Nasser Hussain: “What Misbah has done for Pakistan cricket is amazing and long may it continue”

Currently regarded as a top television analyst for his expert opinion on cricket, Nasser Hussain was one of England’s finest captains and an astute tactician. He debuted against Pakistan in the Nehru Cup in October 1989 and later on lead the England side in forty-five Test matches between 1999 and 2003 during which he guided his side to four Test series victories in a row and third place in the Test rankings. A fierce competitor and a master batsman, Nasser retired in May 2004 after amassing an impressive tally of over eight-thousand runs in one hundred and eighty-four international appearances for his country. ALSO READ: Taufeeq Umar: “Sami Aslam has a very bright future ahead of him”

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Hussain spoke on a variety of topics including his views on the recently concluded Test series between England and Pakistan, achievement of Misbah-ul-Haq in leading his team to second position in the Test rankings, the importance of Younis Khan’s batting for the Pakistan Test side, praised Mohammad Amir‘s attitude on his return to Test cricket and expressed his admiration for Yasir Shah’s attitude and temperament throughout the series.

PakPassion (PP): Not many people gave Pakistan a chance in the Test series. Are you surprised that they managed to pull off a 2-2 result?

Nasser Hussain (NH): No, I wasn’t surprised actually because if you look at Pakistan’s record against England especially their record of late, it’s very good in both home and away series. Also, Pakistan tend to play good cricket in England. I was, though, concerned about Pakistan’s batting line-up. I felt that it was heavily reliant on Misbah and Younis to the extent that whenever those two played well, Pakistan won. As we saw, Misbah made a hundred at Lord’s and batted magnificently and got them a par score which lead to victory in the first Test. Similarly, they won the final Test when Younis stopped jumping around at The Oval and made a double-hundred for Pakistan. Clearly, Pakistan with that kind of bowling attack available at their disposal would always be in the game as long as they got a par score.

PP: Forty-two-years-old and he’s still going strong. How long do you expect Misbah to carry on playing for Pakistan?

NH: I’d like him to carry on playing as long as possible. I spoke to him the other day at The Oval and I said you are a long time retired. I suppose if the result with India and West Indies goes in Pakistan’s favour and they go to number one in the world, then there is a good opportunity for him to go out right at the top; winning his last Test as captain, captaining well and taking Pakistan to number one. That would be an ideal opportunity for him to go out at the top, but I would like him to carry on for a long time. I think he has been a calming influence on the team and his captaincy has been excellent, especially given the circumstances of not being able to play at home and constantly being on the road whilst playing in front of empty stands in the UAE. I think what he has done for Pakistan cricket is amazing and long may it continue.

PP: What do you feel Misbah has brought to Pakistan cricket which has made the difference?

NH: He’s a father-figure to the players. When he speaks in the dressing room, the players listen. He is someone they all look up to and admire and he does give them the freedom to be fiery at times as we saw when he let Amir and Wahab Riaz get stuck into the opposition and bowl fast and hostile spells. However, we also saw another side of his leadership at the Edgbaston Test on the fourth day when he put forward a plan and the bowlers sat in and bowled a consistent line and listened to his instructions with full attention. In my view, Misbah seems to be someone who the Pakistani players listen to rather than going away and just doing things their own way; that’s always the sign of a good captain. The players trust him and are buying into his ideas but why wouldn’t they, as his record as captain is very good.

PP: Younis failed in the first three Tests but I guess it was only a matter of time before his class shone through.

NH: Yes, but it was very difficult because nowadays there aren’t too many side games during a tour and if you get out of form and your technique goes, then it’s not like the olden days where you could play lots of County matches and get back into form. It was a remarkable effort to change it round at The Oval and it was an equally remarkable story of Mohammad Azharuddin calling him from India and giving him a batting tip. But I also thought that in the games he played, even though he was struggling, he showed a lot of fight and character. There were some very ugly twenties and thirties in there but what was clear was that he wasn’t someone who would just walk in there and give his wicket away. He was fighting and battling hard and that’s what you get with Younis. At The Oval, once he got himself settled at the crease and wasn’t jumping around and went back in his crease a bit, you could see that there was going to be trouble for England because not only does he usually get big runs but because he was out of nick, he was going to cash in and make England pay for the lack of runs so far in the series.

PP: One of Pakistan’s unsung heroes is Asad Shafiq. What were your impressions of him during the Test series?

NH: I spoke with Mahela Jayawardene before the series and asked him who I should look out for in the Pakistan line-up. He said one of their best players is Asad Shafiq and when someone like Jayawardene talks about a player in that way then you’d better listen. Apart from anything else, I thought that the true magnitude of his comeback innings at The Oval only became apparent in the context of his performance in the Edgbaston Test where he bagged a pair. His reward for that failure was to be moved up the order. To go on then and get a hundred after a pair showed how mentally tough he is. I watched him bat in the nets at The Oval on the first morning and he did not look like someone who had just bagged a pair recently as he absolutely smashed it everywhere. I will add that I’ve watched Pakistan cricket over the years and I’m amazed that in the last decade or so they’ve not been able to ensure that more talented young batsmen come through their system. As examples, you should look at England with Joe Root, Australia with Steve Smith, India with Virat Kohli or New Zealand with Kane Williamson. If Pakistan can produce some young batsmen who are talented then they will always be in the game with the help of their bowling attack. As for Asad, I am pleased to see him do well and there were a lot of good things to come out of his batting in the Test series.

