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Sarfraz Nawaz: Umar Gul does not have the stamina for all three formats

Umar Gul © AFP
Sarfraz Nawaz believes Umar Gul would have been dropped long back but there are no proper replacements available  © AFP

Sarfraz Nawaz began his Test career in 1969 with the series against England in Pakistan and in a career which spanned 15 years, he became one of Pakistan’s most potent fast bowlers, whilst also being recognized as the father of reverse swing which was to revolutionize the art of fast bowling in years to come. In addition, his partnership with the legendary Imran Khan saw him help his country to their first Test victories against England and arch-rival, India.

Between 1969 and 1984 he played 55 Tests and 45 One Day Internationals and took 177 Test wickets at an average of 32.75. Apart from his role in the series against India in 1978 where he took 17 wickets, the most memorable moment of his career occurred in 1978–79 where he took 9/86 against Australia at Melbourne – including a magnificent spell of 7 for 1 off 33 balls, which over-turned a seemingly hopeless situation into a surprise victory for Pakistan.

The retired fast bowler also had a brief spell in the arena of politics during 1985-88 but at 65 years of age today, is known more for his outspoken stand against corruption in cricket as well as his work with young cricketers at his academy in Islamabad.

Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, Sarfraz discussed his aims as a bowling consultant working alongside NCA Head Coach Mohammad Akram, his views on the current Pakistani pace bowling attack, the state of Domestic cricket, the dual role of Moin Khan as Chief Selector and Team Manager, the areas of improvement before the 2015 World Cup and his choice as the next T20I captain.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion.net (PP): What are your thoughts on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s decision to remove Mohammad Akram as the bowling coach?

Sarfraz Nawaz (SN): I think it’s the right move. In my opinion I feel Akram is more suited to working as head coach at the National Cricket Academy where I feel the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) will get the best out of him. With Waqar Younis now appointed as Head Coach, there is no need to have Akram and Waqar both working with the bowlers.

Also Akram will have the time to work with individual bowlers and on issues such as actions and other technical issues. These are the sort of things that he probably couldn’t do whilst touring with the team but can work on at the National Academy. It’s a better job for Akram, no doubt about it.

(PP): How would you rate Mohammad Akram’s performance as bowling coach?

SN: I sympathise with Mohammad Akram. Pace bowling is all about being physically fit. If you aren’t fit, then you cannot perform. The problem has been that the physical trainer that the PCB had employed for most of Mohammad Akram’s tenure was too soft on the players. Bowlers were being declared fit when it was clear that they weren’t fit enough for international cricket. The bowling coach can guide the bowlers, but if they are not fit then that guidance becomes a waste of time.

(PP): Will you be working with Mohammad Akram at the training camp in Lahore?

SN: Well I’ve been asked to work as a bowling consultant alongside Akram, but the appointment is yet to be ratified by the Board. I’m hoping to work with Akram and the pace bowlers at the latter stages of the camp. I’ve heard that the first two weeks of the camp will be a fitness and conditioning camp and the second stage of the camp will be more to do with specific batting and bowling skills.

(PP): Do you think Waqar Younis is the right choice as Head Coach or would you have preferred another candidate to have been given the opportunity?

SN: There was nobody else! Of the names that were being mentioned Waqar Younis was realistically the only option. When you only have one option, then you obviously have to go for it.

(PP): What did you make of Pakistan’s pace bowlers’ performance at the World T20?

SN: I look at some of the selections like Sohail Tanvir and wonder why he is picked for Pakistan, on what basis is he selected and what great deeds has he done for Pakistan since his debut?

In every format, pace bowlers hunt in pairs. Sadly our pace bowlers have not been developed as well as they should have been recently and this has meant that there has been a lot of chopping and changing and instability. The Pakistani pace bowlers play a couple of games and then are dropped, someone else is brought in and then they are dropped as well. It reminds me of the opening batting positions of not so long ago where the constant changes in personnel meant there was no stability at all.

(PP): Where do you feel things went wrong at the World T20 and what can be learnt from those mistakes?

SN: There were factions in the dressing room during the tournament. The Pakistan dressing room during the tournament was a divided place and all was not well during the tournament. The selection of some players such as Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik was alarming and puzzling. The captain Mohammad Hafeez stuck his neck out and picked both of them and that decision backfired badly.

PP: Junaid Khan seems to be getting a raw deal at the moment. What are your opinions on the way he is being handled?

SN: His treatment is diabolical, it’s very wrong. He’s a bowler who can perform in all three formats, a bowler who is a match-winner and can turn a game. However the way he has been treated has meant that his confidence has been shattered. I get the impression that there are some in the hierarchy of Pakistan cricket who do not like Junaid. Perhaps he is too clean cut and honest for some.

PP: What are your thoughts on Moin Khan being appointed Chief Selector and Team Manager?

SN: Double roles work well in Bollywood and Lollywood films but won’t work in Pakistani cricketing circles. Previously what’s happened is that the captain and coach have overpowered the team manager on tour regarding selection of the playing eleven. I guess what the Board are trying to achieve is that if the Chief Selector is on tour then he will have the final say regarding the playing eleven. It’s a dangerous policy and one that could backfire if all parties are not in agreement and could lead to some tension.

(PP): Two of Pakistan’s pace bowlers (Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul) have been stopped from playing County cricket this summer and told that they have to report to the training camp. Do you think that is the right decision from the Board?

