Wasim Akram July 14, 2011

'I'm fed up with the attitude of the senior players'

Why does Pakistan cricket go off the rails as often as it does? Wasim Akram thinks it's not just the administration that's at fault

Who should ultimately take responsibility for the fact that the Pakistan cricket team is often riddled with infighting?
The cricket board and the team management. If you can't handle players, you have no business being in the cricket board. It's simple. You announce the captain and then you back that captain. There's no point announcing a captain for one series, because then the vice-captain will make sure he's got his own bunch ready. Instead of waiting for their turn, they want their turn. That's a problem. Naming a captain for one series means that everyone thinks they have a chance if the current captain fails or the team fails. So what we need is a strong captain who can be there for at least a year to start off, and then see how it goes.

Did the PCB miss a beat, then, by not backing Younis Khan after he led Pakistan to the World Twenty20 title?
Younis is such a nice guy and a gentleman. But resigning twice from the captaincy of Pakistan is also not right. Being the leader you can't get upset about small things. You need to address the problems you face, not run away from them. That's what Younis has been doing, and now that's what Afridi did. Twice he retired, twice he came back, jumping the gun without thinking of what happens tomorrow.

Afridi came back to Pakistan with big hoopla, lifted on people's shoulders, saying he was going to fight back. And what happens? He goes to the committee - and he should have gone to the committee hearing the first time, but didn't go. Then he gets fined and everything is hunky dory now. So this kind of behaviour causes us to lose respect among the world's cricketers. Constantly retiring and coming back from retirement is not a joke. I'm also fed up with the attitude of some of the senior players. There's a saying in Urdu, "Taali do haath se bajti hai" (in essence: "It takes two to tango"), so if the players do these things then the cricket board will be annoyed too.

If Misbah-ul-Haq is now captain, let him be captain as long he wants to play.

Some of Pakistan's best players, like Abdul Razzaq, seem to have lost their way. When you were his captain he looked poised to become one of the game's great allrounders. Whose fault is it that a player like him never reached his true potential?
I think the responsibility lies with the players. They had people to look up to and learn from, not just me but Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq. And they did learn, but they didn't follow through. The goals were not there - the idea that "I will become the world's best allrounder", like Jacques Kallis had. Razzaq had all that talent, but he wasn't strong mentally.

The same goes for Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib's retired and now no one talks about him. If people do talk about him, they say he was one of the quickest, never that he was one of the greatest. There's a difference. So I would say that these players had all the talent but their goals weren't big enough. That's what I think. Even Afridi, his batting could have been devastating.

Speaking of Afridi, were you surprised that there's been talk of an issue between him and the coach Waqar Younis?
Not at all. It was a matter of time. The problem in Pakistan is that the coach wants power. Why does a coach need power? He's there to coach the team and support and assist the captain. He can't be above the captain. Prime example: Gary Kirsten was the coach of India for three years. I hardly saw him on television. He was never in the forefront. He was always behind the scenes, and that's how coaches should be. I don't understand why a coach wants power when it's the captain who has to do battle on the field, and it's the job of the coach and the vice-captain to support the captain. We don't have that mentality. I really don't understand why the coach needs a say in the composition of the playing XI.

"Constantly retiring and coming back from retirement is not a joke. I'm fed up with the attitude of some of the senior players. There's a saying in Urdu, "Taali do haath se bajti hai", so if the players do these things then the cricket board will be annoyed too"

I'm coaching in the IPL and I'm there to support the captain. If the captain says I want A, B or C, that's what he'll get. Obviously if I'm asked for advice I'll tell the skipper what I think is the difference between two players. If he still thinks that player A is better suited than player B for a particular game, then I support that decision. That's what coaches should do in Pakistan as well.

What are your impressions of cricket in Canada?
The interest in cricket is immense. I was in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, and I've seen some talent. Obviously you can't teach it all in half an hour. The idea is for it to be something long term, and I hope to be back in Canada to follow up on what I've told the young guys. I think there should be regular sessions here, not one-offs, if one is trying to help cricket. The Royal Bank of Canada [RBC] has taken the initiative to do this and I hope that they continue calling on top players to come and have a look [at Canadian talent] and guide them how to train and compete at the highest level.

