June 27, 2001

'We've proved that we are still one of the top teams'

Waqar Younis, the Pakistan captain, talks about his experiences in England.

Why is it that the Pakistani batsmen freeze whenever there is a crunch game?
'Well, this is the second time it has happened while I have been the captain (the first time in the ARY Cup final at Sharjah and the second at Lord's in the NatWest Series final). We probably take a bit more pressure than we should, our batsmen are more tense on big occasions. That's why we lose wickets early on, and then keep on losing them. The same happened in the NatWest final. I would want to work on this aspect, and I hope that in future things would improve and we would be mentally tougher than we have so far been.'

Waqar Younis
A man can fly after taking 7 wickets in a One Day International - Waqar Younis at Leeds
Photo © CricInfo
Are you happy with the way the combinations developed during this tour? Where do you feel the improvements are needed?
'Well, generally speaking, it was a good tour, and apart from Lord's and in the NatWest final, most of the youngsters and experienced hands combined well. But we definitely need to improve, and for this I think it is imperative to bring in some young guns, some fresh legs. In my opinion, a lot of work needs to be done in the fielding area. That is one segment of the game where we are well below the international standards.'

How big a problem is it that the opening slots remain unsettled, and the one permanent opener, Saeed Anwar, never really comes good in big matches?
'I think you're right in pointing out the problem of the openers. That has really bugged us for a while. Partnering Saeed Anwar, Saleem Elahi did reasonably well in the latter part of the NatWest series (he actually scored 70-odd in one game and nothing much in the final). Mohammad Wasim was actually very disappointing and Shahid Afridi too was not getting the runs. As far as Saeed Anwar is concerned, I believe he has played well. Probably he has been unlucky in the finals or maybe he is getting good balls. But he is an asset and can be of real good value to the country in the next two to three years. Hence, he should not be talked about in disparaging terms. I suppose we would all be working on our weaknesses in the break that we've got before the Asian Test Championship. There is also a month of camp training prior to that, and it would be a definite help in doing away with the chinks and generally improving our cricket.'

Waqar Younis
Waqar Younis leads his side to victory in the 1st NatWest ODI of 2001
Photo © CricInfo
But as far as the NatWest Trophy was concerned, Shahid Afridi and Imran Nazir were sent as openers. Imran Nazir never got a game. Not playing him was a bit unfair on the youngster and detrimental to the cause of the team. Don't you think that logically, if Afridi was not delivering, Nazir should have been tried?
'Well, I concede that we need to work on Imran Nazir and some other youngsters, such as Imran Farhat. Nazir, we thought, was a little too young for big-time cricket. But Nazir and Farhat are the two future prospects, and we have to stick to them till they are mature enough.'

Under pressure all the time, how did you feel about captaining an unpredictable team in a high-profile England season? And wasn't the finale hugely disappointing?
'WeIl, losing the First Test inside three days, and then coming back into the series was not easy. It really took some doing, and I really appreciate everybody keeping their heads down and lifting their game to a level where we could wrest back the initiative and draw the series. Trust me, it wasn't easy. Once we had squared the series we took our form to the one-dayers and I was very pleased with our performance other than the final. In the final, had we scored as many as 230-odd we may have put up a good fight; 150 was just not good enough. It was really very disappointing...'

Would it have been slightly better had the team gone over to England a trifle earlier than it did to acclimatise better?
'Yeah, it may have helped; we were there in the wetter part of the summer, in May. It's never easy in those parts at that time of the year. If we had some more practice, it may have made a difference in the Lord's Test. But I suppose that we've done well despite the odds being rather tall. When we started the tour the English press was mostly talking about us only being there to provide them with some warm-up for the Ashes. By the time we were through with them we had silenced our critics by proving to them that we still were one of the best sides in the world.'

Waqar Younis
Waqar Younis celebrates the wicket of Alec Stewart
Photo © AFP
And the number of injuries too was pretty high, wasn't it?
'Yes, it was, but that somehow has been the case for the previous few tours. I suppose the incidence of too many injuries also had an impact.'

Are you still looking forward to continuing as a player and captain till the 2003 World Cup?:
'Well, I've got no idea for the moment... I really don't know. I've not spoken to the PCB Chairman, Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia and I would be leaving for Australia to be with my wife who is expecting our first-born. So hopefully things would be clearer once I come back and have a talk with him.'

Thirteen wickets in two matches must have been a great morale booster...?
'Yes, of course. As a captain it is always important to lead from the front, and provide the team with crucial wickets. As a fast bowler too, it was very satisfying. I think I really bowled well both in the Test Matches and the one-dayers. I am very pleased with the way I'm bowling these days. I just hope and wish to continue like this.'

Do you feel the pressures of captaincy have had any effect on your performance as a bowler?
'Well, on the contrary, my individual performance has picked up. After all, I was named Man of the Series in the NatWest Trophy. In my own assessment, I think I've done quite well as a bowler while as a captain, given the circumstances, my performance has been quite good.'

Do you believe the crowd behaviour took a considerable bit of gloss off your better displays?
'Of course, it did. But what could we have done about it? We tried to communicate as much as we possibly could to avert such incidents. I suppose there has to be greater awareness about such things amongst the expatriate Pakistanis. While we greatly value their support, when they indulge in such activities it only ends up giving us a bad name and puts us under unnecessary pressure.'

What are your thoughts on the next home season, which is a bit heavy in terms of schedule, as the Test Championship is scheduled in September, followed by home series against New Zealand and the West Indies, and also a quadrangular. Would you demand from the PCB that it make, unlike the previous season, wickets that are livelier?
'As I told you, we have a month-long camp before the Asian Championship. If I stay on as captain, we would assess where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and also those of our opponents and then decide what our requirements are and take it from there.'