Iqbal Qasim has been the chief selector of Pakistan Cricket Board for just over a year now with mixed results. His critics say he has not given younger players enough opportunities and has instead stuck by senior players who have at times been below-par in their performances. However, those appreciative of Qasim’s efforts feel that he has provided the squads with stability and his selections have given much needed opportunities to players who deserved them.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net’s Saj Sadiq, Qasim spoke about Pakistan’s performance in the recently-concluded tour of South Africa, looked ahead to the upcoming Champions Trophy in England. He also spoke about the future of Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Younis Khan as well as responding to criticism of the lack of opportunities for younger players in international cricket.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net: What’s your assessment of the three-nil Test series hammering in South Africa?
Iqbal Qasim: One has to realise first and foremost that playing South Africa in South Africa is a very difficult proposition. They are the top Test team in the world at the moment and have no weaknesses at all. Their batting is strong, their bowling line-up is fantastic and they are a settled unit. It was always going to be a tough series out there. However, I don’t think we were fully prepared for the Test series in South Africa.
PP: The lack of preparation for the Test series was clearly obvious to everyone, but why was that when the tour to South Africa was hardly organised at the last minute?
IQ: What happened was that the offer of the one-day series in India came about at the last minute. That meant that there was less time for the players and the management to be ready and prepare for the series in South Africa. But I don’t want to make excuses, Pakistan were defeated by a better side who put us on our back foot right at the start of the series. Having said that Pakistan had opportunities to put South Africa under pressure, but there were lapses at key moments in the Test series, sometimes in the field, on other occasions with the bat or the ball. At this level you cannot keep making the same mistakes time and again and keep giving high class cricketers with opportunity after opportunity. It was a bad series and at times uncomfortable to watch.
PP: What changes would you recommend to the Pakistan Cricket Board hierarchy in terms of preparing for future tours to South Africa?
IQ: Sometimes commitments come up which mean that you cannot fully prepare for a scheduled series; like the tour to India came up ahead of the tour of South Africa. Those, of course, are out of the players and team management’s control. However more preparation time is needed both in Pakistan and then in South Africa in future, this will allow the players to be better prepared both physically and mentally for such an arduous tour. One warm-up match ahead of a Test series is not enough in my opinion.
PP: Misbah-ul-Haq recently stated that it’s important for young Pakistani cricketers to be sent to South Africa and Australia to play First-Class cricket and gain experience of playing in those conditions. Do you agree with Misbah’s thoughts?
IQ: I agree with what Misbah has suggested. However one of the biggest problems we are facing is that our young up and coming cricketers are not getting the opportunity to face touring teams in Pakistan. Previously when international cricket was being played in Pakistan we could throw in young players in side matches against touring teams, sadly that is no longer possible. We could gauge the young players progress and test them against touring teams, but that is not possible at the moment and that is a major issue and hurdle.
PP: If there is a lack of exposure for young players against touring teams, then why aren’t more Academy and “A” tours being organised to supplement the lack of touring teams visiting Pakistan?
IQ: It’s a valid point that you make and it’s something that I have spoken with Zaka Ashraf about. We had a long chat recently about this matter and we are definitely looking at organising more Academies, “A” and Under 19 tours. The Board is trying very hard to organise these tours but at the end of the day foreign teams will not come to Pakistan at this time and the costs of sending junior teams abroad are very high for the Board. Pakistan’s Under-19s are playing some matches in England this summer and we are also trying to organise a junior tour of the West Indies this year.
I’ve seen letter after letter being sent out by the PCB in their efforts to organise junior tours but sadly the responses that come back are not in the affirmative. It’s very difficult to keep playing series away from Pakistan and not have the advantage of playing in front of your home crowds and in familiar conditions. Our young players do need more exposure against high quality opposition outside Pakistan.
PP: But surely the issue of costs would be neutralised with knowing that by sending young teams abroad you are preparing your players for the future?
IQ: Indeed , but the cost of these tours is not the only issue. It’s very expensive for the PCB to keep sending teams abroad. Also, other Boards are finding it difficult to accommodate us in their already packed calendars. In addition, organising junior tours at a neutral venue, the PCB would have to pay the costs for both teams.
PP: Moving onto the one-day series in South Africa, a performance that you’ll be much happier with?
IQ: I think Pakistan are a much stronger unit in the shorter formats at the moment. Our players seem to be more suited to the shorter versions of cricket. The overall performance in the one day series was good, but at the end of the day we still lost the series. In the deciding match the batsmen did not put enough runs on the board and there is definitely room for improvement and there are areas that our one day team definitely needs to work on.
PP: There’s been a lot of criticism of late with the performances of the middle-order batsmen particularly when chasing large totals. Your thoughts on Pakistan’s middle order in One-Day Internationals?
IQ: The focus of my selection committee and I is on the middle -order. I agree, it’s a problem and we are looking to address it. It’s definitely an area that needs looking at and improving. There will be a camp ahead of the Champions Trophy and hopefully the team management and players will look at this problem and instigate plans to combat the issue.
