Former Pakistan fast-bowling great Waqar Younis was appointed as Pakistan Bowling Coach in September on a 3-year contract and has so far overseen the bowling performances of the national side in a home series against Sri Lanka and a tour of Australia.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Waqar spoke on a variety of topics including why he returned to work for the PCB, Misbah-ul-Haq's current roles within the PCB, the development of young fast-bowlers, why he feels it’s an exciting time for pace-bowling in Pakistan, his hopes that the likes of Hassan Ali and Faheem Ashraf will regain form and confidence, offered his views on the reluctance of Bangladesh to tour Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (2nd January, 2020)
PakPassion.net: What is the motivation behind your return to Pakistan cricket as Bowling Coach?
Waqar Younis: Throughout my career, I have had a passion for cricket and a love for the game. I get more satisfaction when I am actively involved with the team and trying to help the players to learn about cricket. There is nothing to be embarrassed about the fact that I was the Head Coach and now I am the Bowling Coach, and everyone has to understand that. If I can be useful to Pakistan cricket then there should be no shame in wanting to teach players and guiding guys who are young and if you can do it and you have the passion to do it, then one should go ahead and do it. I have some clear ideas on what I want to achieve in this role. I have done the Head Coach role in the past, but I am really enjoying the current role as there is less pressure and there isn’t the pressure of the media on me.
PakPassion.net: What’s the biggest appeal of the role of Pakistan Bowling Coach?
Waqar Younis: It has to be the chance to work with some excellent young fast-bowlers. Who wouldn’t want to work with Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain and some of the more established bowlers like Hassan Ali and Faheem Ashraf? I’ve got a bunch of guys who I feel can be a force. If you look around the world, the most successful teams are the ones who have a group of pace-bowlers across all formats and who have specialists across all three formats. I feel that if I can help these youngsters and guide them then that will be satisfying for me, the Board and will be of benefit to these young bowlers.
PakPassion.net: Misbah-ul-Haq certainly seems to have a lot on his plate. What are your thoughts on him having several roles within Pakistan cricket?
Waqar Younis: He’s got a tough gig, that’s for sure. Having just the Head Coach role on its own is not an easy job, especially given all the scrutiny around the role and all of the media interest, as well as the YouTubers we have these days. It’s a very difficult task and it’s not easy to cope with all of the pressure that comes with it. On top of that you have the selector role around the country and at various levels and on top of that the Pakistan Super League coaching role. He’s had a really tough first 4 months in the role, but I am sure he’s breathing a lot easier after the Sri Lanka Test series victory and things seem to be a lot better. He is growing into the various roles and I am helping him with that regard as much as I can. It will not be easy, but it’s something the new Pakistan Cricket Board regime is trying and are going to give it a go and I am sure that Wasim Khan and the PCB are keeping an eye on things and assessing whether it’s the right move or not. We have to understand that this change is on a trial basis and if you look at the First-Class structure too, there will be some concerns from some quarters. These concerns will centre around coaching, the selections and the actual structure. Undoubtedly, this new structure is very different but we have to give it a chance and we all have to give it a few years and persist with it and hope that the 6-team format will work and provide Pakistan with the players that it needs.
PakPassion.net: With all of the fast-bowling talent coming through in Pakistan, it must be an exciting time to be working with them?
Waqar Younis: Yes that is 100% true. Pakistan has always been blessed with good fast-bowlers and we have always had someone there to give us hope in the pace-bowling department. However, my concern and issue is that because there are three formats nowadays and there are a lot of Twenty20 Leagues around the world, it’s very difficult, even for the youngest cricketers to focus just on one format and just focus on international cricket. It’s really difficult to deprive cricketers of earning a good living from Twenty20 Leagues as that’s what they are entitled to do and that is their bread and butter. It’s a very exciting time when I look at the fast-bowling talent currently available, but I have spoken to the Pakistan Cricket Board about looking after the financial side of things for the players so that they can focus on and prioritise playing for Pakistan rather than various league around the world. I’m excited to work with these boys and help them grow as cricketers and at the same time, it’s a chance for me to grow as a Coach as well.
PakPassion.net: What do you say about priorities for example to Shaheen Shah Afridi, a young pace-bowler playing all three formats for Pakistan and who is in demand in County cricket and Leagues around the globe?
