Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad don’t have passion: Waqar Younis

A legend of world cricket and the pride and joy of Pakistan fans, Waqar Younis was one of the most feared and destructive bowlers in history. Boasting 789 international wickets at phenomenal strike rates in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI), he was a nightmare for all batsmen, who collectively breathed a sigh of relief when he retired from the game in April 2004. Also Read: “If the ball is there to be hit and in my zone, I will go for it” : Sharjeel Khan

Waqar continued to be heavily involved with Pakistan cricket, enjoying stints as bowling coach from March 2006 to January 2007, and again in 2009. In February 2010 he succeeded Intikhab Alam as Head Coach of the Pakistan team and his tenure produced mixed results, including a defeat in the semi-finals of the ICC World T20 2010 and ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, and Pakistan s first Test win over Australia in 15 years. He resigned from the position in August 2011 but was re-appointed in May 2014 for a two-year period which ended with him stepping down in April 2016 following Pakistan s disappointing Asia Cup and World Twenty20 campaigns. Also Read: Pakistan government never created hurdles in India-Pakistan series: Shahryar Khan

One of the pioneers of reverse-swing, Waqar has made valuable contributions to Pakistan cricket both during and after his playing career, and in an exclusive interview with PakPassion, the 44-year-old spoke about his most recent stint as Head Coach, his recommendations for improving Pakistan cricket, and his memories of the controversy-filled England tour in 1992.

PakPassio (PP): Given the pressure of the job, you must be feeling ten years younger since leaving the position of Head Coach of the Pakistan cricket team?

Waqar Younis (WY): Yes I do actually to be honest. I’m on holiday travelling around Europe with my children which is enjoyable and yes I’m feeling younger and relieved. It’s the sort of job that is full of pressure, regardless of how well you do, or how badly you do. When you are away from such a job regardless of results you will feel relieved. I guess it’s nice to be on the other side of things and not having that constant pressure around you.

PP: What was the most frustrating aspect of being Pakistan’s Head Coach?

WY: The most frustrating aspect of the role was that the people in the Pakistan Cricket Board running Pakistan cricket and the people who are working on the field are not on the same page and that’s what I feel is the biggest problem. It doesn’t matter whether the coach is Javed Miandad, Waqar or anyone else, he is going to have problems if everyone is not on the same page and everyone isn’t heading in the same direction. When that happens, then it becomes very frustrating for the coach. Everybody wants to win but when you are working at the international level you have to develop players and give them opportunities and wait for the good times to come. But in Pakistan cricket and not just at Board level there is a lot of frustration and they want to win everything quickly and that doesn’t work when you lose your top players. It takes time for younger players to come through and this is what happened in the fifty-over format where we tried to bring through younger players and people started to get frustrated with the results. We need to develop a position within the Board where that individual brings everyone together, or the Board needs to give more powers to the Head Coach.

PP: Do you think one of the problems within Pakistan cricket is that the Chairman is not a former cricketer himself?

WY: It has been a problem for a number of years, it’s definitely an issue. The people running Pakistan cricket should be former cricketers. If not the Chairman, then the key decision-makers advising the Chairman should be former cricketers. I’ve stated this fact in my recommendation reports to the Pakistan Cricket Board. You need a cricket committee who make the cricketing decisions. What’s happening is that all of the decisions are coming from the Board of Governors and there are no cricketers amongst them. The wrong people are making the important cricket decisions. We need to give responsibility to those who have played cricket for Pakistan at the top level, such as Wasim Akram, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Rameez Raja, all of who know and understand how cricket is changing and what is required in domestic cricket. It’s great that Mudassar Nazar is back working for the PCB and I had been suggesting that Mudassar should be brought back for a long time. Akram needs to be utilised more by the Board for suggestions and ideas and to help Pakistan cricket move forward.

PP: In your position as Head Coach, you’ve seen how Pakistan cricket is being run. Given what you have witnessed, how do you see Pakistan cricket’s future in the coming years?

WY: If international cricket does not come back to Pakistan in the next ten years we are done and our cricket will be finished. We have to make sure our domestic structure is improved and is of a better standard. Look at the example of South Africa who were out of international cricket for many years but I remember going to South Africa for the first time in 1994 and when playing against them I felt like this nation had never been away from international cricket. This was due to their strong domestic cricket structure that produced excellent cricketers.

Our stadiums are rundown and empty; nobody is watching domestic cricket apart from the major twenty-over tournaments. Our cricket committee needs to have eight to ten people who were top quality cricketers who have played around the world and at the highest level as their ideas can be beneficial to the Pakistan Cricket Board and Pakistan cricket’s future. I gave the PCB the names of people who should be on the cricket committee, but sadly none of those people are there. Instead they have brought in Iqbal Qasim and Nadeem Khan who played cricket so long ago and are not really in touch with modern day cricket. I have nothing against these people but we need to move forward.

PP: You must be smiling to yourself as each one of your suggestions gets implemented by the PCB after you have left the post of Head Coach?

