Pakistan in England 2010 July 27, 2010

'We are young and will make mistakes'

Salman Butt looks back at four crazy days at Headingley and ahead to the England series

It is a good sign that you are not getting carried away despite a good win in Headingley?
We all know it is a very young side and nobody expected us to do what we did [level the series]. It is very important to stay calm, relaxed and focused because there is a much more important series coming up against the actual home team who know the conditions much better than anyone else. So we need to work very hard, work on every opportunity we get and make use of the conditions as far as possible. That way we can try to give England a tough time.

Watching the games it seems the players have done well to stay calm and devoted despite the rumblings in the aftermath of the Lord's defeat. Has that played a role in you slipping into the captaincy role easily?
It is wonderful to see the boys stick together as a unit in the second Test and they all fought really well. They need to do the same now in every game they play. We as humans can only make efforts and that is all I require of them.

Did this camaraderie among the team strike you as surprising?
It is not something that just came to me during or after the Headingley Test. I have always had faith in this unit right through this tour. I've played with most of these guys from my Under-19 days and quite a few of them play with me at National Bank and Lahore in the domestic cricket. So I know they all have the capability to become match-winners. Yes, it will take some time to really make a name in international cricket but the quicker they can adapt, the quicker they start playing to their potential, the greater the chances of Pakistan winning more and more games.

One youngster who has shown that potential is Azhar Ali. He stood strong at a crucial stage in Leeds' chase and played his natural game. How hopeful are you of him?
He is a wonderful prospect. The best thing about him is he is never seen off target. He is never seen playing shots which he wouldn't do normally. He plays his cricket in his limits. He knows his shots, his scoring areas. In the four innings so far, three times he got out a very good ball which any good batsman might have found hard to negotiate as well. Azhar is a very good talent and if he can carry on this way he has the ability to stabilise the Pakistan batting. He proved that during the fourth innings at Headingley where he showed great temperament and resolve against the Aussies as well as a good technique in tough conditions. But you should not forget Imran Farhat's contribution. He kept the scoring rate high and kept hitting the boundaries at the other end, which helped Azhar to not take pressure. So, full credit to Imran, who built the crucial partnership with Azhar in the run chase.

Farhat is a peculiar case. He has been under pressure in every match he has played after his comeback in New Zealand last year. Yet without scoring massively, or prettily, he has helped form a decent opening partnership with you. How important a cog is he in your wheel?
He has been playing really well from the time of his comeback in the New Zealand last year. It is really fun to bat with him as we help each a lot and share a lot of ideas while we bat. Imran did the same with Azhar. I don't have enough words to praise them because the situation they built the partnership came under lot of pressure and had a greater importance.

Imran is a senior to me, having started to play for Pakistan three to four years before me. So he has a few things to add to my knowledge and vice versa. Each time the one of us makes a mistake we are honest to point it out to the other. Both being left-handers, we understand each other, which is an added advantage. The best thing about our partnership is we are both approachable. That is the only way forward for us and this applies to every other player in the team.

But there still remains this lingering doubt about his temperament. Do you agree?
In the last few years he has strengthened his defence. In the past he used to pounce on the short ball straightaway. He has cut down on that now which is very essential in international cricket and I think him having a control over his shots has helped him score a bit more regularly. It is one of the strengths of any great batsman: if you know what you need to do on a particular wicket it only makes you more confident. I just hope Imran goes playing the same way. He has got the ability, the temperament and the shots. So if he keeps on playing the same way he will be a big asset for Pakistan.

How big a factor was getting advice from seniors like Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal?
I was very lucky in this regard. Not only those two, but every single player including the first-timers had something to say to me all the time. The way they ran around the ground, cheering the fast bowlers, picking their sweaters before passing on to the umpires, chatting all the time and motivating the bowlers created a positive bubble and lifted the team. I asked [Umar] Amin to bowl and he did not hesitate, so the players were ready and willing to do anything.

Was it an instinctive decision or planned out to bowl Amin?
I had told him two days before the Test that he might be asked to bowl if need be. I told the part-timers like Farhat and Azhar to be ready because I know as a batsman it is really distracting to face somebody who is not a regular bowler at a crucial time on a difficult pitch. Yes, the Marcus North example at Lord's where he got me out at the stroke of lunch did play at the back of my mind. But captains, if they have options, are always are willing to take a chance.