PP: He only played two Tests but did Sami Aslam impress you?

NH: He did impress me and he looked composed. It was his first Test in England having only played a couple of Tests before which were against Bangladesh. To show such composure and calmness at the crease against a good bowling attack which included James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Steven Finn was exceptional. Apart from his composure under pressure conditions, I was particularly impressed with the way he left the ball as well. What is strange, however, is that for all the cricket that Pakistan plays, they are yet to produce a stable opening combination over the years and that needs to be looked at carefully. Sami has got to play for Pakistan and also try and get himself a County contract so he can get used to conditions in England and to play around the world.

PP: There was a lot of focus and hype around Mohammad Amir. How do you rate his performance during the Test series?

NH: I thought he was brilliant, the way he kept coming in spell after spell; his first delivery of every spell was as quick as his last. I thought his attitude and aggression were spot on and the way he played with a smile on his face was also commendable. I thought he was absolutely brilliant.

PP: Yasir Shah had an up and down series, but his attitude must have impressed you.

NH: He must have gone through such a mixed range of emotions on this tour. From the highs of Lord’s to not getting a wicket for ages, he continued to play with a smile on his face. He was running around the field where he was absolutely outstanding and then finally he got what he deserved at the end at The Oval. He got those wickets at the end because he kept going. He was brilliant all the way through, he never let his head drop and he must be an absolute joy to captain.

PP: How difficult must it be for the Pakistani cricketers, given they have not been able to play international cricket at home since 2009?

NH: It must be so difficult living out of a suitcase. You are always living in hotel rooms and you are hardly ever at home. Other teams are at home when they are playing home series whereas Pakistan are still away from home when they are playing their home series. Everything becomes hard work, although they have made UAE a fortress and a difficult place for opposition teams to go and win, as England found out to their detriment. Pakistan have a bowling attack that suits those conditions and batsmen who play well in those conditions. There are difficulties to it but once they realised that the UAE had to be their home, they made use of the conditions brilliantly. It could have been very easy for Misbah and his team to moan but they never moaned, they just got on with it.

It is very, very difficult to be constantly on the road without your friends and family. Also, for there to be no home fans or very few fans in UAE watching you play must be tough as well. It would really be great to see iconic grounds such as those in Karachi and Lahore to be filled out again with international teams playing there and enthusiastic crowds watching cricket again in Pakistan in the not too distant future.

PP: And for Pakistan to be challenging for the number one Test ranking despite no international cricket at home for more than six years is quite remarkable.

NH: They have always been a talented side and that’s why I applaud Misbah and his team. Despite all these things that have gone on in Pakistan cricket, it is truly remarkable that they are challenging other sides for the number one status. They are doing all that, with all due respect, using a batting line-up and an unstable opening combination that has changed game after game. They say the best sides are built around the openers like Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes or Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer or Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. With an opening pair that is always changing and to be challenging for the number one spot is, therefore, a monumental effort. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Misbah and the coaching staff will realise that even if they get to number one, don’t kid yourself that all the work is done because there are cracks, especially in the batting that need improvement. Also in terms of fitness and catching, there are a lot of areas that need to be improved upon but regardless of all those issues, make no mistake, if they do go to number one it will be a magnificent achievement.

PP: Given what’s happened in the past between England and Pakistan, you must also have been pleased to see a controversy-free Test series?

NH: Misbah and his team and his backroom staff should take credit for that. They came not only to win Test matches but to also win the hearts of followers and supporters and to play cricket in accordance with the spirit of the game. I loved Misbah and his press-up celebrations after his hundred and enjoyed watching Younis leading the press-ups at Lord’s. I loved the attitude. It wasn’t just a charm offensive of ‘yes sir, no sir’, they actually played tough cricket whenever it was needed. Many people enjoyed the series not just because of the talent of the two teams but also the way it was played. It was competitive cricket and not just friendly. Look at the Anderson stuff, look at Amir running in with full intensity. It was a tough series but played in the right manner.

PP: Putting aside that horrendous lbw decision you got, what are your memories of playing in Pakistan?

NH: All good. I was very lucky, in that on our last tour, we won in Karachi in the dark and it doesn’t get much better than that. To go to Pakistan after everything that had happened in the series before with the Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting incident, I knew that as England captain I was a little like Misbah here in England this summer. I was there to play good cricket and to show that we could travel well and behave ourselves in Pakistan and I think we did that in that magnificent series. I only have good memories of Pakistan and playing cricket there. Watching the Mike Atherton interviews with Imran Khan just brought back memories of what a lovely country it is and also showed the passion for the game out there and how countries miss touring Pakistan. Unfortunately that cannot happen now but you cannot argue that cricket is not in people’s blood out there.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion where the above article first appeared. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)