Mudassar Nazar (above) praised Waqar Younis’s tenure as coach of Pakistan © Getty Images
By Amir Husain
Mudassar Nazar played 76 Tests and 122 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for Pakistan between 1976 and 1989, scoring almost 7,000 runs and taking 175 wickets.
An accumulator of runs, his best performances came at home, where he scored eight of his 10 Test centuries, half of which were scored against India. Providing stability at the top of the batting-order, Mudassar averaged 54 in Test matches won by Pakistan, emphasising his importance to a side which included more illustrious contemporaries like Mohsin Khan, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas.
Mudassar has continued his association with cricket after retirement. He was appointed as coach of Kenya in 2005, where he was also Director of Cricket and went on to become Director of Game Development in Pakistan. He introduced twelve Regional Academies as well as the National Academy in Lahore. He is currently the Head Coach at the the ICC Global Cricket Academy, specialising in batting and development programmes.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mudassar spoke about the role and importance of specialist coaches in international cricket, potential candidates for the vacant Pakistan head coach position and whether he would be interested in the role himself.
PakPassion.net (PP): Some are suggesting that a talented team like Pakistan won’t really need a coach as they have done well before the era of specialist coaches. How would you counter that? What in your opinion, is the actual role of a coach?
Mudassar Nazar (MN): I think there is a huge need for a coach, otherwise no team in the world would have one! Things have changed a lot in cricket in the last twenty or thirty years. There is now an awful lot of cricket, and there is a lot more organisation that is required. You used to have just one series in six months, so the senior players and team manager looked after the team. Now, if you look at how teams prepare for Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is), you will see that a lot of thought goes into it. Teams carry out video analysis, have meetings and also discuss the psychological side of it. Sometimes you can go too far, as England have done under Andy Flower by taking an 82-page manual with them for their diet! You need to find a middle ground somewhere which works for you. It was working for Flower, but he went a bit over the top and all of a sudden, it’s all come crumbling down. Somebody like Bob Woolmer got it right. He prepared his team really well and it showed. Wherever the team went, success followed them.
PP: How would you view Dav Whatmore’s recent tenure as Pakistan coach?
MN: I wouldn’t term it as successful but at the same time, it wasn’t unsuccessful either. I’d say he was a bit unlucky. All the games in which he was in charge were played outside Pakistan and that has been Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel, since we started playing cricket.
We’ve always struggled abroad which is due to a lack of proper playing facilities in Pakistan. We’ve also not been courageous enough to prepare sporting pitches in domestic cricket as well as during the times we played international cricket in Pakistan. Now, because of the alleged terrorism, we do not play international cricket at home and therefore, it’s a very difficult task for any coach or any Pakistan captain.
PP: Would you not say that, for all practical purposes, United Arab Emirates (UAE) is our home and therefore we should be a bit more comfortable playing in the UAE than in other foreign destinations?
MN: Yes, however whenever they go to the UAE, there’s always a hue and cry that there’s a lot of grass left on the pitch, and the Pakistani batsmen are never comfortable even though the soil is the same and there’s hardly any grass. If there’s even some semblance of grass on the pitch, we start hearing about it. There were reports coming from Pakistan after they lost the first Test [against Sri Lanka] of Misbah-ul-Haq attacking the preparation of the pitch which I thought was totally unjustified.
PP: The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has advertised for the position of a coach. Whom do you see are the likely candidates for this position, and should Pakistan be looking at any previous coaches they have had to fill the position?
MN: I think the PCB should look to appoint Waqar Younis as head coach. When he was in charge, he had two able students with him in Aaqib Javed and Ijaz Ahmed, and they all worked really well together. The team also performed well above its potential and when they lost a game for example in England, they soon came back and won the next one. So, I thought Waqar was doing wonderfully well, but unfortunately, due to whatever circumstances his stint ended. He should have carried on.
Mohsin Khan benefited a lot from what Waqar had done and as things were in place, and players were responding well. So, I wouldn’t be hesitant to go back to Waqar once again.
Aaqib has done wonderfully well with the UAE team and he has also done well through all age groups right across Pakistan, starting from the grassroots level through to the Pakistan senior team. Whatever role Aaqib has been given, he has always delivered, so we have these two outstanding candidates, if they decide to apply for the job.
However, as we know that Aaqib has said that he will not apply for that position, as he’s doing really well with the UAE team and I don’t think he will leave them in the lurch now, having taken them so far. From what I have read, Waqar seems interested in the job, so let’s see what happens. You never know who else might apply from within Pakistan. Even if someone from outside Pakistan applies, if he fits the bill, then why not?
PP: It appears that Pakistani coaches have a lot of baggage with them, is that an issue?
MN: It is, definitely. I’d be lying, if I said that it’s not true. If I was made the coach of Pakistan then people from outside Lahore would be gunning for me. Similarly, if someone from Karachi becomes coach, people from Islamabad or Lahore may actually start a process where they try to vilify the coach even if the team is doing well. So, that element is there.
PP: Would it therefore not be better to get a foreign coach once again?
