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The Karachi Kings Head Coach spoke about his stint with Islamabad United, the rise of Babar Azam and his experience of applying for the Pakistan Head Coach position.

By Amir Husain (30th January, 2020)

Having established itself as one of the leading Twenty20 leagues in the world, the Pakistan Super League is expected to reach another milestone when the fifth edition of the tournament, to be played entirely in Pakistan, will kick-off in Karachi’s iconic National Stadium on 20th February.

Whilst Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators have all tasted success as champions, the Karachi Kings are yet to lift the coveted trophy and it is hoped that changes in the squad and the team management will result in a better showing in the upcoming season. In this regard, the appointment of 2-times Pakistan Super League winner and Australian batting great Dean Jones as Head Coach by the Kings is being considered a significant move. For Jones, the challenge of taking a very talented Karachi side to the pinnacle of performance is one that he is looking forward to eagerly, as he explained to PakPassion.net.

“It’s a new challenge and I am looking forward to the assignment. Every season, the coaches have their work cut out as they have to retain 8-9 players and pick a new squad. So, I have to quickly find out what needs to be done and will have about 5 days to sort out our structure, game plan and try and hit the ground running to ensure that everyone knows what their roles are. I do have a pretty good idea of how I want to go about it, but I will also let the players decide how they want to play the game as well. It’s all well and good, me saying how I want to see them play but it’s equally important for me to hand them some responsibility on how they want to go about their jobs. If they wish to play the game in a certain way, I will let it be. All in all, I am looking forward to coaching Karachi and to get them to be a successful team.”

 
 

The PSL draft for this year’s edition yielded some interesting results with each side claiming to have chosen the perfect combination for the competition. For Karachi, the presence of some big names in their line-up means that hopes for their first title remain high but for Dean Jones, a lot more is at stake in this year’s PSL than just a chance to lift the trophy. “We have a good squad and I am looking forward to working with Babar Azam, Imad Wasim, and Mohammad Amir who particularly needs to remind everyone and himself what a good T20 player he is, especially with the T20 World Cup coming up in Australia later this year. And not just for Amir but for some of the other guys, the PSL is an important opportunity to get their names into the list of 15 players for the Pakistan T20 World Cup squad. Of course, it’s not just the Pakistan players but cricketers from other countries who will also be looking at this tournament to better their chances of making it into their respective World Cup squads. So, it’s also important that we give all players a good opportunity to shine so they get picked for their country for the T20 World Cup this year.”

To have been involved in taking Islamabad United to no less than two titles in the Pakistan Super League is a fantastic achievement for Dean Jones. In that regard, the decision by the franchise to part ways with him came as a surprise to many, including Jones himself. As a true professional, he has decided to accept Islamabad’s decision and move on, but he is rightfully proud of his record with the Islamabad franchise.

“I was a little disappointed initially, especially given the role I played in building up the franchise, but then I decided that it was in my best interest to move on. Then, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, I got a call from Salman Iqbal and Wasim Akram asking me to come on board at Karachi Kings – an offer I accepted gladly. They obviously liked what they saw with what I had done with Islamabad United and I was happy that I was given that opportunity. Looking back at my achievements, though, I am very proud of my previous role with Islamabad and especially the fact that some of the players that I worked with have gone on to become integral parts of the Pakistan side.”

Pakistan cricket has recently gone through some bold changes to their leadership positions in their T20I and Test sides with Babar Azam being handed the responsibility to captain the T20I team. Given Babar’s inexperience in captaincy, it would have stood to reason if he had been asked to captain the Karachi Kings side to gain more confidence as a leader but, the Kings decided to trust Imad Wasim with captaincy duties, which for Dean Jones is not necessarily a bad move. “The decision to have Imad as captain is something the management has decided, and I am fine with it. In my view, this may well give some time to Babar to get his form back in T20s which will be beneficial for his own game as well. Having said that, at this level, you would expect not one but 11 captains out there in the field lending their support to Imad, so I don’t think this is such an issue,” he explained.

The fact that the Pakistan Super League’s fifth edition will be played in its entirety at home is a clear indication of the maturity of the tournament and the respect it holds in the eyes of the participating foreign and local players. For Dean Jones, who as part of the Islamabad United squad that had no qualms in visiting Pakistan for the last 2 seasons of the tournament, holding PSL in Pakistan will be yet another opportunity for him to enjoy the love and hospitality of the country.