SN: I think it’s the right decision. I fully support the PCB on this stance. The reason being both Tanvir and Gul are not 100% fit. Sohail Tanvir’s having problems with his legs, it’s clear that he’s not fully fit. As for Umar Gul, he’s returned from injury but watch his follow through, he’s collapsing on his follow through as the strength in his knee is just not there yet.

Both of these bowlers are not match fit and the PCB has every right to summon them to the camp and find out what’s going on regarding their levels of fitness. Watch both of them closely, they get through their first spells but when they are recalled for their second and third spells they look weak.

(PP): Do you think the time has come for Umar Gul to retire from some format(s)?

SN: Gul should stick to playing only T20Is for Pakistan. I feel he’s passed his best in the fifty over format and he’s not got the stamina or the fitness for Test cricket. There’s no point in selecting the same players for sentimental reasons. Umar Gul has not got the stamina now for all three formats and the quicker the selectors realise this, the better it is for him and for Pakistan cricket.The problem is though that the replacements just don’t seem to be there or Gul would have been dropped a long time ago.

(PP): There were reports that you had recently discovered a 6 foot 5” pace bowler from Mianwali who you were very impressed with. Can you tell us more about him?

SN: Yes he’s a young man of 22/23 and he’s at my academy in Islamabad at the moment. I’m working with him at the academy but the problem is that he is from such a humble background that he is only earning 400 rupees a day to make ends meet. He’s a painter at a factory and in his spare time he plays cricket. We are also struggling to find some cricket boots for him as he needs size 14 boots but in Islamabad the boot manufacturers only seem to make boots up to size 12. We are looking for some sponsors for him in order that we can sort out some boots and equipment for him.

At the moment he’s training at my academy and also playing some club cricket but I think he’s definitely a prospect for the future. My plan is to improve his stamina and ability at the academy and get him signed up with a departmental team when I feel he is ready to make the step-up. My academy is now fully up and running and I encourage cricketers of all abilities to attend. I hope that I can give back to Pakistan cricket and produce some good cricketers at the academy.

(PP): What are your thoughts on the standard of pace bowlers in Pakistan’s domestic circuit?

SN: The problem is that selection in domestic cricket is not based on merit. We have cricketers playing First-Class cricket who do not deserve to be anywhere near the First-Class structure and on the other hand we have good cricketers who don’t get a chance or any recognition because they don’t have the backing from within the structure and outside of the cricketing structure in Pakistan.

Also the wickets in Pakistani domestic cricket are nullifying the effectiveness of the pace bowlers. Either the wickets are too bowler-friendly or they are flat. The PCB needs to ensure tracks support good cricket and there is a balance between bat and ball as at the moment there isn’t. Flat tracks are ensuring that pace bowlers lose heart and then when the wickets are green tops, average medium pacers are looking like world beaters.

Also one of the problems is that influential First-Class cricketers who are batsman use their influence to ensure the wickets are flat to suit them and to make batting easier for them. This practice has to stop and curators should be allowed to prepare sporting tracks.

(PP): The Board are looking at re-vamping the First-Class structure. What in your opinion should be the structure of First-Class cricket in Pakistan?

SN: I spoke with PCB Chairman Najam Sethi on this issue recently and gave him my thoughts on the matter. Instead of reducing the number of departments in First-Class cricket, the PCB should be looking to increase the number of departments.

Previously I handed a report to Zaka Ashraf on what the First-Class structure in Pakistan cricket should look like. It was based on the English county set-up and had a window for a T20 tournament too. It had roughly the same number of teams in it as the English County championship and my plan was to start the competition in September to March with a T20 tournament in between, but the idea was thrown out and shouted down by Intikhab Alam, Zakir Khan and Javed Miandad.

This format would have been testing on the players particularly the batsmen who these days seem to make a score of thirty or forty and are then comfortable in the knowledge that they have enough runs to make the starting line-up for their team’s next match. Our batsmen in domestic cricket seem to be lacking the temperament to play long innings and then that has a knock-on effect when it comes to international cricket.

(PP): Pakistan is facing a busy schedule leading up to next year’s World Cup. What are the key areas for improvement?

SN: An improvement in the player’s physical fitness is an absolute must. I watch these boys in international cricket and wonder how some of them are playing for Pakistan when they clearly are not fit enough. Our senior players like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are showing the youngsters the way when it comes to fitness. It’s embarrassing when you watch some of our younger players in the field chasing the ball. It’s almost like they are running on the spot. When you compare the physical fitness of Pakistani cricketers to some other nations, we are way behind. Improved physical fitness will lead to improved performances on the field.

The conditioning camp could be a revelation in Lahore and I hope the coaches are serious about not putting forward players for selection who are not 100% fit.

(PP): Mohammad Hafeez recently resigned from the T20 captaincy. Who do you think should take over from Hafeez?

SN: I think Misbah should be the T20 captain. He would have made a difference in Bangladesh. He’s one of Pakistan’s biggest hitters and our weak link in the World T20 was our middle order which was exposed. In some matches we couldn’t even bat the full twenty overs which is unacceptable. There is always room for what I term as proper batsmen in the limited overs formats and Misbah is still good enough to play twenty over cricket as the last Champions League confirmed.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)

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