spinners, we see that Yasir Shah who took 25 Test wickets in the tour of the West Indies is now fully fit and there is no end to Shadab Khan's enthusiasm to perform for his country. All our bowlers are getting better but the best part is that they are all chipping in and they are all performing their roles to perfection. We are starting to win based on a collective effort rather than one bowler performing outstandingly well in every game.


Right decision to have Sarfaraz Ahmed as captain for all 3 formats

Conventional wisdom dictates that being a captain of any side is a stressful job but to be appointed captain for all three teams can add a whole new level of pressure. However, in my opinion, having one captain for all three formats is the right decision. The reason is simply that one captain can have a better overall view of the workload on all players involved in the three teams. So, for example, a One-Day captain would want Mohammad Amir or Hasan Ali in his team, as would the T20I one and also the Test captain would want the same. In that sense, we would not be able to implement a rotation policy for the bowlers as each captain would want the best for his team without looking at the larger picture, which is something one captain in all formats can do with ease. He would be able to see how best his bowlers would be utilized with least amount of fatigue during the whole tour or series, rather than focussing on specifically on one format of the game. One more advantage of having one captain is that he can develop a good understanding of all players in the squad across all formats. From a player’s point of view, he has to deal with three different captains and understand their style of thinking which can be confusing so having one captain can easily solve this problem.


Pakistan will not take series against Sri Lanka lightly

Let’s remember that any series against an international team cannot be taken lightly. The same applies to our upcoming 2 match Test series against Sri Lanka, regardless of whether their experienced or established players are in the squad or not. I do accept that after winning the Champions Trophy and also winning the Independence Cup, the expectations associated with the Pakistan team are pretty high but we cannot take success for granted against any side. The competition will be undoubtedly tough but we will aim to play good cricket and win this series by a good margin.