So you are not afraid to dare?
If there are doubts then take the most aggressive decision because God helps the brave. My team-mates never say no to anything so I am lucky to have these guys around me.

But Pakistan's fate was scripted by the fast bowlers on the first day when you demolished Australia for 88.
Of course, I cannot deny the importance of the first innings and that was the key to the result. The way Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul bowled was brilliant. Without any doubt I can say that Aamer and Asif are the best pair in the world at the moment. Gul with the old ball is the most dangerous because he bowls the best reverse swing that I've played in recent times. I am a lucky person to have such an armoury and they are Pakistan's trump card in Pakistan's successes in the recent past and for a long time in the future.

But it is a challenge now to preserve these fast bowlers with four back-to-back Tests in the next month?
We will be talking to the bowlers. We have to look after each other. But if somebody is feeling tired, disheartened, or if he feels there is any injury scare he can always come out and speak to me and the seniors. It is not only me, but the seniors and the team management who will sit and decide. It is not only this series but with the World Cup fast approaching we definitely have that, too, at the back of our minds so we will preserve key people but at the same time in the big games - Tests - we need to play our best team and plan accordingly.

Pakistan's batting is still fragile and the batsmen haven't show their real promise. What is the message on the eve of the England series?
Batting is the most difficult job. Let it be a Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam ul Haq or Javed Miandad it only takes one good ball, one bad shot, one bad mistake to get out and sit and watch others. Batsmen do not become great overnight - you have to give them time, you have to back them and keep on backing them and telling them how good they are and how good they possibly can be. We have to be mentally ready for that. We have a good opening partnerships and Azhar and Amin are bright prospects. Then there is Umar Akmal - even if he hasn't yet shown his true potential during the Test series, I have a lot of time for him. If he can bat for two hours he can change the game on his own. The same is the case with his brother Kamran, who has not shown his full potential but hopefully I see them clicking in the England series.

In the past a bad result has led to repercussions for a captain. He gets the blame straightaway. Do you think the positive comeback against Australia might change that?
I don't know what to say. My job is to play the team at hand, and the team they have given me I see ability in them. At the same I keep saying, and insisting, that we need to back the players. It is alright that we have achieved a good victory but there will be tough times ahead and they will make mistakes so me as a captain, we as a unit and nation need to back the players and only then we will see a change.

You have tirelessly said that you are open to the inclusion of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan if the selectors pick them. But are you open to their comeback?
It is not in my domain. It is up to the PCB and the selectors to decide. I have to play the team given to me. As far as I'm concerned nobody has spoken to me as yet about this subject so I can't comment further on this.

Are you going to ask the board on your own?
It totally depends on when they start talking to me. I am not the one who is going to start this conversation because at the moment I am playing with the team given to me.

It is still early to talk about your captaincy. But what are the lessons you learnt from Ricky Ponting?
Firstly, people might think he made a bad decision batting first at Headingley, but it is very rare he has lost a Test match in this fashion. I still praise his confidence. It is a very positive statement he passes on to the other side that whenever he wins the toss he puts himself in to bat. Not often do Australia fold for 88. And it is never easy in the fourth innings for others teams to chase. He is a very bold character and a very productive captain. The way he placed his field on the last day when 40 runs were needed, and the way he mixed attack and defence, it was definitely a good lesson for me. He is a person to learn from and I always admire his skills. He has one of the best units in the world which helps any captain - if you have a good team and people with the ability to win you games you are lucky as a captain. I am lucky, too, with a very good bowling line-up and very promising young batsmen and I hope every player in my unit will rise to the occasion.

Did you get a pat on your back for the Leeds victory?
Justin Langer remarked the youngsters have a good technique and showed very good match temperament. That was very heartening for the youngsters that a great player like him praised them. But then again if they keep on doing well people will praise them. There are no born heroes in this world. You have to do something to make a name for yourself. The more they do well, the more people will recognise them as heroes, and the better role model they will become.

Finally about this series. England will be tough opponents playing in their home conditions. What is the key now?
You can make it as complicated as you can and this includes myself too. I can use words to make it as complicated as I can or I can just say we have to put in the hard work which is more simple and straight. If we play to our potential England will not have an easy ride. So we need to put in 100 percent.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo