On the evening of 23rd February, forty-one year old Misbah-ul-Haq accomplished another landmark in his distinguished career when he lifted the trophy for the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) as captain for Islamabad United.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the captain of the Pakistan Test team spoke about Islamabad United's victorious campaign in the PSL, progress made by Mohammad Amir and concerns about how he will cope during the upcoming tour of England, Pakistan's chances in the World T20 and his own plans for the future.
By Amir Husain (5th March, 2016)
PakPassion.net : How would you sum up your Pakistan Super League (PSL) experience?
Misbah-ul-Haq : It was a wonderful experience. As you know, we have been waiting for a long time for this league to take concrete shape. Our players had been playing in different leagues around the world but there was something missing, the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing in our own league wasn’t there at all. As you can see from the way the international and domestic players and the audience enjoyed this league, it was a complete success and was most enjoyable.
PakPassion.net : At what point during the tournament did you start to feel that you could win the PSL?
Misbah-ul-Haq : We were a little worried in the initial stages of the tournament when we were struggling. We felt at that point that we needed to pick ourselves up and move forward which is what we did. So once we got to the play-offs, we knew it was a matter of three games before we could lift the trophy. We also had the comfort of knowing that the team had some quality match-winners in our midst; people who had won finals of various tournaments around the world. In this list we could mention Shane Watson, Samuel Badree, Andre Russell and Azhar Mahmood who have all been part of successful campaigns in the past and have been involved in big victories around the world. Then we had some top domestic performers in the shape of Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif who all added to the positive feeling in the camp.
So with this talent, all we needed was to generate some good performances. Add to that the fact we had little time to prepare for the tournament and players were literally flying in from different parts of the world, we needed some time to form the perfect combination. Once all of this clicked into place and we won games, we started to feel that the prospects were looking better. Our bowling and top-order batting was getting into gear and regaining its rhythm and we felt that we had a good chance to go all the way, which we did.
PakPassion.net : What was it like working with Wasim Akram at the PSL?
Misbah-ul-Haq : Simply speaking, it adds a lot of confidence to any side which has someone like Wasim Akram available for advice. When the players know that they have the backing and advice of one of the greatest players and a World Cup winner, then the players in our or any team for that matter, will be filled with confidence. Apart from refining skills of players, he helped us with the mental side of cricket throughout the tournament and all the way to the time we lifted the trophy.
PakPassion.net : The PSL showed that Pakistan is producing some good spinners, but equally it showed the dearth of quality batsmen which must be a source of concern?
Misbah-ul-Haq : Overall it’s a concern for Pakistan cricket. We have always been very strong in our bowling department and simply put, the quality of our bowlers far exceeds that of our batsmen. This is one area where we really need to improve upon. Coming to the PSL, I believe that it will help us develop better batsmen over the next few years as our newer as well as more experienced batsmen will continue to improve playing under such conditions. The exposure and interaction with foreign players will all help in this goal. But, yes, I am concerned about the fact that our batsmen in PSL were not as effective as they should have been, especially when compared to the other foreign players who also took part in the tournament. This has to improve in the coming years.
PakPassion.net : What changes would you like to see in the next edition of the PSL?
Misbah-ul-Haq : I am sure the PCB have also some good ideas about improving on the PSL concept for the next season. In my view, the addition of one or two more teams in order to allow more of our domestic players, local coaches and domestic staff to get exposure on this stage would be brilliant. Of course that will also mean that more foreign players will come into the mix as well which will make the competition even more interesting and beneficial for more of our younger players. If we can also look to shift some games to Pakistan next year, then that would really make it more enjoyable for Pakistani fans who cannot travel overseas to watch their players in action and that would be a great achievement for Pakistan cricket.
I also feel that in this edition, the matches were arranged with a very tight schedule. I understand that it is very tough to come up with a perfect schedule given international tour commitments by various boards and their players. However, if some consideration can be given to this point, then it will reduce the danger of injury to players which was something we noticed a lot during PSL. Obviously if there are less injuries then the quality of games will be really good and that will be great for the spectators as well.
PakPassion.net : What are your views about the concept of mentors associated with teams? Is it actually beneficial?
