'Overall, the England tour was a success' - Yawar Saeed
Yawar Saeed, the Pakistan manager on the just-concluded and most eventful tour to England, talks with CricInfo
Yawar Saeed felt that harping on Pakistan's capitulation in the NatWest final is not the right way to go about it. He took time out to discuss the 55-day tour in its entirety. In fairness, not because it would show his team's performance in better light but for the fact that the Waqar Younis-led team had some really bright moments if you look at it with a wide-angle lens. And he believes, rather strongly so, that taken as a whole the tour was a great success, despite the fact that it was the first time since 1987 that Pakistan has failed to win an away series in England.
Pre-tour and overall scenario?
"When the team left for England, it had a couple of setbacks behind it. It had not done well in New Zealand, and lost the ARY Cup final at Sharjah. In England, it was considered a side that was weak and quite beatable. They seemed to be right as Pakistan lost the first Test at Lord's in only three days. It was a terrible time; we were under-prepared and were outclassed. Any other team may have crumbled, but we regrouped after that serious reverse. The result was a great comeback, and we won at Old Trafford. What's more our performance was the best by any team in England in the first half of the summer".
Comments on the tour schedule?
"Considering that we were playing in the early part of the summer, drawing the series was a great achievement. The visiting teams find the damp conditions a bit too much to handle in early summer. The example that readily comes to mind is that of India losing 2-0 and Pakistan winning by the same margin in England in 1996; then India had played the rubber in the wetter half".
"The other big plus was that we performed as a unit, and you could see it from the fight each member of the squad put up. It was quite evident at Old Trafford, where every session was so absorbing, with fortunes swinging this way and that. Such was the intensity that it was said to be a great advertisement for Test cricket".
"To me, to draw the series was very satisfying, and a great achievement. Many people in England thought that we didn't have a ghost of a chance to do that. There were some very good individual performances in that Test, such as those of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rashid Latif. The duo kept it up in the NatWest series, with others like Yousuf Youhana, Abdur Razzaq and Saqlain Mushtaq also making good contributions as Pakistan made it to the final. But the man who really came out much taller was captain Waqar Younis. He led by example and got the best out of the boys, each of whom were willing to do anything for him. I have been on nine tours as manager, and never was the dressing room atmosphere as excellent as it was on this tour. Younis had a big hand in that".
His thoughts on the NatWest Series league matches?
"Before the NatWest Series started, we were billed as the team likely to end up third. It is a tribute to the boys that we made it to the final, beating England in three out of three encounters and Australia in one of the two games [the third one was washed out] on the way. That meant that going into the final, we were equal on points with the Aussies".
Any huge disappointment?
"The final was a very huge disappointment. We had thought that victory in the final would be the icing on the cake. That was not to be. To sum it, we were not only found below par against the Aussies, we performed way below our potential, and were outplayed thoroughly".
On team spirit?
"Still, I would say that overall the tour should be rated as a success; we drew the Test series and we played the final. And the biggest success was that after a long time every member of the squad - even those who were not featuring in the games - pulled in one direction and gave their full support to the captain. There was not a hint of controversy in the entire 55-day tour".
On why Pakistani batsmen freeze in a high-pressure game?
Yawar conceded that it was something that needed looking into and added: "It has happened on three or four occasions only recently. We find out that the batting is doing sufficiently well till the big day, and then there is a collapse. We have to do a bit of soul-searching to find the answers; in fact we have begun doing just that. That we are not short on talent and ability is not disputed, so it has to be mental strength and strategy. We have to work hard to get it right".
The areas that he feels could do with beefing up?
Are finding a quality opener to partner Saeed Anwar, and give the middle order a more settled look. Sending a different batsman at one-drop in every game was not the right idea, he agreed, for it kept the batsmen to follow under pressure, especially when the openers kept getting out cheaply and added:
"It is really bad on confidence if your number 7 and 8 are made to make a last ditch fight every now and then. Actually the two big stands during the NatWest series were between Youhana and Rashid Latif and Youhana and Inzamam. It was about time the openers delivered with some runs on the board on a regular basis".
On tour selections, which received quite a bit of stick from experts in England and home?
He admits to making some mistakes, while vociferously defends others. Dropping Saqlain from the Lord's Test XI falls in the former category:
"The decision to play five seamers was made collectively. We all admitted later that it was a mistake; but, as they say, it is easy to be wise after the event".
On leaving out Shahid Afridi, a three-dimensional cricketer, from the NatWest final?
Yawar believes thus was correct and explains:
"There was nothing exceptional from him in the four matches that he played. The problem with Afridi is that if he comes off he is gold, but if he doesn't he is not even silver. We can be wrong, but we thought going for an opener who was in form - Saleem Elahi had scored 70-odd in the previous game - was better than having additional bowling options. Going in with five bowlers and five batsmen was the right idea, and now that it has backfired we can be criticised for it".
On future thoughts?
Yawar felt, now that the tour is over, he would like to focus on the positive things instead of harping too much on the negative angles:
"True, there were weak areas, and nobody denies that we should work at improving them. But there were many brilliant things too, for instance Waqar Younis being named NatWest Man of the Series, and Afridi's effort being nominated as the catch of the series. Though it still needs to improve further, our fielding was generally good".
Yawar's comments came unsolicited:
"We have seen poor umpiring before, but this time it was much below expectations. No one has to comment on it any longer, it is now evident to everybody who watches the game on television".
On the British press?
It too is no longer Yawar's favourite. He believes that they gave too much importance to pitch invasions, firecrackers and crowd disturbance when the focus should have been on performances in the matches:
"The British press could be accused of ignoring cricket, because whatever the crowds did had nothing to do with the visiting team. I asked some of them [members of the British press] why don't you check the nationalities of those involved. I assured them none of them had a green [Pakistani] passport".