WY: I just wish they had made these changes in response to my first set of recommendations and then things would have been a lot better for me and the Board and the team. However, I’m glad things are moving in the right direction because that is the direction that other international cricket teams have been heading. I could have given them more ideas and suggestions, but I guess that wasn t to be and this is where we are currently at. The most important recommendation I made to the Board was the running and the revival of the academies around Pakistan, which had been half-built and then left without any care or attention. I needed those academies to be functional and for those academies to have international coaches coming and working there. Look at Bangladesh and why they have improved, their academies and cricketers at Under 19 level have been coached by international coaches from Australia, England and other parts of the world. We need that change, we need to see international coaches who have no baggage coming to Pakistan and working at the academies around the country with our players. This will make a huge difference and will have the right impact.

PP: Do you think your tenure as Head Coach would have been a lot smoother had Inzamam-ul-Haq been Chief Selector?

WY: We would have done a lot better as a team because Inzamam understands me, we played a lot of cricket together, we have that understanding and relationship and Inzamam doesn’t bring any baggage with him to the role. I had suggested in my first recommendations report to the PCB that Inzamam should be the Chief Selector and you will see the positive difference. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and that was detrimental to Pakistan cricket.

PP: Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad find themselves at a crucial point in their cricketing careers. What advice do you offer them?

WY: I sat with them many times and told them what I wanted from them. I sat with them ahead of the 2015 World Cup and told them what I and the team expected and needed, and what the nation wanted from them. I worked hard on them but unfortunately the passion is not there. The cricketing passion is missing from them. They need to realise that cricket isn’t just about making money, cricket is not a business and it’s about passion. Sometimes I got the impression that these youngsters don’t offer enough. They are thinking about too many other things and not about cricket. Look at the era when I played cricket, with the likes of Inzamam and Akram, these guys thought about nothing other than cricket. This is an area where I feel these youngsters are lacking. Umar and Ahmed need to pull their socks up if they want to get back into the team. Talent will only take you to a certain level, after that it’s hard work that will carry you forward. We have seen enough of their talent and if they are not prepared to work hard then we may not see them again in the Pakistan team.

PP: Have you any advice for Mickey Arthur?

WY: Be patient and be honest. I think that will be the key for him. I’ve heard he’s a disciplinarian and I think that will work for him. He’s an experienced coach and he’s coached around the world and that will be beneficial. I think the Pakistan team will blossom under Arthur. Things are moving forward, Mudassar Nazar is there now and he will do a good job with the academies and we have to be patient. Everyone has to give Mickey some time and not expect too much, too soon.

PP: You have been quoted as saying you have unfinished business as Pakistan Head Coach…?

WY: I’ve been misquoted by some reporters regarding this unfinished business quote. I don’t have unfinished business, this is ridiculous. All this, ‘I will be back’ stuff and ‘have regrets’, that’s all untrue. I enjoyed my time as Head Coach and I feel that some cricketers improved under my supervision. Younger players were given an opportunity and now those players are coming though. The likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed have become established players now for Pakistan. In addition, Mohammad Rizwan, Wahab Riaz and now with Mohammad Amir, Pakistan has the makings of a good side. I feel I made progress and the team made progress but unfortunately because we lost some limited overs series as we were a young team, there was a lot of negativity and things did not quite turn out the way that everyone wanted them to.

PP: There appears to be a lot of pressure on Amir. Do you think he can cope with the expectations and in your opinion, just how good is he?

WY: He’s a seriously wonderful talent. The only thing that worries me is that we are putting him under a lot of pressure. We should allow him to go out there and just play cricket and enjoy his cricket. Expectations are going to be high as he’s due to play some big series. Everyone’s eyes will be on him at Lord’s and instead of labelling him as a superstar and saying he will do this and that, we should sit back and allow him to get back into the Test match groove without too much pressure. He has the talent, he’s a gifted cricketer, who is enthusiastic and energetic, but let him perform and let him get back into it. I think once he’s back playing Test cricket and in rhythm he will trouble batsmen all around the world.

PP: What are your memories of the 1992 controversy-filled Test series in England?

WY: It was an amazing series and it’s a series that will stay with me forever. In fact, 1992 as a year will always be special to everyone involved in Pakistan cricket and will be dear to our hearts forever. The World Cup win and then the successful Test series in England, beating New Zealand away from home; it was a great year.

When you are touring England, it doesn’t matter where you are from, you just have to be careful with the controversies. There are hawks out there looking at you and that’s what happened in 1992 with the ball-tampering allegations. But overall the memories of that series are great and I cherish those memories.

PP: Ball-tampering one day, then labelled reverse-swing later. That must still frustrate you?

WY: It was being called ball-tampering back then when Wasim and I did it, later the same people were calling it reverse-swing. I laugh at that now because I am glad that the art of reverse-swing was eventually recognised. People look up to the art and whenever people talk about reverse-swing they mention Wasim Akram and myself and the other names who bowled reverse-swing later are mentioned afterwards. It gives me immense happiness that we were the pioneers of reverse-swing and it’s a skill that is now widely recognised and helps young fast bowlers.

PP: Do you think the 1992 Test series in England was pivotal for the art of reverse-swing?

WY: The 1992 Test series in England was a revolution when it comes to fast bowling. The Pakistan team had three or four fast bowlers who were very good at reverse-swinging the ball around at that time and that skill has continued to this day when it comes to Pakistan’s pace bowling attack. The 1992 series in England paved the way for future generations of bowlers perfecting the art of reverse-swing not only in Pakistan but later around the world. I feel proud that Pakistani pace bowlers are credited with the art of reverse-swing and that skill has continued through the generations.

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