‘Pakistan’s pace bowling talent will never stop’

Known to many as the “Sultan of Swing”, Wasim Akram’s name will be remembered for generations to come as one of the greatest fast-bowlers of all time. A genuine left-arm fast bowler who could bowl with significant pace, Wasim Akram’s outstanding record of 414 Test and 502 One-Day International (ODI) wickets, along with his bowling partnership with Waqar Younis —the current Head Coach of Pakistan, is considered the stuff of legends.

Now involved in coaching the Indian Premier League (IPL) team Kolkata Knight Riders and working as a renowned television analyst, Akram spoke exclusively with PakPassion.net about Pakistan’s recent stellar Test record, his impressions of Younis Khan as an ambassador for Pakistan cricket, selection issues, his concerns for Pakistan’s one-day future, the abundance of fast-bowling talent in Pakistan and his plans to hold a training camp for up and coming bowlers in Karachi.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion (PP): To be ranked No 3 in the ICC Test rankings is quite some achievement for Pakistan, isn’t it?

Wasim Akram (WA): Absolutely. This shows the levels of talent in Pakistan and the passion for cricket. This is despite a lack of a proper system in domestic cricket for the past three or four years and also without any international cricket at home for more than six years. It’s a fantastic achievement and should not be underestimated. You cannot keep cricket away from Pakistan, that’s for sure.

PP: What an ambassador and servant for Pakistan cricket Younis Khan has been! Your thoughts on Younis’ achievements and career?

WA: Younis Khan doesn’t get the recognition in world cricket that he deserves. He is as good as any player in the world when it comes to Test cricket. If you are talking about some of the current great Test batsmen such as AB de Villiers or Virat Kohli or Michael Clarke or Steve Smith, then Younis Khan deserves to be mentioned. What a record Younis has — 30 Test hundreds, the highest batting average in Test cricket in the fourth innings! He has so many batting records; he is a true ambassador of Pakistan cricket. He’s a honest guy and a very hard-working cricketer who is very passionate about his cricket. His performance speaks for itself. As a Pakistani, I’m very proud of him and his achievements. He is one of the all-time Pakistani cricketing greats.

PP: As Younis Khan closes in on the record of highest runs in Test cricket, the comparisons with Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq increase. How do you compare the three of them?

WA: All three of them are very different batsmen, particularly in terms of technique. Miandad was mainly a back-foot player, while Inzamam was a very calm and cool at the crease — nothing flustered him. On the other hand, Younis is a very hard-working cricketer. I’m not saying that Miandad and Inzamam weren’t hard working cricketers, but from a bowler’s point of view Younis Khan’s technique is very different to the other two. Younis has really performed well all over the world. Additionally, he hasn’t played a lot of cricket in Pakistan compared to Miandad and Inzamam. It’s difficult to pick one of them being better than the others, as they’ve all had so many positives about their batting and hardly any weaknesses.

PP: Whilst the Pakistan Test team has shown consistency and good form, the Pakistan one-day team, despite some recent good form, has been inconsistent and is struggling to even qualify for the Champions Trophy. Where is it going wrong?

WA: That’s a tough question to answer as I’m even struggling to work out what the problem has been. The mindset of our batsmen though is a problem. They are still batting as if it was 15 years ago, in a negative way and playing out too many dot balls. These days, batsmen are looking to score off every ball. But our batsmen don’t seem to have that intent and that desire to look to score off every ball. Our batsmen seem to think that if they’ve hit a boundary then it’s fine to block the next few deliveries. The better teams in limited-overs cricket these days look to dominate the bowlers and attack.

A strike-rate of a hundred is what our batsmen should aim for in One-Day Internationals. It’s the same in 20-over cricket where our batsmen need to be aiming for higher strike-rates than what they are currently achieving. Most teams are targeting scores of 170 or more whereas the Pakistani Twenty20 team seems to have a target of 140 in mind and then hope the bowlers will see them to victory.

The fear factor needs to be removed from our batsmen in limited-overs cricket. The eradication of this fear factor only comes with confidence and consistency in selection. If you keep picking players, then dropping them and then recalling them, that does not help their confidence and has a negative impact on the players’ performance. You have to give a new player at least 12 months of international cricket before even thinking of dropping him. You cannot play someone for a couple of games and then drop him. There has to be consistency in selection before consistency in performance can be expected.

PP: Wahab Riaz’s famous spell against Shane Watson must have been enjoyable viewing for you. What do you think Wahab now has to do to become one of the top bowlers in world cricket?

WA: Ye, he had a good World Cup and the spell to Shane Watson was indeed enjoyable. What I want to see from Wahab now though is more wickets. He’s hard-working, he runs in hard, the effort is there, he’s super-fit as well. But I want to see him taking more wickets as I feel he’s not taking enough wickets. I feel that he’s not swinging the new ball as much as he should be. I want to see him swinging that ball into the right-handed batsmen, more than he is. When he starts doing that, the number of wickets he takes will increase. He’s a hard-working cricketer, he has potential and I feel that by now he could have become a genuine all-rounder and I still believe that he could become a genuine all-rounder if he puts his mind to it.