Waqar Younis: It’s tough isn’t it as you don’t want to deprive him of earning a living. But in order to motivate them, my first words to all of our bowlers is that your country and playing Test cricket for Pakistan always comes first, the other formats come next and then playing in Leagues should always come after that. Shaheen is maturing very quickly, he likes to learn and is keen to perform and I’m really pleased with how he is progressing as a bowler. I have spoken with the PCB hierarchy about players finances and managing their workloads as each Test match counts towards the World Test Championship and we have to manage Shaheen’s and the other pacers workloads. I am sure the Board is working on this and they will come up with some sort of agreement to help and work with the players.
PakPassion.net: On the topic of Shaheen Shah Afridi, what areas of improvement are you targeting from him?
Waqar Younis: Fitness is key for fast-bowlers and that should never be overlooked. This group of pace-bowlers are mainly teenagers and are still growing as men. Fitness is the number one priority and in the last few months Shaheen has worked really hard and that’s why you are seeing him bowling long spells as he was doing in Australia and against Sri Lanka. We are taking care of his recovery time in between matches, as we are with the other pace-bowlers we have. Shaheen is a smart cricketer, and what he needs to do is to put the ball in the right place on a regular basis, not every now and then. He’s learning quickly and what is good is that the competition for places is there and competition amongst fast-bowlers is also there which I feel was lacking in the recent past. This competition amongst themselves on the field is a plus point as the bowlers learn from each other. Shaheen and the other boys can look at the likes of Dale Steyn, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and take note of the number of years they have been around and how they are still going strong and performing well.
PakPassion.net: Naseem Shah has had a tough introduction to international cricket. What are your thoughts on this exceptional talent?
Waqar Younis: He’s a little fragile at the moment which is understandable due to his sad loss. We have to remember that he had a couple of stress fractures in his back at a young age and he therefore sometimes needs a bit more nurturing and an arm around his shoulder as he does worry about his back at times. So, at the moment we don’t want him to be bowling long spells of 7 or 8 overs, we want him bowling short, quick spells and spells which won’t reduce his pace. His pace is crucial for his development and we don’t want that to reduce and that is why we are nurturing him carefully. He is another youngster who needs to work on his fitness levels and I am sure once he is fitter and given the skills he possesses, he will trouble a lot of batsmen around the world.
PakPassion.net: Mohammad Hasnain’s introduction to international cricket has been a stop-start affair. What are your thoughts on him as a bowler?
Waqar Younis: He was picked in the Mickey Arthur regime for the World Cup based upon some good performances at the Pakistan Super League which of course was 4-over cricket. I feel he’s a young bowler who is probably not ready for playing in the 50-over format just yet, where he will be required to bowl 10 overs. He’s at the National Cricket Academy these days working on his fitness and he’s getting used to bowling more overs as he showed at the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup. He’s a young man who can bowl 150Kph and we don’t want him to lose that ability. Hasnain is very much in our plans and our aim is to have a pack of pace-bowlers available to us, all of them fit, all of them available and ready. We would like to use them accordingly and based on where we are playing and keep them fresh. He’s a talented kid, who bowls very well with the new ball and we are keeping a close eye on him and no doubt he will be an asset for Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: We’ve seen Haris Rauf do well at the Big Bash League. How close is he to an international call-up?
Waqar Younis: I watched him at the Pakistan Super League and was impressed by him. He possesses pace, he’s a smart bowler who is aggressive which I really like about him and I’m really glad that he has done well at the Big Bash League. He’s a strong lad, who has been working very hard on his fitness and he bowls a really good slower-ball. I’ve spoken to Misbah-ul-Haq about him and we are thinking about bringing him into our pack of pace-bowlers, working with him and hopefully we can push him into the Pakistan team soon.
PakPassion.net: How disappointing is it to see senior pace-bowlers, some of whom should be at their peak, giving up Test cricket?
Waqar Younis: It’s not been received very well by everyone in Pakistan has it. They were sudden retirements just before the tough tour of Australia which made it a very difficult time for us. We were left with and exposed by having a very young bowling attack. It was hurtful at the time and if they wanted to do it, they could have done it in a better way, but coming at that time was not very pleasant at all. They received a lot of criticism, but it was entirely up to them how they wanted to play it. Whether they want to continue playing One-Day cricket or Twenty20 cricket is entirely up to them and if both Wahab and Amir want to continue playing for Pakistan and they are available for their country, then that’s two more bowlers who are part of our group of pace-bowlers.
