Saturday, 04 February 2023
'I am calmer and more settled as a coach now'

'I am calmer and more settled as a coach now'

Waqar Younis talks about his kinder, gentler second stint, managing talent in the Pakistan set-up, his coaching philosophy, and forgiving Mohammad Amir

What did you set out to achieve as coach and how have you done so far?

I want Pakistan to become the top team in the world. In the '90s we tried to raise the bar and I want to do that again. I know there are so many problems in Pakistan - international cricket isn't being played there, the players aren't the same as they used to be… The passion is missing, so I want to recreate that passion. Mistakes are allowed, but blunders are not allowed.

What's your philosophy as coach?

We always talk about being a talented cricket-playing country with a lot of skills, but what I am trying to do is get the best out of them. I am trying to bring in a sense of teamwork. In the '90s it was different, as we had individual match-winners and teamwork wasn't really required.

We knew Wasim [Akram], or anyone, or me could deliver and wrap up things single-handedly. Now, though we have the talent, we need to perform as a team to win. If Wahab Riaz is bowling well from one end then we need the other bowlers to do well. In batting, put up partnerships, bowl well in partnership, and the fielders need to show energy.

Basically at this level it should be about fine-tuning youngsters coming from the domestic level. But it doesn't work like this here. We don't have a system like this. It's a harder job and I am up for it.

We have seen a clear difference with Grant Flower as batting coach, so hats off to him. We recently calculated how many runs we have scored during this span.

What's the difference between the '90s and the current pool of players?

Individual performance was the one factor then, and teamwork wasn't that important. We had players like Wasim Akram, myself, Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, Moin Khan, Rashid Latif - there was sheer talent. We have talented players now as well, like Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, and we have a very settled line-up, but the bowlers are quite inexperienced at this level. Yasir Shah is young. Zulfiqar Babar might not be, but he is young at Test level. So we have to put some more effort in our bowling to get the combination right.

Are you satisfied with Wahab Riaz's development as a fast bowler?

There is always room for improvement. He is hitting the zone well and I am very proud of him. His spell in Abu Dhabi might not have been very effective, but in Dubai he learnt from his mistakes. The important thing is that he got his rhythm. I am sure he is going to get better and better, as he is a very fine cricketer. Sometimes as a fast bowler you waver, but we are here to control. I think he is on the right path and will make a longer run ahead in future.

Do you think bowlers like him could struggle adjusting in limited-overs cricket? Because he doesn't seem to care about the runs he gives away.

I do care about how many runs he is giving away, but we have to give him some leverage because he is our strike bowler. He bowls at around 147-150kph and when you bowl at that speed, you can bowl the odd bad ball. That is why he takes time to adjust. It's difficult to adjust to different formats. Especially since his action is not that compact and it's not repeatable, so he's got to develop the right rhythm. Otherwise he struggles. But we all know how much potential he has. If he keeps his head straight, which is key for a fast bowler, and stays hungry for international success, he will be a great bowler.

You once said that calmness is as important as being aggressive.

It applies to fast bowlers and spinners. You can't be hyper all the time. There are certain times when you have to be very aggressive. He did really well in the Dubai Test on day five, though he didn't take many wickets. But he meant business. Yasir is a bit hyper at times and tries to get a wicket off every single ball. When he gets a wicket he loses his mind and wants to try every single thing. We try to calm him down, but importantly, they understand [it themselves] and are working on it.

What's happening with Junaid Khan? Have you lost confidence in him?

No, that's not really the case, otherwise he wouldn't have been selected for this tour. He has not been in good form, but in the meantime we have Imran Khan and Rahat Ali doing well, and over here we go with four bowlers and play two spinners in the XI, so some players will have to miss out. It won't be permanent.

How difficult is it to deal with Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad?

Both are very talented and this why they are still around. There are good, bad and difficult characters and you have to take them all along with you. As long as you are putting in 100%, I don't mind, we can handle all of them.