PP: Junaid Khan looked a different bowler at Lancashire compared with a number of his recent performances for Pakistan. Why do you think his form has been patchy?

WA: Junaid was one of my favourites and I had high hopes for him. The selectors though haven’t done him any favours by picking him, then dropping him, then picking him again. I don’t know who is responsible for this — whether it’s the selectors or the coach, but they really need to have some consistency with regard to Junaid’s selection. They pick him for one format and then pick him for another format. There seems to be no consistency in their treatment and planning for Junaid. He’s not a magician who can suddenly turn up after a lay-off or after being dropped and take five wickets in his first game back. What exactly is the selectors plan for Junaid, what’s in their minds? Have they even worked out what format(s) they feel he is suited to? I’m really concerned about the treatment of Junaid by the selectors and the think-tank.

PP: As a world-class all-rounder yourself, it must pain you to see the lack of genuine pace bowling all-rounders being produced in Pakistan?

WA: It’s a huge problem. The Pakistan limited-overs team lacks a quality bowling all-rounder. Nobody is born an all-rounder, they are made and nurtured and developed. The selectors have destroyed Hammad Azam’s confidence also. He can bat, but his bowling seems to have lost a yard or two of pace. Sometimes he’s picked, then suddenly after a couple of matches the poor guy is dropped again. What is he expected to do if he is constantly being asked to perform during comeback after comeback?

PP: When Rahat Ali first came onto the international scene there were question marks over his selection, however he’s shown a lot of improvement hasn’t he?

WA: Yes, he has. He’s swinging the ball, he has pace and his action is right. He’s lost weight and looks a lot fitter. As a bowler, if you are physically fit and in good shape, you will perform and Rahat is looking a lot fitter these days and that has consequently meant he is bowling a lot better.

PP: The Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman (PCB) recently stated that a number of players in Pakistan lack fitness. Do you think there is a problem with the fitness of some Pakistani players?

WA: I agree. If you look at some of the players they look chubby and unfit. Sportsmen should be lean and should be careful with their diet. If you want to get lean then you have to monitor your food intake and do lots of cardio work. The coaching staff cannot advise and monitor the players for 24 hours a day; the onus is on the players themselves. In this modern era of sport, if a player does not know what he should and shouldn’t be eating or how much exercise he should be doing, then that is a crime. If you are unsure, get on the phone to the trainer and get some advice, there is no excuse for complacency and for some of the excess weight that a few players are carrying.

PP: Yasir Shah has brought a smile to many a Pakistani cricket fan with his performances recently. Do you think he’s a flash in the pan or someone who can perform well for Pakistan for an extended period?

WA: He’s been awesome. He’s a breath of fresh air. He’s been getting wickets and what I like about him is that when he is on the field there is a real hunger to succeed in his eyes. His body language is superb and there is a passion in his cricket. He has all the varieties successful leg-spinner needs and there is a desire about his cricket that can only be appreciated and I really enjoy watching him bowl.

PP: Do you see a future for Saeed Ajmal in international cricket?

WA: [Muttiah] Muralitharan played in his 40s. So, there is no reason why Saeed Ajmal cannot make a comeback. He’s been a fantastic servant for Pakistan cricket and as long as he is taking wickets then there is no reason why he cannot play for Pakistan once again. The most important thing though is whether he is comfortable with his new action and whether he can be effective with the revised bowling action.

PP: Do you think Mohammad Amir can become the world-beater that many expected him to become before he was banned?

WA: I hope so. He has age on his side and that is very important. He’s young and can still have a bright future. I think he should concentrate on domestic cricket for a full season before he thinks about playing international cricket again. Perform in domestic cricket, regain your confidence, get some matches under your belt and get some wickets and then come back to international cricket. He made a mistake and he admitted it, so give him another chance and let’s move on.

PP: What are you hoping to achieve with your training camp in August in Karachi?

WA: The plan is to work with some up and coming fast bowlers made up predominantly of the Pakistan Under-19 team and the Pakistan ‘A’ team. I think there will be about 15 pace bowlers present and I’ll be working with them about the psyche of fast bowling, training, technical aspects such as gripping the ball. I’m really looking forward to it. It always excites me to work with up and coming pace bowlers, so let’s see what we have coming through in terms of pace bowlers in Pakistan.

PP: Do you think that the number of quality pace bowlers coming through in Pakistan is drying up?

WA: Many natural resources will dry up, but Pakistan’s pace bowling talent will never stop. But we shouldn’t become complacent. We need to channel these fast bowlers and make sure we make full use of our academies and the facilities they provide. It’s vital that academies are available in major cities around Pakistan and not just in Lahore and these academies are utilised and our young cricketers receive good coaching and guidance. The PCB needs to ensure that they invest in the academies as well as our up and coming cricketers as they are the future.

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