“I will be looking forward to seeing crowds in more blue shirts of Karachi Kings instead of the red ones of Islamabad United that we mostly saw last time. It’ll be good to be back in Pakistan and I know that Karachi has a huge fanbase and I am expecting to see them turn out in large numbers when we play at home at the National Stadium. The PCB will take care of security but at the same time, I do feel for them as they seem to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to this matter. The problem for PCB is that people either complain about providing too much security or not doing enough. What would be ideal in my view, would be to help relax the boys a bit and allow them to leave the hotel and enjoy the wonderful sights in Lahore, Karachi and Multan. I feel Pakistan is a great country and is now one of the top countries to visit according to the Spectator Index in terms of tourism. I know how much cricket means to Pakistanis and how important PSL is for the PCB as they probably got to number 1 in T20 cricket because of that, and long may it continue.”

The long and protracted negotiations which finally translated into Pakistan’s home series against Bangladesh is an encouraging sign for the restoration of international cricket in Pakistan. Ideally, the PCB would like the tours by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to be precursors to visits by teams such as Australia. In Dean Jones' view, the fear of visiting teams is based upon genuine reasons, but a more common-sense approach is needed by all concerned when assessing security issues.

“I feel that a tour of Pakistan by Australia will happen one day, but it’s a slow process and the undeniable and unfortunate fact is that the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Pakistan and as a result, a lot of teams have been hesitant to travel to Pakistan. But then we have to consider the fact that in today’s world, attacks are happening everywhere. So, if you are a Muslim, would you still go to New Zealand? Or if you are a Christian, would you be happy to visit Sri Lanka? The fact is that all you need to do is to make sure that security is top-notch and then move on from there. We live in a different world today and the players need to listen to advice and read up about all the things that are happening in the world and make informed decisions. I feel that the PCB, to their immense credit, have done all they can to make sure that players are safe and have also tried to make sure that they have a good time when they visit Pakistan.”

The appointment of former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq as Head Coach of Pakistan was met with some criticism that seemed to turn into cynicism when he was announced as Head Coach of Islamabad United to replace Dean Jones. Whilst there are some who doubt Misbah’s ability to handle the multiple responsibilities thrust on him, Jones feels that his success will ultimately be measured by the wins and losses during his tenure. “It’s difficult to say if taking all these roles might be a bit too much for Misbah but then that is a question he can answer best. Ultimately and usually, it will be down to how many wins and losses he gets for Pakistan and for Islamabad. He is a dear mate of mine and has been a big part of the Islamabad United group and it’s quite possible that he has taken on more than he can chew, but the bottom line is if he called me and asked for advice, I would be the first one to help him out.”

The rise of Babar Azam as a promising youngster to the mainstay of the Pakistan batting unit has a phenomenal ring to it. Like many others, Dean Jones has been impressed by the batting ability of this Karachi Kings star and feels that the best is yet to come for Babar.

“One thing I really like about Babar is that he is great to watch, and his batting is so pleasing on the eye. When you throw the ball to the likes of Shane Watson or Andre Russell, it’s scary when they hit it; you fear for your life in terms of how hard they hit the ball. With Babar, it’s just so graceful, nice to watch and good on the eye for us old-timers. He has great technique and he knows where he’s at. I believe he needs to put himself in more responsible positions in Test matches and bat in the top 4. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, we will make him a bigger and better player in T20 cricket and get more consistency in his batting. He’s not a power player but he still has such great numbers in T20 cricket, so we will try and improve him even more. We know Babar will not rest on his laurels as he isn’t that kind of a player and he has something about him. Recently, I was speaking to fellow commentators on television about Babar and we spoke for 15 minutes about him, which shows how much he is respected around the world. I am really looking forward to working with him and to see how he goes about his game and how mentally and physically he prepares himself for games. To me, Babar Azam is a potential batting genius.”

Whilst the PSL has produced success stories for Pakistan cricket such as Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and to an extent, Fakhar Zaman, the 2018 edition of the tournament saw the spectre of spot-fixing raise its ugly head at the PSL. Suddenly, Sharjeel Khan who had been touted as a rising star became persona non grata. However, after serving his ban and undergoing rehabilitation, he is now back in the PSL and part of Karachi Kings for the 2020 edition of the PSL. Whilst many would look at Sharjeel as a risky signing, in the expert eye of the Karachi Kings Head Coach, the explosive left-hander is a great investment.

“It’s not a risk to sign Sharjeel for Karachi Kings. I've worked with him before and I know what he is capable of and that's why we signed him. He has the array of shots to give us explosive starts and that's what we will be looking for from him. I'm sure he will be hoping to make a good comeback and will be trying his best to reclaim a place in the Pakistan side.”

The departure of Mickey Arthur as Pakistan's Head Coach after the 2019 World Cup gave rise to the conjecture that Dean Jones could become Arthur’s successor but that did not materialize. Whilst Jones was not willing to comment on the transparency of the Head Coach selection process in Pakistan but when probed, he did express his disappointment at the experience and rejected any chances of applying for the role in the future. “It won’t happen in the future. I applied for the role previously but won’t be applying for that role again,” he concluded.

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