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Shahid Afridi kept biting the ball despite us telling him not to: Rana Naved-ul-Hasan

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Rana Naved-ul-Hasan looks back at his international career and also talks about his current form © Getty Images

By Amir Husain

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan played nine Test matches, four Twenty20s and 74 One-Day Internationals for Pakistan between 2004 and 2010. 

A limited-overs specialist, he claimed 110 wickets at an average of 29.28 in ODIs and often saved his best for India. He was a key component of the touring Pakistan side that won the six-match ODI series in 2005 and Naved played in all of the matches, taking 15 wickets at an average of 16.4, including a career-best six for 27.

A swing bowler capable of bowling with real pace in his younger days, he was also a good exponent of the in-swinging yorker and slower ball.

Naved made his international debut in 2004 as Pakistan looked to rebuild after their disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign. Over the course of the next six years, he was involved in a number of major trophy campaigns including three editions of the ICC Champions Trophy and the ICC World Cup 2007 in West Indies.

Naved last represented Pakistan almost four years ago but was sidelined in the aftermath of the tour of Australia in 2010. He has subsequently plied his trade for various domestic T20 teams around the world, including the Sialkot Stallions, Sussex Sharks, Yorkshire Carnegie, Tasmania Tigers and Hobart Hurricanes. He was top wicket-taker in the 2011-12 Twenty20 Big Bash in Australia with 15 dismissals in eight matches.

PakPassion.net caught up with Rana Naved to speak about his current form, his international career to date and the Afridi ball-biting incident in Australia, a match in which he participated.

Excerpts:

PakPassion.net(PP): How satisfied were you with your performances in the recently concluded Faysal Bank T20 Cup for Departments?

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (RN): I have to be honest and say that I didn’t do well and I’m not too happy with my performance in this cup. I took just one wicket in three games and I’m sure I could have done better, although my economy rate was decent which does matter in T20 games. I suppose that’s life – you cannot perform at your best all the time.

PP: How successful was this tournament and how do you feel about the standard of cricket played in the tournament?

RN: This was not the best time of year to organise such a tournament. Due to the conditions, whichever team won the toss had effectively won the game. This was because in the morning, there was excessive dew and the pitches were moist, meaning the team winning the toss would bat and win.

Although the standard of cricket in terms of some of the batting and bowling performances was good, the facilities provided to the players were not that great. I really feel that it could have been much better if it were a longer tournament. Only one match per day could have been scheduled and the timings should have been from 11am onwards. This could have reduced the morning dew factor. All in all, this was not a very successful tournament.

PP: Given that the match attendances were very low in this tournament, how was it for the players participating in games in front of empty seats in the stadium?

RN: It’s true that there were very few people present for most of the tournament. Stadiums were mostly empty – we were playing in front of empty stands. The only decent crowd I saw was at the final, probably because it was played on a holiday. Otherwise, league matches did not have any crowds. Obviously it was disappointing. As we know, there is no international cricket being played in Pakistan these days and that’s why there is little interest in the game. Due to this fact and their other commitments, people tend not to take out much time to watch domestic matches.

I go back to what I said about the organisation of this tournament. If they really wanted to organise this tournament better, then they should have arranged it at a time when the Pakistan team was not on a tour and all the big players were available to the Departments. As you know, the top players were in South Africa at that time so obviously, there was less attraction for ordinary people to come to the ground, which is probably the main reason for the poor attendance. Also, there was not much marketing for this tournament. Many people were not even aware about which channel was showing these matches. The media should have highlighted this tournament and made people aware of these fixtures.

PP: Turning towards your international career, you played only nine Tests for Pakistan. What do you think is the reason for this and has justice been done to your talent?

RN:  When I was playing for Pakistan, we used to play only four or five Test matches per year. On top of that, my focus was then more towards T20 and one-day cricket. I did not concentrate much on Test cricket and this is the reason I suppose I have not played too many Tests for Pakistan. As far as my performance is concerned, I took only 18 wickets in those nine Test matches. I feel that my performance was not up to the mark as I was not concentrating much on Test cricket. To me this is the real reason why I could only feature in nine Test matches.

PP: Do you think you got a fair shot at playing for the national team or should you have been given more chances?

RN: I think as far as Tests are concerned, I’ve already mentioned that my performances were not up to the mark, so I did not get to play too many matches. In truth, the only real reason I used to get a chance to play in a Test match was as a result of someone like Mohammad Sami or Shoaib Akhtar getting injured. In a way, this was also another reason why I was not concentrating much on the five-day game and my performances were not good; I never knew when I would play next!

Whatever the reason for my selection, the fact is that I have no one else to blame other than myself for the performances in Test matches. My performance in one-day and T20 cricket was great though. When I came in to the national team, we were playing more one-day cricket and I focused fully on limited overs cricket, so naturally my interest in Test cricket suffered.

PP: Your slower ball is one of the strongest assets in your arsenal. How did you become so good at bowling such a delivery?

