Saeed Ajmal is nowhere close to the force that he was after returning back to international cricket © Getty Images
Saeed Ajmal is nowhere close to the force that he was after returning back to international cricket © Getty Images

By Amir Husain

Pakistan cricket has endured a torrid few months after the quarter-final exit from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, a whitewash in limited-over games against Bangladesh, followed by a fall in One-Day International (ODI) rankings, wherein it is in the ninth position.

Amongst the hysteria and the furore in public and media caused by the decline in Pakistan’s cricketing fortunes, there can be no saner voice to explain the country’s situation than that of Bazid Khan. The grandson of one of the most illustrious names in Pakistan cricket, Jahangir Khan and the son of former Pakistan batsman Majid Khan, the mild-mannered Bazid Khan is a famous television analyst and commentator.

In exclusive remarks to PakPassion.net, Bazid spoke on a variety of topics including the historic series against Zimbabwe, the root causes behind Pakistan cricket’s declining fortunes and the possible solutions to improve it as put forward by his father, Majid as well as his views on Saeed Ajmal’s future.

The Zimbabwe team is currently on tour of Pakistan, thus becoming the first foreign team to tour after six years. The historical context notwithstanding, the lead up to the visit involved a lot of uncertainty and it appears that only after cajoling at the highest levels did this tour take place. Whilst Bazid joins many of his countrymen to praise the Zimbabwe team for their visit, he is not too sure if the tour will have the desired effect. READ: Congratulations, Pakistan! Hope the Zimbabwe series is start of a new chapter in your cricket history

“I hope and pray that the tour will end on a successful note but, it has to be said that the long drawn out manner in which this saga has been played out seems to send out the wrong message. It would be excellent to have international cricket back in Pakistan but if it is such a struggle then it defeats the purpose,” he said.

The euphoria surrounding Pakistan’s Twenty20 International (T20Is) and ODI performances against Zimbabwe may be a welcome sight for the somewhat beleaguered Pakistan team, yet their nightmare tour of Bangladesh is not the one that can be forgotten easily. For the likes of Imran Khan, that tour did represent the lowest point in the country’s cricketing history.

However, Bazid puts a different and logical perspective on the whole episode. “From a cricketing point of view, a whitewash and losing to Bangladesh is probably the worst thing for Pakistan cricket but then we have had worse episodes like the ball tampering accusations or the spot fixing episode which puts the Bangladesh tour in perspective. However, realistically speaking, this was in the offing. It wasn’t unexpected,” he stated.

“Pakistan cricket had been on a downward slope for a while. The fact is that we were dependent on Saeed Ajmal for ODIs and once he was taken out of the equation, ODIs became a chore,” he added. READ: Bangladesh or Pakistan: Who will qualify for ICC Champions Trophy 2017?

Pakistan’s lack of penetration in the bowling department was an issue on the tour of Bangladesh and the same has been witnessed against Zimbabwe. To many, the coaching staff that Pakistan employ have some answering to do but Bazid looks a little deeper into this problem and points out some uncomfortable truths.

“The problem lies much deeper than what we see in the current Pakistan team. The team is based upon players who come out of the First-Class circuit. You cannot expect coaches to make these players world beaters overnight. All I am saying is that if Australia didn’t have a good First-Class system, they would never become the team they are,” he said. READ: PCB should convince India to play in Pakistan: Shaan Shahid

“Another excellent example is South Africa who did not play international cricket for years but due to a sound internal cricket structure, they kept on producing some brilliant players. Once they started to compete at the international level, they had no problems. What I am really worried about is that in the last 10-15 years, we haven’t produced even one top class player apart from say Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq,” Bazid continued.

“For that matter, apart from Saeed Ajmal, one would struggle to name another world class bowler in our ranks. Yes there have been moments of brilliance but no consistent performer has been able to step forward and this should be a matter of concern for us,” he added.

Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Ehsan Adil are some Pakistan bowlers who have, in recent times, missed out on action due to poor fitness. There is an ongoing concern that the current Pakistan coaching setup needs to take the blame but Bazid feels that Waqar’s emphasis on fitness has merely accentuated a problem which persists within.

“We have heard the PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] Chairman speak about the low levels of fitness where only one or two players are close to the level that is required for an international player. This is probably what Waqar is trying to address and we all know that he is big on fitness. By the way, this low level of fitness culture runs through the domestic systems as well,” Bazid explained. READ: Pakistan cricket should be run by former cricketers, not journalists and diplomats: Javed Miandad

“It is then very difficult for a player with such low level to move to the high level expected of him at the international scene. In the current scenario, if you take a squad of 15-20 members and try and push them to attain the level they should be at, then you are likely to see injuries. I come back to my original point which is that you need to have a proper first-class system in place where you monitor the players for their fitness and technique so that the jump to the national team isn’t that difficult,” he added.

With the Pakistan ODI team is currently making a determined effort against a slightly depleted Zimbabwe after the loss of their free scoring captain Elton Chigumbura due to a suspension, it would be easy to forget that not many days ago, there were calls being made for wholesale changes to the Pakistan ODI team.

This sort of knee-jerk reaction is something Bazid warns against as he continues to argue for a good look at the root causes of the issue. “I am not sure if huge changes will help. The worrying thing for me is that the team selected for the Bangladesh tour was the best we had to offer, and we still got whitewashed by Bangladesh,” he said.