Misbah-ul-Haq : Yes, in my view, it does make a difference to have mentors associated with the teams. Having said that, some teams even have coaches who are great players themselves. If you take the example of Wasim Akram who was our coach, then you can see that he is quite capable of acting as a mentor in addition to his coaching role. I think the real role of the mentor is how he can help in boosting the confidence of players and this was visible in the way Sir Vivian Richards' presence benefitted the Quetta Gladiators. I am not saying all teams should have one but some teams can bring in such personalities and use them to their own advantage.
PakPassion.net : What are your impressions so far of Mohammad Amir’s re-integration and his return to international cricket?
Misbah-ul-Haq : He has bowled really well in the Bangladesh Premier League and also in the recently concluded PSL, and we have all seen how he has bowled in the Asia Cup. I am totally satisfied with his performance so far and also his attitude on the field gives me no cause for concern. Mohammad Amir can become a great for Pakistan in the coming years.
Coming to the next big challenge for Amir which is the tour of England, quite frankly no one really knows what to expect in terms of what he will face from the crowd and media. The board and the team management will need to think carefully about how to handle and manage any complications which could arise from this matter.
PakPassion.net : Given the previous history of controversies on tours of England, how important is it to have this tour controversy free?
Misbah-ul-Haq : I believe all we need to do is to go out there and concentrate on playing the best cricket we can. This will be a challenging tour for us as England are a very tough team to beat in their own backyard. We will need to play some excellent cricket and only by playing almost beyond our potential can we make sure that the emphasis is on cricket and nothing else. All other considerations will then be swept aside.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan are scheduled to be heading to India for the World Twenty20, there must be part of you wishing you were in that squad?
Misbah-ul-Haq : Nothing of that sort has crossed my mind as it's too late now and it has been a little more than four years since I last played a T20I game. Having said that, at the point when I retired from T20Is, I did feel that I could have played a little more for my country but that is now in the past. For now, we all have to get behind our team and the captain, and wish them all the best for the World T20.
PakPassion.net : Do you think Pakistan has the ability to win the World T20?
Misbah-ul-Haq : Despite the disappointing results in the recently concluded Asia Cup tournament, I do believe that Pakistan have a good chance of going all the way in the World Twenty20. In fact their chances have improved a lot due to the PSL where the team management and selectors were handed an excellent opportunity to create a combination of in-form experienced and younger players. This can really help Pakistan as such tournaments can really help in building a winning momentum for the players. The players' confidence can be built upon and skills sharpened due to taking part in such competitions. In addition, the timing of the Asia Cup before the World T20 is ideal for the simple fact that the Pakistan team gets a good chance to play and get some good match practice ahead of this competition. I have always maintained that our team has great potential and excellent chances to win the World T20, especially as it is being played in the sub-continent.
PakPassion.net : Shahid Afridi has suggested that he may continue to play for Pakistan after the World T20, do you think that would be a wise decision?
Misbah-ul-Haq : This is a personal decision and it is really up to Shahid Afridi as to how he feels about the situation. He is an experienced player who knows his game inside-out and he also understands how much commitment he has left in him and what he can give to the Pakistan team. All these considerations are important for any player when it is time to make such a crucial decision.
PakPassion.net : How much longer do you see yourself playing for Pakistan?
Misbah-ul-Haq : To tell you the truth, I don’t really know how long I can continue to play for Pakistan. All I can say is that at the moment my thoughts are all about the tour of England this summer. As you may know, I had planned to retire at the end of the England series in the UAE or after playing against India in a series which didn't materialize.
However, I have paid attention for calls from the PCB and others for me to accompany the team to England this summer as that will be a difficult series and the team will need my support and guidance. So I am looking forward to playing against England which will be a huge personal challenge for me. I will consider my options after that series. It is possible that I may go on to play another few series after that but once again, I don’t want to look too far ahead into the future at this point. Obviously the tour against Australia is also on the horizon, but I will consider all these options after we are done with the tour of England.
PakPassion.net : Are you feeling pressure from your well-wishers and media for a decision on your retirement?
Misbah-ul-Haq : It goes without saying that one does take into account the thoughts and wishes of people around you. I do give some weight to such advice but regardless of what the advice is, it is down to me to decide on this matter based on a few considerations such as the what exactly can I contribute to the success of my team and whether the team needs my expertise or not. If I ever feel that I am no longer contributing to the team then that would be the time to move on.