RN: When I was playing county cricket for Sussex in England, I worked hard on my slower balls there. I used to practice my slower ball a lot as it’s not easy to deliver from the back of your hand. Later, with practice, it became a lethal weapon for me as I dismissed a lot of top batsmen with my slower delivery. This delivery has played a very important role in my success as a bowler at international level. It is important to have a variety of tricks these days, especially when you are bowling at the death. You should be able to bowl slower balls to surprise the opposition as well as slower bouncers that deceive batsmen. Also, in order to pick up wickets, you need to know how to bowl reverse swing and yorkers, both of which can come in quite handy during the latter part of the innings.

PP: How did you master the slower delivery?

RN: One day I was bowling in the nets to a batsman. While bowling, I actually missed my run up as I was about to reach the popping crease. It was too late for me to stop and I thought let’s just finish bowling this delivery somehow. It turned out to be a ball that spun a bit and also deceived the batsman as well. I thought to myself ‘this seems to be a very impressive ball so why not work on bowling this more often?’ Once I got better at it, I would bowl it after every four or five deliveries in the nets and it used to pitch in the perfect place. So to answer your question, I developed and practiced this ball myself without getting any formal coaching from someone else.

PP: Given the importance of such a delivery in the limited-overs format, are players also being taught to bowl this type of delivery? Is our coaching structure and supporting facilities able to help the youngsters improve as bowlers?

RN: This is definitely an important type of ball to bowl for any bowler. I am sure that the local coaches at the domestic level as well as the foreign coaches of the national team are working to help bowlers perfect this type of delivery and that this is in their plans and training schedules. The coaches are aware of this type of delivery and they do help the players to develop their skills in such areas.

As far as coaching is concerned, the cricket structure in Pakistan is different from other countries such as England and Australia where the bowlers are trained using technology such as video analysis. At the moment, Pakistan does not have many qualified coaches so our training methods are a little different. When I used to play county cricket in England, the team I was playing for used to show videos of the other team, whether it be batting or bowling, to prepare the players for the games. In Pakistan, we lack such facilities but last year when I played domestic cricket and this year too, I noticed a change. They now have video analysts in all the grounds so that in the evening you can see all the deliveries you have bowled during that day. This way you can see where you have made mistakes and where you have to improve. This is an improvement which has now been added to our domestic circuit. Hopefully, in the coming years our bowlers will be able to make better use of such technology and improve their bowling.

PP: In your international career, what memory or performance stands out the most?

RN: The first match I played was in a pressure situation, as was the last match! All I know is that I have really enjoyed all that I have played for Pakistan. My thinking has always been to put in the best performance for Pakistan. I have always been positive and never put myself under pressure. If you don’t take on much pressure, it allows you to perform at your highest level. I would like to mention the year 2005, this was the year when I took 15 wickets to help Pakistan win the six-match ODI series against India. Playing against India is always exciting but I also took my career best figures of six for 27 in that series which was extra special for me.

PP: Whenever I watched you on television, it appeared that you used to play with all your heart. Did this require an extra effort from you or was this natural?

RN: When I started playing, my father used to coach me and he always told me whether it be a club match or an international match, keep the same attitude and give your 100%. I kept that in my mind and used it for all matches that I ever played. That’s why people say that whenever Rana plays, he gives his 110% percent. This has just become a habit for me and it has always been a positive in my career.

PP: There was an incident during Pakistan’s tour of Australia in 2009-10 where Shahid Afridi bit the ball and was subsequently punished for his transgression. As you were standing next to him when this happened, what are your recollections of that incident?

RN: This was the fourth ODI in Perth and I was bowling from one end while Mohammad Asif was bowling from the other. Lala [Afridi] bit the ball a couple of times between deliveries. As you will see from videos of this incident, we all told him not to do that as there were cameras all around the ground. The ball was swinging anyway, but he did not listen and continued biting the ball. I suppose as he was the captain, he got a bit excited as it was turning out to be a close match. We had not won any match in the ODI series by that time, so in his enthusiasm, he committed a mistake and had to face the consequences.

As for us, we were really ashamed ourselves about what happened on that day but the fact is that Afridi may have committed a mistake, it is also true that he did pay the price for this misdemeanor.

PP: The current spat between Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi is making a lot of headlines. How do you feel about this?

RN: As a cricketer in today’s world, you need to face not only the media but also the general public and your family. When you’re performing well, everyone is backing you up and appreciating you, but when you’re performing badly everyone talks negatively. That’s what’s happened here.

While, some ex-cricketers are free to talk negatively about Afridi, they must also know, as cricketers who have played for Pakistan that no one can perform at the highest level everyday. You can’t take five wickets or score a century in every match. These ex-players should also try and mention positive things and back the team when it’s not doing too well. No one performs badly on purpose. As far as this incident is concerned, it’s between them and we shouldn’t make it into a big issue as it gives a bad name to Pakistani cricket.

PP: Why do Pakistan always have a problem producing good all-rounders. Is it a case of selectors not looking too hard or is it simply that there is no talent on offer?