PP: Younis Khan was not included in the preliminary 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy. Is that the end of Younis’ one-day career?
IQ: It’s not for me to say when a player’s career is over in any format. Younis has to work hard on his game, make runs in domestic cricket in the one-day format and we will then look at his performances as we do with any other player. It’s wrong to assume his one-day career is over just because he has been struggling for runs of late.
PP: Did Younis make himself available for the Champions Trophy?
IQ: Yes, he was available; we did not receive any notification from him to say that he was not available for the Champions Trophy.
PP: You’ve also left out Raza Hasan the talented young left-arm spinner from the Champions Trophy squad. What’s the thinking behind leaving out such a promising young cricketer?
IQ: There are only so many left-arm spinners we could have included. We opted for Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar and we are very lucky that we have such healthy competition for places in our left-arm spin bowling department. What we are more concerned about though is the fast bowling line up and that’s why we’ve included a lot of fast bowlers in the preliminary squad. We’ve struggled with our fast bowlers in one day cricket and that’s why we’ve included so many in the 30 man squad. We want to see who performs well in the President’s Cup and we will be keeping a close eye on the performances of the pace bowlers that are part of the thirty man squad.
Raza Hasan has a very bright future in the game and he is definitely in our plans. Also we need to be careful with him as he has only just returned from injury.
PP: How did you rate Shahid Afridi’s performances in South Africa and should he feel under pressure regarding his place in the one day side?
IQ: He played one good innings in South Africa which showed that he can still from time to time perform with the bat. His bowling in my opinion was actually better than his figures suggest. He never took any wickets but the effort was there and his economy rate was not too bad in the series. We have to realise that sometimes no matter how hard you try and how well you bowl, the wickets will not come. We’ll be watching Shahid’s performances in the President’s Cup with interest in the hope that he performs well. As far as pressure is concerned, none of the players can take their place for granted for the Champions Trophy.
PP: How much value are the selectors putting on performances in the President’s Cup in terms of Champions Trophy selection?
IQ: We’ve made it crystal clear to all of the 30 players that they have to play in the President’s Cup, without exception. Any players who opt out of the tournament will not be eligible for selection for the Champions Trophy. No place is guaranteed and performances in the President’s Cup will determine who is on the plane for the Champions Trophy.
PP: Do you think Pakistan can challenge the best teams at the Champions Trophy?
IQ: All thirty of the players selected in the preliminary squad are more than capable of playing international cricket. I feel there are no weak links in the thirty man squad and I think there is a lot of competition for places in every department. Let’s see how the players perform in the President’s Cup as that will help us in deciding who makes the final squad of fifteen. Whichever fifteen we settle upon I know will provide a tough challenge to opponents in England.
PP: Abdul Razzaq seems to be totally out of the selector’s plans at the moment. What are your thoughts on Razzaq and what he needs to do make a return to international cricket?
IQ: Abdul Razzaq needs to sort out whatever issues he has and get back on the cricket field. We cannot consider a player who instead of playing in domestic cricket sits at home. We all know what he is capable of but he needs to start playing cricket again.
PP: We are a couple of years away from the 2015 World Cup. Your critics say that there is a lack of planning in terms of selection regarding this tournament. What would your response be to those critics?
IQ: I’m happy with the progress we are making regarding the 2015 World Cup. There are areas of our cricket that needs improving. There are some concerns as mentioned earlier with the middle order and our fast bowlers, but we’ve got the nucleus of a strong one day team.
In addition, we are seeing youngsters come through like Junaid Khan and Nasir Jamshed. Also the likes of Haris Sohail and Umar Amin have been part of our limited-overs squads too. I feel we have a nice blend of youth and experience and over the course of the next couple of years I’m sure we’ll see some of the younger players establish themselves in the one day team in time for the World Cup.
PP: What are your thoughts on the standard of cricket played recently at the Super 8 T20 tournament in Lahore?
IQ: It’s not an easy format to gauge players in. From the public’s perspective it’s a wonderfully entertaining format. I think it’s a format that Pakistan is very strong in and we have a number of players who excel in this format.
Two bowlers that greatly impressed me throughout the Super 8 T20 tournament were the Faisalabad duo of Asad Ali and Ehsan Adil, both of whom are improving at a rapid rate. Twenty20 cricket is ideal for batsmen and it was good to see a couple of bowlers utilising their skills very well in Lahore
PP: Finally, regarding your future in the role of Chief Selector. You’ve been in the role for over a year now, can you confirm if you intend to continue in the role?
IQ: I met with Zaka Ashraf recently and he has asked me to continue in the role. I’m not employed by the Pakistan Cricket Board and the role is purely an honorary one and therefore as such I do not have a contract from the PCB. As long as the Chairman wants me to continue in the role, I will continue. Whenever they want me to step down, I’ll say thank you very much and step down.
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