Bazid continued, “You cannot ignore this any further. You need to look at the quality of the pitches, the balls used and even umpiring at the First-Class level as the Pakistan team is a mere reflection of the structure you have at the domestic level. You need to protect and enhance the infrastructure at the lower levels. By this I mean the pitches and the balls you play with. At the domestic level we play with a ball worth PKR 500, whilst at the international level you play with a ball which costs around PKR 6,000 – 7,000! The quality of the ball changes the whole dimension of the game and cannot be overlooked. Similarly, an under-prepared wicket will not produce a good batsman, bowler or wicketkeeper.”

One of the reasons cited for Pakistan bowling attacks ineffectiveness on sub-continental pitches has been the decline of Ajmal as a viable threat to the opposition. Once rated as Pakistan’s premier spin weapon, Ajmal appears to be a shadow of his former self as he struggles to bowl with his new and International Cricket Council (ICC) approved action.

For many, the end of his career is not too far away, and Bazid, while wishing him well also questions whether Pakistan will ever see Ajmal at the peak of his abilities again.

“The fact is that Saeed Ajmal was getting prodigious amount of spin and his doosra was effective due to the flex in his previous action. I do not think he will ever be the same bowler again and whilst we know he is hard working and big-hearted, unless he can reinvent himself as a bowler who can stop runs in the mid-overs and keep it tight, he will struggle to keep his place in the Pakistan team,” Bazid opined.

“We can give him a year or so to prove himself but in my view, his potency with which he used to bowl at his opponents will never be the same again.”

Misbah-ul-Haq’s recommendation of Azhar Ali as his replacement as ODI captain was met with some derision as it was generally considered that he was not suited to the fast paced batting style of limited-overs cricket. However, Azhar confounded his critics with some superlative performances in Bangladesh and is intent on doing the same in the current series against Zimbabwe.

While his bat may have done the talking, his style of captaincy has come under a lot of criticism, a charge that Bazid is quick to defend as he feels that no amount of captaincy can help a team which is handicapped by under-performers.

“I think Azhar has proved himself as an ODI batsman. As a captain, even if this team was being captained by Ricky Ponting, the result would not have been any different in Bangladesh as he does not have the bowlers to bowl the other team out or put the pressure that wins matches. Quite simply put, a captain is only as good as the team he is in charge of,” he added.

To see Waqar as head coach of Pakistan during the Zimbabwe series after the debacle in Bangladesh would be a shock to many. His position appeared to have become untenable after abasing loss to Bangladesh but the former Pakistan fast-bowler and his team are back on duty during the Zimbabwe series.

In Bazid’s mind, the coach can only do so much to fix a team which has inherent issues, “As you will recall after that Bangladesh tour, almost everyone’s position had become questionable, so Waqar was not alone in that respect. The fact is that no coach can do wonders with this team if the types of players coming through have basic technical issues,” Bazid explained.

“There is also the fact that no good coach will be willing to coach a team which does not have good quality players coming through the system. In such a case, you have people like Moin Khan or Waqar Younis who are willing to take on this challenge. No top class coach would like to take on a team which is struggling to get decent players from its domestic system. I am afraid, the root cause even here is the same which is the poor state of our domestic cricket system,” he continued.

Misbah-ul-Haq officially retired from ODIs after 2015 World Cup. Many in the media did not enjoy his style of batting or leadership; a few did go overboard in their criticism of Pakistan’s most successful Test captain. What followed after the return from Australia was an uncharacteristic outburst by the placid player which left many amazed by the level of pent up anger held inside.

Bazid on his part accepts full responsibility on behalf of the media for an attitude borne out of “professional jealousy”, rather than deep analysis which drives the types of comments directed at Misbah.

“He has faced unnecessary criticism where he [Misbah] has been called names etc. He’s been your best batsman under some trying conditions and at times a lone warrior, battling for his team. Outside Pakistan if you speak to any person, they will mention Misbah as the stand out performer for Pakistan. I do blame the media, and I am part of it, for portraying him in that light and the real surprise for me is the fact that he stayed calm for so long!” he said.

“Our sports media is a little immature as this type of journalism in the electronic media sphere is still very young. However, we do have some analysts who are ex-players and who are letting their professional jealousy come in the way of their jobs. I do feel that ex-players should forget their own past or playing days when analysing and be objective in their outlook when talking about the present players,” Bazid added.

The ICC ODI rankings will not see a change to Pakistan’s placement as the No. 9 team, even if they whitewash Zimbabwe in the current series. The real challenge is for Pakistan to look towards regrouping and moving up the ladder.

This isn’t an easy task and Bazid does not feel confident that this will happen so soon unless steps are taken, “Frankly speaking, if Pakistan improve their domestic structure today, even then it will take at least four years to get to the top tier of ODI playing nations which is a tough task. The structure of the game needs fixing in Pakistan.”

“In fact a year ago, my father, the former Pakistan player Majid Khan and I presented a comprehensive plan to reform Pakistan’s domestic cricket. This included our vision on how cricket should be run including the makeup of divisions etc. My father offered this plan to the previous administration which was ignored and they showed no interest in it. We are still committed to this plan and regardless of whether he (Majid) is part of the establishment or not, we will be happy if this plan is implemented for the sake of Pakistan cricket”, he concluded.

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