How does raw Canadian talent stack up against that of a Test-playing country?
The talent exists. The problem here is that there's no stress on fielding. The grounds are very heavy, the wickets are matting. If cricket is to grow here, the infrastructure has to improve. I'm encouraged by the level of interest here. There are so many teams, so many leagues. But what brings it down for me is the politics that I've been hearing about from people all around.

Are there some things that you just can't teach a player - either they've got it or they don't?
No, you can actually teach a cricketer between the ages of, say, 18 and 28. These guys can learn, but they need guidance. Somebody has to tell them what needs to be done and how to do it. How much they should exercise, how much they should bowl. You can't bowl for 15 minutes on Saturday and Sunday and improve your bowling. You need to bowl at least five days a week to improve.

You've been generous in helping fast bowlers around the world with advice, be it Irfan Pathan or Mitchell Johnson. What is the reaction in Pakistan to that?
I owe this much to cricket. If any youngster comes up to me and asks me for advice, I have to give it. I can't say, "Sorry, you're not Pakistani." For me every cricketer is from one fraternity.

Turning to Pakistani talent, you recommended Junaid Khan to your former county, Lancashire. What do you see in him?
Junaid is talented. He's one of the highest wicket-takers in domestic cricket. He bowls an away-swinger to right-handers, but he's a left-armer. He just needs to bring the ball back in to the right-hander and he'll be as lethal as any bowler in the world. I'm looking forward to seeing him bowl when I'm in Manchester and having a talk with Mike Watkinson, the director of cricket at Lancashire, about Junaid's progress.

You must have been very disappointed about Mohammad Amir's career going off the rails?
Yes, very disappointed. What a talent. He was just starting to become an incredible bowler, someone who can bat, and a tremendous fielder. He had both swing and reverse-swing, he had pace. It's very disheartening to not see such a talent playing cricket right now.

Do you think he can come back if he's out for five years?
I hope so. He's only 19 or 20 years old. He should come back. Everybody makes mistakes. He was very young and he did get punished for it. Once he finishes his ban we should have him in first-class cricket straightaway and then into the Pakistan team. It will show that, yes, he made a mistake, he was punished, and he has been forgiven. We have to then move on. It will be tough for Amir, but knowing him, he'll practise every day.

When you joined the Kolkata Knight Riders, Pakistan had just won the World Twenty20 title. How did you feel that there weren't any Pakistanis playing in the IPL?
I was disappointed. They were the world champions and there were some very good players in that Pakistan side. I think eventually the IPL has to have them back, because these guys are really good. We have two or three players who are excellent for the format. Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, Umar Akmal, Afridi - these are all game-changers. It's not about being Pakistani - just as a cricketer I'd want to see these guys because they can make a difference to any team. Afridi has shown it for Hampshire, that he's still a lethal player.

Leaving aside the matter of financial benefit to the players, is T20 good for cricket?
T20 should be taken as entertainment. You can't pick up a player's quality from it. That has to come from Test cricket. The aim for players should be to play Test cricket, not just T20. If you're good at Test cricket, every other format will follow automatically. That's what we have to instill in youngsters coming in. The IPL is new and everyone is learning, even owners and administrators. They need players for the long run, not just for T20. They know that eventually they need players to play for India. If you play for your country after a good IPL performance then it shows that the IPL is the top private tournament in the world.

How has the IPL experience been for you personally?
It's been exceptional for me, especially the team I'm working with. The captain, Gautam Gambhir, and the coach, Dav Whatmore, have been very professional and very thorough, and the owner of the team Shah Rukh Khan has been exceptional as far as his leadership is concerned. He knows cricket but he stays quiet, letting the specialists handle what's their forte. So if anything comes up in marketing, he'll handle that, but if it's cricket, then he leaves it up to Gautam, Dav and myself. I believe that's why the team has really gelled well this year. I'm really enjoying myself. This year was incredible fun. We've got players like Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Brett Lee, Ryan ten Doeschate, Shakib Al Hasan. These guys were incredible. For me it felt like I was coaching a national team - the players were so together and so eager to win. When that happens in any team, it's a great sign and always fun.

Wasim Akram was in Canada recently to help promote cricket under the auspices of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures

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