In his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, Azhar Mahmood writes about his experience as bowling coach for the Pakistan T20 team, puts forward his views on issues with Pakistan’s batting and looks ahead to the World Twenty20 tournament.
By Azhar Mahmood (8th March, 2016)
Opportunity to serve Pakistan again and helping Pakistan bowlers
I must start by saying that it is an absolute pleasure to be able to serve Pakistan and its cricket team once again. It is a nice challenge and I have been enjoying working with the bowlers during the recent games. In actual fact my work with some of the Pakistan bowlers started during the recently concluded Pakistan Super League (PSL) when I worked closely with Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Irfan. Especially in the case of Mohammad Irfan, I am sure we all noticed that he was bowling at about 127 Kph in New Zealand and now he is bowling around the 145 Kph mark which is a great improvement. Someone like Mohammad Amir who is really a world class bowler and a finished product as such, doesn’t really need that much guidance but I have been working on his fielding plan which is also a crucial part of the whole equation. With Anwar Ali, he has been having some issues with swing but I can assure you that we will see a marked improvement in his abilities by the end of the upcoming World Twenty20 tournament.
All in all, my job is to try and advise and fix the finer points of the game for these bowlers so that they come good in games where the difference between winning and losing is just a few runs. To clarify, my role is to impart my experience of bowling in Twenty20 games and to act as a specialist bowling coach who works and reports to the Head Coach, Waqar Younis who is tasked with looking after all fifteen players on-field and off-field.
Having said that, whilst Grant Flower will provide the technical expertise needed to guide the batsmen, I can also help on the basis of my experience in areas such as building one’s innings in tough match situations. This is very beneficial to the players and a good example of how the coaching team works together. Whilst I am free to point out areas of improvement for batsmen, Grant Flower is equally at ease to observe and pinpoint any deficiencies in the bowlers that he feels will need remediation. Of course this does sound great in theory but the results for the team will define and show how well this is working.
Pakistan batting’s inability to negotiate the first six overs
This is a topic which seems to have been discussed very often especially in light of Pakistan batsmen’s recent problems in the Asia Cup. The game against Sri Lanka was, in some ways, an anomaly and we as a team need to address this problem head-on. In this respect, I have had discussions with Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi and advised them that for Pakistan to succeed, the team’s best batsmen need to be batting upfront and facing the most number of balls. The solution is as simple as that! How this translates to changes in the batting order is a decision which I can only leave to Waqar and Afridi as it is their call. Speaking about the Asia Cup, one must realize that the pitches were tough to bat on and most batsmen struggled on these surfaces, including the Indian batsmen who are generally considered the best in the business in this format. Having said that, I will admit that our players have had problems dealing with pressure during games in the Asia Cup.
Delving more into our batting, let’s talk about our openers, Sharjeel Khan and Khurram Manzoor. Both of them are new to the international scene, especially when you compare them to the Indian batsmen. And let’s be frank about it, the pressures associated with international cricket are completely different than those one faces in domestic or league cricket. You may find it difficult to believe but apart from simple game pressure which one faces whilst representing one’s country, there is also pressure from the social media which does matter. A player at this level has to be mentally tough yet relaxed to be able to succeed. If you have self-doubt in your own ability, then there isn’t much anyone can do to help you. This is what I stressed to the players and this is the kind of experience that I have passed onto the players. There are various ways to help players to reduce pressure on themselves and one method, mentioned by Waqar Younis to the press as well after the Sri Lanka game, was watching a motivational video which basically conveyed the message that one has to be relaxed and at peace and also have belief in one’s ability to be able to perform well on the field. Whether this had immediate effects on our batsmen in the Sri Lanka game is moot but it is a well tried and tested technique.
Let me also add that the stress of making a comeback or establishing oneself at the international level can put extra pressure as well. As an example, look at Sharjeel Khan who performed so well in the PSL and whilst Khurram Manzoor may not have been picked for the PSL, he did score quality runs in domestic cricket in Pakistan. What it then boils down to is to give players consistent chances to prove themselves. All this sounds good until you consider the way we deal with this in Pakistan where a player succeeding in one game is termed a ‘hero’ and the moment he fails or isn’t up to the mark, he is classed as ‘zero’. We need to move away from this knee-jerk mentality and give players confidence and a good and fair shot at proving themselves.
Pakistan’s chances in the World Twenty20
In my mind there is no doubt that Pakistan can go all the way in this tournament as the conditions will suit Pakistan. What Pakistan will need to do is to play what I call ‘fearless’ and aggressive cricket. What I mean is that they need to play without fear of failure. In my interactions with the players, I feel that they have this anxiety which is setting them back in games. If watching more motivational videos like the one that I have mentioned above is the answer to this problem, then rest assured we will be using more of those to help the team. The video, as inspirational as it may be, is just a part of the solution. The actual strength comes from a player believing in himself.
Let me remind people that Pakistani cricketers have always played an aggressive and ruthless brand of cricket which is what is required at this level. Self-belief is one thing I repeat a lot as a defining quality in any player, but you have to remember this is not something that is magically infused in a player by a coach’s words, it has to come from within. My role is to make sure that the boys know and feel that they can win from any situation and that they need to fight to the end individually and as a team. Only this attitude will bring us success in this tournament.
Future role with the Pakistan team
My role as a bowling coach with the Pakistan team for the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 is one I am enjoying immensely but let me say that if needed in the future, I am always available to serve my country. I have achieved what I have because of Pakistan and I would love to pay my dues to my country. Let me add that if I am asked to help Pakistan in a coaching capacity in future, it would be preferable to have some degree of freedom much in the same way as Waqar Younis recently mentioned in his remarks on the role of a Head Coach in the selection process. From what I have seen, I can tell you that I am a firm believer in the capabilities of this team and know that they have the potential to reach great heights as long as they are guided in the right manner.