In an exclusive interview with Amir Husain of PakPassion, Mohsin Khan discussed in depth Pakistan’s performance in the recently-concluded tour of South Africa and also looked forward to the upcoming Champions Trophy in England.
Mohsin Khan has held a number of key operational and administrative roles at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), including Chief Selector, and was Head Coach until he was replaced by current incumbent Dav Whatmore a little over a year ago. His final Test series in charge was Pakistan’s historic whitewash of the then No 1 ranked Test team, England. Since then, Mohsin has followed Pakistan team’s progress closely.
As an expert analyst in the media, Mohsin has set himself apart with criticism of the team and its management. This has led to accusations of personal interest and a case of sour grapes — something he was keen to refute in his usual frank manner: “Look, we have brought in a foreign coach, but what has that done? What has he given? His [Whatmore's] appointment has been a disaster for Pakistan. I don’t blame Dav Whatmore for joining as coach. I blame the people who brought him into Pakistan cricket.
“The people who brought him are responsible for disturbing a team that was on the way up. Waqar Younis was doing a good job, then I came with the team and it improved further and we created history by whitewashing England, without any controversies. We were on the up and suddenly that team was disbanded. Why? Ask those people who are saying Mohsin Khan is only criticising because he isn’t coach anymore; ask those people why this happy bunch of players was disturbed for no reason? What have we achieved after that? I know the people responsible for this, and the Chairman has to be very careful. He has people around him who have personal interests and personal benefits and the Chairman must be very careful of these people,” he said.
Pakistan’s tour was a difficult one for a side that has historically struggled in South Africa and Mohsin felt that although the team was talented enough to succeed, there was a lack of belief in their ability to defeat the home side. “Pakistan were dismal in the three Test matches. I feel the basic reason for this was the lack of coherent game plans. We needed two or three alternative strategies, but we didn’t appear to have any. I also didn’t see any determination or motivation from the players; the killer instinct and fighting spirit was completely lacking in South Africa. It’s very difficult to be successful against top quality teams if you don’t have game plans and motivation. There were some individual performances, of note from Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan and, to a certain extent, Imran Farhat, in the one-day series but it was very disappointing because the team was much better than it performed.”
The selectors must also carry the burden for the poor performance, felt Mohsin. “Whenever you go to places like South Africa or Australia where the grounds and pitches are hard, you shouldn’t go with just four fast bowlers, rather at least five front-line fast bowlers. We saw that Pakistan suffered injuries early on the tour and, on top of that, they had selected two fast bowlers who did not deserve to be on the tour, leaving behind two that should have been there in the first place. To me, Aizaz Cheema and Wahab Riaz should have been there, but instead they selected Ehsan Adil and Rahat Ali, neither of whom deserved a place in the side.”
Pakistan fared much better in the limited-overs series after South Africa dominated the Test matches where the visiting batsmen struggled to come to terms with the foreign conditions and the quality of the opposition bowling attack. “The three ODI games which we lost, those were games we should have won. We literally lost the games because of our own mistakes. When the opposition plays better than you, you can say they played very well. But the fact is that two of the three games which we lost, we should have won. In one-day cricket, the game changes very quickly, but there were no game plans. The performance in the one-day series was very patchy.”
Misbah-ul-Haq, despite being one of the leading batsmen for Pakistan in the ODI format, has come in for criticism for his leadership and performances in 50-over cricket in recent times. In an uncharacteristic outburst aimed at the media, the Pakistan ODI Captain expressed his displeasure at this criticism — a point not lost on Mohsin Khan, who concurred with the Pakistani captain’s comments. “Misbah is a quiet person. I used to have meetings with him when I was coach, telling him, ‘You have to speak out; you have to jump at people. If you’re pleasant with somebody, sometimes you have to be angry with somebody too if he is not performing.’ Look at the footage of Misbah during the England, South Africa and Bangladesh series and see his body language. In the first series, his body language was hardly noticeable, but as we played each series that improved considerably. Misbah is a wonderful person, a very fine cricketer; I have a lot of respect for him but when you become captain you have to become aggressive when required. I personally feel he did not get that kind of backing from the coach. You heard stories of arguments between Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah. And that was disgraceful. Did you ever hear even one controversy when I was coach?”
One more factor which is mentioned freely as a source of Pakistan’s inability to succeed in Test and ODI formats is the lack of young players in the setup. But in Mohsin’s views, ageism has no place in the selection policy when it comes to choosing the best team for Pakistan. “Misbah was the best performer in the ODIs against South Africa. Whether you are [in your] late 30s or late 40s, it doesn’t matter. I am sure you are aware that the two fittest people in the team were Misbah and Younis Khan. Compare that to the performance of a “younger” Hafeez in the Test matches? He looked like a schoolboy! You can’t bring a change for the sake of change, for the sake of age; you bring one when it is required. If he doesn’t receive the support of the selection committee and coach, no captain in this world can do well. You can see [that] despite this, Misbah almost lead Pakistan to a one-day series victory.”
In terms of the selection policy in the ODI series against South Africa, Mohsin also pointed out the case of Ahmed Shehzad. “He should have been there in the T20s and ODIs. The selectors are also to blame. Don’t select a team that confuses the captain and coach; pick players with clear roles. The selection committee, coach and captain are the three main pillars. I was so disappointed that Ahmed Shehzad played only the Twenty20s. Are you trying to make people happy by selecting one person in one tournament and giving another a chance in the other format, but not looking at the requirements and the needs?”
Shehzad’s inclusion in the list of 30 probables for this summer’s Champions Trophy in England, recently announced by the PCB, will undoubtedly please the ex-coach of Pakistan, as he also identified him as one of the players to watch for in this premier tournament. “Ahmed Shehzad and Misbah certainly are important and, also, Asad Shafiq should play in the shorter formats. Shoaib Malik too is a very good player. He’s not being utilised properly, put him up the order because he plays the fast bowlers well. You have to be flexible with the batting order — use Kamran Akmal and Shahid Afridi according to the situation.”
Mohsin concluded his remarks with a special mention for Umar Gul and a word on the upcoming talent as well as Pakistan’s chances in the Champions Trophy. “Umar Gul, even today, is one of the finest medium-fast bowlers in any team in the world. But you have got to use Gul with a lot of sense; if he’s overused, he breaks down. I believe you have two match-winning bowlers — Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal. Mohammad Irfan is a wonderful find and Junaid Khan is improving day-by-day. Use them properly according to the situation and they will be a serious threat to the opposition whichever match you are playing in. [Shahid] Afridi and Umar Gul are senior and highly experienced professionals, so we should look to squeeze the best out of them. Nasir Jamshed should open, and Hafeez should come down to No 3 as when you are selecting a youngster as an opener, it should be the senior players who sacrifice their place. Pakistan have a very good team and can win the Champions Trophy but you have to select a team with the confidence of the captain and coach and play with a proper game plans along with determination and motivation.”
Pakistan plays their first game in the Champions Trophy on Friday, June 7, at The Oval against the West Indies.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)