You are professionals and get paid for it, but at the same time it's not just about being professional; you have take huge pride in wearing the star on your chest. And if someone abuse that pride, they don't stand a chance, and we can't afford that.

How has fast bowling changed after Phillip Hughes' death?

It's a one-off incident and you can't change the game. You are out there to compete and you are not intending to hit someone. But bowling a bouncer is part of the game. A fast bowler has to have a bouncer, rather than thinking about what happened with Phil and saying he will be careful. I don't think it works this way, and if you are thinking that way, I feel you are not competing.

From Imran Khan down to Shoaib Akhtar, the secrets of reverse swing had been passed on, but now it appears that the string is broken. Do we blame Waqar and Wasim for not ensuring it carries on for good?
The names you just recalled had one thing in common - they bowled at over 150kph and so they were effective with reverse swing. People, not only in Pakistan but around the world, do not realise that reverse swing is all about pace. You need a certain amount of pace to deceive a batsman. If you still want to blame Wasim and Waqar, you can do it but there are many things involved that need to be considered.

Now Wahab bowls at that pace and he is successfully achieving reverse swing, and I think he is the one who can connect the broken string. He is presently more effective than anyone else, but if you give the same ball to Imran Khan at the other end, he may not be as effective. So it's about pace. You can write a book on how to achieve reverse swing, what sort of action suits it. There are many things people know about it but still there are things the world doesn't know about it.

You are not a selector but obviously you have some role to play. How do you judge a player's chances of playing for Pakistan?

I always look at a player's temperament. How much does he want to learn, how much energy can he give to the team. We are very lucky to have players like Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. That's why the Test team looks settled.

I am happy that there are so many youngsters coming up and I love to have many around fighting for their place. We have Zia-ul-Haq, and in fact, we have a lot of left-armers coming up, but at the moment we have the best team. I don't mind having a lot of youngsters around because I think this is an experimental time and we can evaluate as many as players as possible.

It's believed that you are strict with the players while Mushtaq Ahmed is softer with them.

You have fatherly and motherly figures. We complement each other. There is a lot of talking involved in all this coaching, to keep the system moving in the right direction. I am not going to tell you what happens in the dressing room, but I think the atmosphere is very good. We have a role and a responsibility, we all have our parts to play and we try to get the best and give our best.

Most of Pakistan's recent success has been in Asia. With the lack of Tests outside Asia, how does that affect development?

I completely agree that the success is within Asia, but what can we do? If we are doing really well, people should be given credit for that. You can't judge us if we are not playing outside Asia. I hope we can manage in all conditions. We are already missing out on playing at home and we get only few Tests abroad but we have raised the issue with the board and they have promised that they will look into it.

How comfortable are you with the idea of bringing Mohammad Amir back into the side?

I don't have any problem with anyone but I would like to see him playing at least two seasons before integrating him into the system. He was already punished, and as a Muslim we have a belief that anyone who serves his punishment should be forgiven. But let him play and don't push him. Let him perform in domestic cricket, then thrive, and then you can consider him.

He also has to win trust and faith at the domestic level. These are small things but very important and people should understand that. People are talking about bringing him back instantly. That isn't a good thing to do as we have to respect domestic cricket and the system.

Have you forgiven him? You were the head coach in 2010 and he cheated you as well.

The world has. He dodged all of us but he was punished for that. He was sent to jail and I think we all have to move forward.

When you resigned in your previous stint, there were different accounts. Was it to do with health or conflict with the captain?

I had health issues - not too threatening. My family was away and there were a lot more things that led me to take that decision. But now in my second stint I am calmer. I was hyper previously and wanted to rush many things at the same time, which probably didn't work, but now I am much more settled. I am doing the same things but in a different way, with mutual understanding, and letting people get on with the job. Probably I was a bit more aggressive but I have changed myself and people like that change.

Interview by Umar Farooq