PakPassion.net: Faheem Ashraf seems to have lost his way in international cricket. How do you plan to restore his confidence and get him back to his best?
Waqar Younis: We wanted to have him around for the recent Sri Lanka Test series, but he was injured. We would love to have the luxury of an all-rounder in the Test team who can give us that fourth bowling option, especially when you have a young pace-bowling attack. Look at England with Ben Stokes who is batting at number 5 or 6 and is a complete bowling option. It’s very handy to have someone like Stokes in your Test team with both bat and ball and we are searching for that option. Faheem has been around the squad for a while now and we want to get him fit, to work on his batting too and fill that all-rounder’s spot if he can.
PakPassion.net: Hassan Ali’s form and confidence seems to have nose-dived after his heroics in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Where is he going wrong?
Waqar Younis: There is no doubt about his talent, but he has fallen away of late. He was bowling at a good pace, good lines and bowling a very probing length, but his form has suffered of late. He played a lot of cricket in a 2-year period without much rest. He has lost some pace and of course, on top of that, he has had some injury problems. He had a back injury, was working at the National Cricket Academy to get back to full fitness and recovered from the back injury. He then went and played in the Quaid-E-Azam Trophy, but then suddenly discovered he had fractured ribs. His bowling action is a very open-chested action which is hard on the ribs and the back. He’s an asset when fit and firing on all cylinders. He’s a bundle of energy on the field, a good fielder and I’m looking forward to having him back. He’s a very handy cricketer and he’s at the NCA working on his fitness. I’m expecting him to start bowling in about a week’s time hopefully if there is no pain.
PakPassion.net: Are there any upcoming pace-bowlers who have impressed you this season in domestic cricket?
Waqar Younis: The door is open for everyone. I’ll be watching the Pakistan Super League closely and looking out for pace-bowlers who I feel have the potential to play for Pakistan. We have a nice group of pace-bowlers at the moment and I feel we are well-covered for all three formats but there is always room for additional bowlers to be added to our group. Ehsan Adil is one bowler that I am keeping a close eye on and he is someone who has been bowling well this season, can bat and is a handy fielder too. I have already mentioned some of the group of pace-bowlers we have at our disposal and in addition, Usman Khan Shinwari is an impressive bowler. What I am trying to do is to have this group of pace-bowlers and to keep a very close eye on this batch and monitor their progress very closely. We are planning to have another camp for pace-bowlers ahead of the series against Bangladesh and that will also give us another opportunity to look at the pace-bowlers.
PakPassion.net: The Sri Lanka series saw Test cricket make a successful return to Pakistan. What would you say to the Bangladesh Cricket Board who seem to be hesitant about sending their Test team to Pakistan?
Waqar Younis: Pakistan is a safe place and anyone who is saying it’s not a safe place is fooling themselves. We’ve just had an excellent series against Sri Lanka, with some good crowds and a wonderful and hard-fought Test match played in Karachi. People love cricket in Pakistan and what else does any country want us to do to show that it is safe here? The Sri Lankan players were out and about shopping and going out for dinners and they were all very happy in Pakistan. In fact, the players from Sri Lanka who didn’t come for the Limited-Overs matches and came for the Test series only regretted that decision not to come to Pakistan. I don’t think the Pakistan Cricket Board or anyone involved in Pakistan cricket can do any more to prove that Pakistan is a safe place. It’s disappointing to see that so far the Bangladesh Cricket Board is reluctant to tour. Pakistan is a beautiful place, a peaceful place and we are ready for regular Test cricket. I’m still hopeful though that the Bangladesh Cricket Board will make a positive decision regarding the tour. Test cricket should return on a regular basis to Pakistan without any hesitation.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the allegations made by Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria of players refusing to eat with Danish due to his faith?
Waqar Younis: Danish gave everything for his country and you can see that by just looking at his record in Test cricket. I was in the squad when Danish Kaneria made his debut for Pakistan and captain in his second series. We all welcomed him like a brother, like a son, he was part of our family. I never saw any player or official treating him differently. I was his captain for a couple of years and I never saw or heard any mistreatment of Danish at all by any player. I think this is a non-issue and controversy should not be created out of it as there is nothing in it.