MN: I’m not saying we should definitely have one or the other. Former players in Pakistan who say that we shouldn’t have a foreign coach are not being totally honest because all their lives they’ve played cricket outside Pakistan and made a lot of money. Some people like myself are coaching abroad and coaching other national teams, so I think that’s not right.
We should have a coach who fits the bill, is hard-working, understands the team’s needs and thinks outside the box. Also we shouldn’t just focus on the Pakistan team, we need to look at the Pakistan ‘A’ team and the Under-19s also. Sometime where we go wrong with foreign coaches is that they come and just look after the Pakistan team. They don’t really take a lot of interest in what is happening in the National Academy or in other academies and First-Class sides across Pakistan. They should certainly be linked with the ‘A’ team and the Under-19 team. I’m not saying they should be in charge of these teams, but they should have sufficient interest in those two sections of Pakistan cricket.
PP: In Whatmore’s case, he did make Pakistan his temporary home. Do you think that should be a prerequisite for any foreign coach?
MN: In the present circumstances, if they come in and look after a Test match and three ODIs, and then go back to their country, and then comeback when the international team is again on duty, that is wrong. If they have free time, they should be using all of that time at their disposal to look after the Pakistan ‘A’ team or the Under-19s, and to look at who is coming through. Also, on tour, if some of the guys don’t perform well, that doesn’t mean you should throw them out of the squad. You actually need to work with them.
PP: You are right — It does seem that after investing so much in some of these players, the team management seems to discard them very quickly at the first sign of trouble…
MN: Yes, they throw them out and leave them to their own. That is being very unfair. If a coach doesn’t spend enough time with them in the off season and then expects them to comeback, and fire on all cylinders, I don’t think that can be justified at all.
PP: In that respect, do you think Whatmore has been successful?
MN: I’m not sure as I have not been to Pakistan for the last five years, so it would be unfair of me to say what he did at the National Academy. I have not visited it in this period. What I will say in his defence is that he did spend more time in Pakistan than the likes of Geoffrey Lawson.
PP: The potential coaches you have mentioned so far are both bowlers. Wouldn’t you be recommending a batting coach as a head coach given Pakistan’s batting problems?
MN: Well if a [batting] head coach doesn’t apply, then the national coach will not be a batting coach! Every department, whether it is bowling, batting and fielding, should be looked after by a professional. When you bring in a fielding coach, he makes sure he is looking after that department and whatever work is needed, he makes sure it is carried out. An all-round head coach can be good, but specialists are definitely needed for all three facets of the game.
PP: What do you expect from a head coach? Is it a supervisory role, or a more hands-on position?
MN: The head coach is the main man at the end of the day. He comes up with a policy. He makes sure everybody adheres to it. The head coach also works in conjunction with the captain. They don’t just look at the day-to-day affairs in matches — obviously they look after that as well, but the coach and captain also look at the long-term policy to answer questions such as where do they see the team going? Where do they see individuals going? This could be in the form of individual goals set by the coach and the captain, and also goals for the next three, four, five years. This is what you need. You don’t need a coach on a match-to-match basis.
PP: What then should be the day-to-day role of a head coach during say the course of a Test match? Should he be guiding the captain on the field?
MN: Yes, he should be involved in every session. I’m not saying that he should be making the decisions on which gloves to send out for the batsmen, or which bottles of water, but when you converse with them during various sessions of a match, you discuss with the captain whether the plan is working, or whether they need to go to ‘Plan B’ or not. Most of the time, during the play, he has to make sure the players are calm and they stick to the plans as devised earlier.
PP: In your experience, have you found captains to be co-operative with the coaches, or do they just say I’m on the field, I’m in charge?
MN: Now, that can happen, if you have a strong captain. A captain has to take a decision on the field at times, to follow Plan ’B’ if the main plan is not working. In short, he must be sharp enough to change things. When I played under Imran Khan, he always looked five overs ahead of the opposition. If I came on and bowled a couple of maiden overs, it didn’t mean that he’d continue with me. He’d be thinking, “if he bowls a few more overs like that and doesn’t take a wicket, we will be under pressure, as the batsmen would be well-settled and then they’d start to cash in.” These are the kind of things the captain is looking at and successful captains don’t just toe the line, they read the situation and Imran’s focus was always on staying five overs ahead of the opposition.
PP: The captain and coach must have a good understanding. Did you feel there was a good relationship between Misbah and Whatmore?
MN: I thought there was, and credit goes to both of them. Misbah as you know is very adaptable and quiet and has his own methods. Looking from afar, I thought they had a good partnership.
PP: And finally, the question on everyone’s mind. Would you be interested in the opportunity to coach Pakistan?
MN: No. It’s a very tough job and I don’t live in Pakistan, and from my point of view you have to live and breathe cricket in Pakistan to be successful as head coach. I’ve moved on from team coaching and I’m really interested in the development of the game and players. That gives me a lot of satisfaction, especially working with the youngsters. I can see it in their eyes that I’m making a difference and that gives me a lot of pleasure. I’m not interested in becoming coach of Pakistan.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)