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In his latest exclusive blog for, the Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood writes about the positives from the tour of New Zealand despite the disappointment of losing the ODI series, the reasons for limiting league participation for Pakistan players, Sadaf Hussain's chances of making it to the Pakistan side and looks forward to a better showing for Karachi Kings this year in PSL 3.

By Azhar Mahmood (10th February, 2018)

Disappointment for the loss in ODIs against New Zealand but positive signs for the future

It goes without saying that a 5-0 defeat is a disappointment regardless of whichever format it happens in or who the opposition is. Whilst we lost 6 matches in a row, I was really impressed by the way we fought back in the T20I series. The victory in the T20I series shows the character and mindset of our side which is a huge positive and a very encouraging sign for us. Having said that, it is also important that we must recognize that our batting has always struggled in New Zealand. Our bowlers, some of who were touring New Zealand for the first time, found it tough to adjust to the bowling conditions there. Strong winds were a problem for our bowlers, but I would still give them immense credit for making an effort to adjust to local conditions there. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about our batsmen as none of our top-order batsmen could make any significant scores during the ODI series. If the top five or six batsmen do not score runs then you will always struggle as a team, regardless of the courage shown by the younger batsmen at the 7,8,9 type positions which is a positive sign for us in the future.

Fatigue factor and poor preparation to blame for bad performances in New Zealand

The facts are that when we talk of preparations for this tour, we had players who were coming in after playing T10 cricket which wasn’t ideal. On top of that, we lost the services of Usman Khan Shinwari and Junaid Khan due to injuries, whilst Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali were also carrying niggles as they went into this tour. I will add that if one plays so much cricket, then regardless of age, one’s body will find it difficult to cope with such stresses and your fitness-levels inevitably suffer as well. In this context, I total agree with Mickey Arthur’s comments on this subject where he spoke about the drop in fitness levels of players due to the above reasons. Despite the players trying their best to make sure that they play with the same intensity, the problem is that you cannot bear the load of international cricket whilst carrying niggles and suffering from fatigue. 

Right move by the PCB to limit league participation by Pakistan players

We have had some discussions on this topic with the team management, the PCB, as well as Inzamam-ul-Haq to ensure that in the future, we will hold off from giving permission to the players to play in every other league. Priority in such cases must be given to the right type of preparation for any upcoming Pakistan tours as service to our country takes precedence over all other considerations. Of course, we do not want the players to suffer financially by missing out from playing in foreign leagues but that must not happen at the expense of loss of their fitness when it comes to Pakistan games. They need to return for international cricket duties in the same shape as they left us during the previous series. Them playing league cricket is of no real benefit to Pakistan and the situation becomes worse if the player picks an injury whilst playing in such leagues. These are all professional players and they all have a desire to play for Pakistan which is why they must realise that whilst they can get some short-term financial benefit by playing in leagues, they will find it difficult to sustain an international career in the long-run.



Players must maintain their fitness between tours

The players left our care after end of the series against Sri Lanka and we then saw them again ahead of the tour of New Zealand. The positives we saw in terms of fitness from our players during the Champions Trophy and Sri Lanka series were missing and one could put that down simply to the lack of fitness or exhaustion due to playing too much cricket in the intervening period. Also missing was the hunger and desire to perform, possibly due to the reasons I have mentioned before. All these factors matter when you are preparing for an international tour as tough as the one to New Zealand. As someone who has played around the world for financial rewards myself, it would be hypocritical for me to ask others not to do that, but I draw the line when participation in leagues causes negative effects on a player’s performance when he plays for Pakistan. Every player who wishes to represent Pakistan needs to have the hunger and desire to succeed for Pakistan alone and should maintain the standard of fitness which is needed for international cricket for bowlers and batsmen. 

Fitness level the primary reason for our bowlers’ below par performances in New Zealand

It is obvious that when fitness levels drop, then there will be problems for our bowlers. 50-over cricket is pretty demanding as it does require the fielders to be on the pitch for three and half hours or more and the body can get stiff. In Twenty20 cricket where a bowler is required to bowl just 4 overs, this is not an issue. In contrast in a One-Day game where 10 overs need to be bowled by a bowler, probably in spells of an initial 5 overs burst and then sets of 2 or more overs, fitness can have a major impact on the final output. At the international level, a bowler does not have the luxury to bowl a few overs to get rid of stiffness as each ball is important and a bowler has to be giving his one hundred percent from ball one of each spell. If this does not happen, then the opposition batsmen will make use of this weakness from the bowler’s side. Our failures in New Zealand may well have been due to such issues but it can be turned into success in the future, only if we can learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves.