RN: After Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Malik we have yet to find a good all-rounder. Without taking any names, I think in our domestic circuit, there are three to four all-rounders who can go on and play for Pakistan in the future but they are not performing at the moment. Also, we aren’t short of talent, but our domestic circuit isn’t that great when it comes to discovering talent. We have a lot of cricket taking place around the country at all levels whether it’s first-class or Under-19 grade.

Our selectors should travel the country and go to the ground themselves and watch games and then select good all-rounders. The real reason we can’t find decent all-rounders is because we are simply not putting in the effort to find such talent. If I am the selector, my job should be to go to the ground and watch the matches. Whoever is performing well, I should bring him in as it would help the team. Sadly this is not happening.

I am very happy that players like Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali who have been given a chance to prove themselves at the international level based on their domestic performances. Like I said before, there is a lot of talent in our domestic circuit but we have to find it. We have a lot of all-rounders, fast bowlers and batsmen, but the selectors have to spot that talent and then our cricket will improve without a doubt.

PP: Are there any fast bowlers you have seen in domestic cricket who have impressed you and are ready for international cricket?

RN: There are quite a few bowlers such as Imran Ali of SNGPL (Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited) and Imran Khan of (Zarai Taraqiati Bank Ltd cricket team). All of these players have performed very well in recent games. Then there is Usman Khan Shinwari, the left-arm fast bowler who plays for ZTBL, who has also done well and been rewarded with a place in the T20 squad for the games against Sri Lanka. Apart from that, there is Azhar Attari who plays for us at WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority). So really, there are quite a few good quality bowlers who are performing well enough at the moment — any of whom can go on from domestic cricket to represent Pakistan, just like Shinwari.

PP: Some have suggested that the Kookaburra ball used in domestic cricket is causing problems for batsmen, whereas others feel it has resulted in higher scores. What is your view?

RN: I don’t think the ball is so much of an issue, it’s more the pitches. If a good pitch is prepared, the batsmen can score runs on it and the bowlers can also take wickets. Fact is that, wicket-taking bowlers can take wickets on any pitch and the best batsmen can score on any wicket. At the moment the weather is also a problem – it’s really cold and the ball is swinging quite a lot. There’s an additional problem which is effecting our domestic level batsmen, in that there’s a lot more T20 cricket as opposed to four-day cricket being played, so the up-and-coming batsmen don’t have the concentration or stamina to play long innings. They’re playing four-day cricket as if they’re playing a T20 so we need to tell these batsmen that they need to improve their technique for four-day cricket and that there are different requirements for one-day and T20 cricket.

From the few matches I’ve seen and played in so far, I’ve noticed that batsmen want to score their runs quickly and then sit and watch the game from the pavilion! I think it’s about the mental approach. If you’re mentally strong, then you can score on any pitch. All in all, Pakistani batsmen need to improve their technique for the longer formats.

PP: Do you think the national team needs a specialist batting coach? Should that coach be local or foreign?

RN: I think a lot of the teams have foreign coaches who are well qualified and have done all sorts of coaching courses. In our case, we’ve used local coaches such as Javed Miandad and Mohsin Khan as well as foreign ones like Dav Whatmore. Regardless of whether the coach is local or foreign, he should be qualified and should have played cricket before. I feel that a coach can only explain something properly to a player if he himself has played cricket. You can’t become a coach by reading books or watching matches. Someone who has played cricket is more aware of the scenarios and can provide better explanations. It’s more difficult if a coach has never played before.

Coming back to the question of a batting coach for Pakistan, I would say yes, we do need a specialist to help with batting. A lot of the major teams such as England and South Africa have separate fielding, batting and bowling coaches so we should adopt the same approach. We haven’t performed that well in the batting department so we need a batting coach, whether he is from Pakistan or elsewhere. In Pakistan we have Inzamam-ul-Haq, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas who have played a lot of cricket, all of whom can be excellent batting coaches due to their experience.

PP: You mentioned your good experience with Sussex. Would it be a good idea for upcoming players such as Bilawal Bhatti to go and play some county cricket as well?

RN: All the county cricket I have played throughout my career has been very helpful for me. After playing in county cricket I found international cricket a lot easier, as you do have to work very hard in county cricket. I feel that Bilawal Bhatti, or any other youngster, should go to play domestic cricket in England, Australia or South Africa or in any similar environment. It gives you an excellent experience as you play alongside top players and get the opportunity to bowl to them. I think it’s a great place to learn.

PP: Are there any updates on your academy?

RN: It’s been a year since we started and it’s going very well. The academy is for poor youngsters and we’re trying to give them as many opportunities as possible. We have a proper ground with five or six pitches and all the facilities such as a swimming pool, a gym, a running track and accommodation. It’s an international-standard academy; we have everything. We have 50-60 kids under training and within a year of opening this facility, we have produced four first-class cricketers. Two are fast bowlers and two are batsmen so it’s a big achievement for us. If we continue going as we are we will produce some fast bowlers and batsmen for the Pakistan team too. The academy is in Sheikhupura and is called the Rana Naved Cricket Academy.

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)

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