KARACHI: Some three weeks after his resignation as Pakistan cricket team’s head coach, Waqar Younis is keen to reflect on his tenure and the gruelling Test assignments later this year for his now former charges.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Famer, known for his fast-bowling exploits, was pragmatic in his assessment of his troops and adopted a phlegmatic approach to criticism levelled at him during his telephonic conversation with The Express Tribune from Mumbai — Waqar’s current location in his ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) stint as TV expert.
Waqar expressed his fears for the future of the game in the country, given the rapidly plummeting standard of the former ODI and T20 world champions in both white-ball formats of the game.
According to the pace great, even the ‘bursts of individual brilliance’ that win the Greenshirts the odd game in limited-overs format are likely to fade away soon.
He hopes that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) takes immediate steps to arrest the decline based on his recommendations.
This piece covers some of his recommendations, the impending tours to England and Australia and his two-year reign.
‘Inconsistent performances in fast-bowling’
While Pakistan is still considered a potent bowling force on paper, the quicks have lacked consistency, with Waqar ruing the fact that since the damning spot-fixing scandal and the ban on Mohammad Amir, not even one capable replacement has been found.
“Even after five years, Amir returned as our best bowler, which means that something is seriously wrong with our system since we failed to find even one adequate replacement in his absence,” said Waqar.
Amir’s pace-bowling colleagues Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan had chequered runs at best under Waqar. Both left-armers had disappointing World T20 campaigns; Irfan was reportedly chosen on Waqar’s insistence and according to him, he had no choice.
“You tell me what other options were available?” asked Waqar. “To be honest, both Wahab and Irfan were inconsistent — they struggled with their lengths in the World T20, especially the yorker length. Wahab though did well in the Test format; I think it also depends greatly on the captain how he uses his bowlers. I feel he was better utilised in Tests.”
Waqar was candid in his assessment of Irfan’s future; he feels the lanky pacer is past his sell-by date and that the selectors need to search for new fast-bowlers.
“Irfan is tiring; he seems to have lost the sting that once made him a real handful. We now need to unearth new fast-bowling talent,” he added.
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Fitness and modern cricket drills
During the World T20, Pakistan’s fitness and fielding standards were well below the required levels, which, in Waqar’s observation, is a hindrance in team development.
“A lot of analysts ask about our lack of innovative stroke play,” said the former coach. “Let me tell you that to play dinky shots like lap sweeps, reverse sweep etc., one needs to be super fit. Why are Misbah and Younus still successful in Tests? The reason is simple; they are the fittest of the lot.”
On the other hand, Waqar points out that Pakistan’s established players struggle to do drills out of their comfort zone, and even crib when asked to put in the extra yard.
“Remember the hue and cry when we made the players sweat a little in preparation for the 2015 World Cup? Despite their strong work ethic, some of the seniors too aren’t ready to do any drill or practice out of their comfort zone. It’s tough to improve with such an attitude,” revealed Waqar.
Test tours to England and Australia
Waqar’s poor returns in white-ball formats overshadowed his good work for the Test team. Under him, Pakistan whitewashed Australia in a two-Test series in the UAE in 2014 before turning the tables on away tours to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He was also in charge of the 2-0 win over England last winter.
Waqar was quick to brush aside the notion that he has attained success only in familiar sub-continent conditions.
“These days, almost all teams are just winning at home, it is really unfair to say that we have tasted success in our conditions only,” he said. “Under a settled captain, we succeeded in delivering consistent results and our batsmen thrived in playing the conventional game, which I feel is their strength.”
In the 1990s, Waqar and his bowling partner Wasim Akram tormented England in two back-to-back Test series wins in 1992 and 1996, and the fast-bowling maestro believes that Pakistan have a realistic chance of repeating that success this year in the four-match series on English soil.
“I think we have been doing well there [in England] since the 1970s,” said a confident Waqar Younis. “I had proposed a two-month long rigorous camp for the series: one a conditioning camp in Abbottabad and the second one on the livelier pitches of Islamabad’s Diamond Ground. I hope the recommendation becomes a reality, since a mere two-week camp is not going to yield any results.”
But Waqar fears that the challenge is going to be sterner against Australia in their backyard.
Even in their heyday, the ‘Ws’ — Waqar and Wasim — failed to win a Test series Down Under. In fact, Pakistan haven’t won a Test there since 1995 and have endured three consecutive three-match series whitewashes since 1999.
“Australia for sure is going to be incredibly tough. Preparation on bouncier wickets will be the key; if we take things for granted, we are likely to be beaten inside three days in each of the Tests,” added Waqar.
Waqar also agreed that the fast-bowlers haven’t delivered consistently in Australia and their failure to fully assert their presence is one of the reasons for the shambolic showing there.
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Inzamamul Haq as chief selector
One of Waqar’s recommendations that the PCB seemingly agreed with was the installation of former captain and batting great Inzamamul Haq as chief selector.
Waqar is happy with the development and feels that his former teammate can deliver the goods even when there are concerns about his Islamic evangelism.
“One thing is for sure — Inzamam isn’t going to be dictated by anyone,” commented Waqar. “I think he has moved on from the days when he was considered to be a tough taskmaster as captain who was more vigilant regarding the religious practices of the players rather than focusing on cricket. Inzamam can surely make a difference and we should back him.”
PCB looking to bring in trio of coaches
Waqar meanwhile expressed his disappointment at the way the ongoing five-team Pakistan Cup has panned out. He feels the youngsters should have been given the chance to lead their teams rather than handing over the reins to veterans.
“What purpose is achieved by making Younus, Misbah and Shoaib Malik captains? Don’t we need to groom new captains?” inquired the 44-year-old.
Waqar also lamented Younus’ decision to quit the tournament mid-way due to his reservations about the umpiring standards in the event. Waqar too had to endure the temperamental batsman’s decision of quitting the ODI team after just one game of the four-match series against England last year.
“You can’t take such a hasty and uncalled-for decision in the middle of the tournament,” reasoned Waqar. “It is unfair on the team and a horrible example for youngsters who were seeking inspiration from his presence in their dressing room. To be honest, I find his decision unethical.”
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