Good performances by our players are a big positive from the New Zealand tour

Faheem Ashraf performed very well on the tour as did Shadab Khan who made runs when we were under pressure. In addition, Fakhar Zaman was good and whenever Mohammad Hafeez had a chance, he chipped in and also put in some excellent performances. All these are positives we can draw satisfaction from. One must not also forget Sarfaraz Ahmed and appreciate how he promoted himself and played so well. He has lead from the front, taken responsibility and his batting in the T20Is was very positive. Regardless of how good we feel about these positives, we know that we need to work on our batting and also on our bowling as well. With more and more cricket being played, the workload of our bowlers needs to be monitored carefully as well.

Great to see that Junaid Khan, Usman Khan Shinwari and Hasan Ali are well on their way back after injuries

I am glad to say that Usman Khan Shinwari has already started to bowl again based upon what he has told me and the videos which he has sent to me already. Hopefully he will be fit to play in the PSL which starts on 22nd February. As far as Junaid Khan is concerned, he is pain-free now and has started to bowl again and hopefully his fitness will also improve very soon. Lastly, Hasan Ali had twisted his ankle during the T20I series in New Zealand and hopefully he will be fine soon and in the worst case, miss a couple of games in the PSL.

Sarfaraz Ahmed has handled the pressures of captaincy very well

In my view, Sarfaraz lead the team very well during the tough tour of New Zealand and also coped with the pressure of captaincy nicely. He remained calm during some tough periods during the games. The best example of how he handled himself was after six straight losses where many others would have been wanting to be on the next flight home, what we saw was nothing of that sort. Instead the captain inspired his team who were seen fighting to the last man in the last 2 games and that shows that the team has the hunger and will to fight and also have the ability to learn from their mistakes. 

Important that Pakistan learn from their mistakes and improve themselves for the future

Remember that New Zealand is not an easy place to tour and they know how to make use of their local conditions. Even Australia find it difficult to win there. If you will recall, New Zealand won all their games at home in the World Cup in 2015 so it's obvious that they are masters of their own conditions. What we need to focus on is the fact that we made mistakes and we need to work on those problems and reduce those types of problems in the future. We have a tough tour of England coming up where we will play Test matches and after that we have to play against Zimbabwe and South Africa, followed by the 2019 World Cup. All these tours will be in places which will be far different from the Asian/Sub-continental conditions we are used to. We will have to do our homework and preparations to make sure that we succeed away from home. Especially, our batsmen will need to think ‘out of the box’ in order to utilize their skills and score runs in overseas conditions. Of course, we cannot win every game we play but the most important part is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them again.

Sadaf Hussain should be given a chance based upon his recent performances

We had a good look at Sadaf during a camp for future prospects which was held last year in March. He is a swing type bowler who does not have so much pace. The issue is that to succeed in international cricket, pace is a necessity. There is no doubt about his bowling abilities at all. But if you see the type of structure we are trying to set up in our team, we look at the players bowling, batting and fielding abilities too. Our batting, as we know, is weak so we expect all players to be able to chip in with some runs as well. So, if a player’s batting and fielding is not up to the standard and the pace, as per my judgement, is not that high either then this is a problem. Having said that, it is down to the selectors but I feel that based purely on his performances and statistics, he does deserve a chance for Pakistan.

Karachi Kings looking good for a better showing in PSL 3

Our squad is looking very good for the upcoming PSL 3 although we have lost some of the players we picked during the initial draft and had to find replacements which are also good in their own right. If we take the example of Joe Denly, he played well in BBL 7 for Sydney Sixers and ended up with the highest batting average for his team and is an extremely useful player. Then Colin Ingram who played for Adelaide Strikers also ended up with good scores for his side. Tymal Mills who is Mitchell Johnson’s replacement is an exciting player too. Apart from the foreign contingent in the Karachi squad, we have the local boys in the shape of Mohammad Amir and Babar Azam who are in good form now. With the squad we have, hopefully, we will produce better results in this year’s PSL.