Dav Whatmore May 10, 2012

'I'm in exactly the right place today'

Pakistan's new coach is optimistic about his side climbing the rankings, and making sure the best XI is picked for every format no matter what

You were considered the strongest candidate by the Pakistan board. Did you need much convincing or were you always keen?
I had always privately harboured a strong desire to return to international cricket since my last international appointment with Bangladesh [2007]. I went down the path to some degree with the BCCI on two occasions, and once with the PCB, with no joy.

I spoke to Wasim Akram, and he played a part to put me through. Thankfully, I was successful on this occasion after discovering a mutual desire from both sides.

What attracted you to Pakistan?
It is obviously a high-profile role, being that there are only ten Full Member teams offering the opportunity to coach and manage players over an extended period for 12 months of the year, which is in contrast to the role I was fulfilling at the Kolkata Knight Riders. There is no beginning and ending of the season. It's a continuous process.

I relish the challenge of succeeding in an environment where, perhaps, others have not, and to apply my own particular strengths and style to a very capable set of players.

You were in line for a similar role with Pakistan in 2007, but it didn't work out. How disappointed were you at that time?
Very disappointed. I considered myself the strongest candidate at the time, compared to the other applicants. However, somebody upstairs was definitely looking out for me, as it turned out. That's the way it's in life. You can't always get what you want, and life very often isn't fair.

History shows that that particular period for Pakistan cricket was a fairly troubled one, and in retrospect I am glad that decisions went the way they did. I can honestly say I feel that I am in exactly the right place here today.

Was your resignation from the Knight Riders linked to the Pakistan job?
The short answer is yes, and as I mentioned previously, I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now and I am very happy doing what I am doing. In an ideal world I would have started a little sooner, however. Through no fault of my own, I had to endure two months of uncertainty prior to finally signing on March 1.

You were born in Sri Lanka, played for Australia, and coached mainly in Asia. Is it that you are more comfortable coaching and living in Asia or are there simply more opportunities to coach in this region?
Yes, you are right, I am very comfortable coaching and living in this region. I am, after all, a product of this region. I was educated in Australia and I played my cricket there, but I still feel a very strong connection to the subcontinent.

At one stage there was a possibility that I would be involved with Cricket Australia's Centre of Excellence, but as it turned out, there was a timing problem and I was unable to have an interview due to the lack of a suitable panel. Ravi Shastri, who was the chairman of the BCCI's National Cricket Academy at that time, quickly secured my services, and off I went to Bangalore instead.

How challenging is it to work in a different culture?
Working in the subcontinent provides its own unique set of challenges to any coach who takes a role within the region. There are a lot of people who are quick to offer advice on virtually any topic, whether they have experience or expertise or not. This is okay when it is merely a comment, but when it proves too big a distraction, it can become detrimental to a team's performance. That being said, getting more consistency is high on my list of priorities. All the great teams throughout history have excelled in this area, and I firmly believe that without it a team cannot truly achieve the results it is capable of.

What do Pakistan need to be No. 1?
Generally speaking, teams that rise to the top of the rankings tend to perform consistently over an extended period and tend to win series by bigger margins. More wins and wider margins are obviously crucial when it comes to rankings.

"To play at this level you have to have a high level of technical ability, that is true. However, I think it's widely accepted that the real battle at this level is a mental one. Most of these guys know how to play lots of shots but the real test is when to play them, and more importantly, when not to"

Simply put, we have to win more games more often, and where we have the opportunities to create wider margins, we need to capitalise on them, not fritter them away. That is nothing more than consistency in performance to occupy No. 1 and 2 - that is what I am aiming for.

What is more important when working with Pakistan cricketers - technical aspects or mental ones?
To play at this level you have to have a high level of technical ability, that is true. However, I think it's widely accepted that the real battle at this level is a mental one. Most of these guys know how to play lots of shots, but the real test is when to play them, and more importantly, when not to.

You have to have a good understanding of the game, and being able to think properly and execute properly is very important. Consistency starts with each individual being responsible for their own performance and accepting that they play an integral part in the overall result.

Pakistan are currently in a transition period, with a lot of youngsters being tested in every format. Do you feel they are heading in the right direction?
When the team changes at any point, it's really the selectors who make those decisions. Big debates are currently going on regarding using players suited to each separate format, but I think time will tell which way the selectors finally go.

The bottom line is: you need to pick the best XI, no matter what format you are playing. If that happens to contain the same personnel for each format, so be it. But if there are players that excel in a particular format and not in another, it makes sense to pick the strongest team possible.

I feel Pakistan has a wide range of very talented cricketers, some are suited to play all three formats, some are suited to only one format. We will have to see how things progress.

How will you ensure you get the best out of the team?
Every player understands that to get the results we need consistency. But more importantly that each player has to contribute to the process. Each player has to take responsibility for their own contribution.

There will be days where, despite getting good contributions from many players, we still lose. I believe that if a team gets contributions from the majority of the players, be it with the bat, the ball or in the field, that team tends to come out on top. We cannot guarantee that we going to win every game we play, but at the end of the day my job is to help the players achieve as close to their maximum potential as possible. And if we can do this, we will win far more games than we lose.

Do you think Misbah-ul-Haq fits in every format of the game?
Ultimately it's the selectors who will decide whether Misbah is selected for any particular format, but I don't think anybody can dispute that he brings incredible leadership qualities to the party. The players definitely respond to him in a positive way and that can be seen in recent results.

But, as with any selection, it will be about what he contributes to the team. He certainly wants to play all formats of the game. He is fit enough and working extremely hard, but at the end of the day it's a team game. We need to do what is best for the team and it's up the selectors to pick the combination. It's not only Misbah but about every player.

Do you agree that Pakistan rely mainly on their bowling, and that it's only on rare occasions that their batting achieves a victory?
To be honest, I am not sure I agree with that statement. If you ask me, we have strength and ability in all departments. What we need to ensure is that the players are achieving their potential and playing the very best cricket possible. If we do that, we will be successful.

Yes, the ability to chase scores has not been so good and we obviously can improve in a range of areas, but there is no doubt in my mind that we have an extremely talented batting line-up. We have to ensure that they all make a contribution.

Criticism in Pakistan can often be without cricket logic. Does that bother you?
I totally agree. I understand there is a huge interest in cricket in Pakistan, and the country is made up of different states [provinces], each of which will have differing views and interpretations about Pakistan cricket and how it should be played, coached or managed.

My philosophy is to control the controllable. I cannot control what people say about the team, the players or me. What I can control is my contribution to each player, the team and the Pakistan nation as a whole. As long as I am doing the very best I can, I sleep well at night and leave the rumour-mongering and whispering to others.

You are not part of the selection panel. Is that good or a bad thing?
Yes, I do not have a vote in selection. However, it's a two-way street and I do give my comments and views to the selectors. I can honestly say I have a great rapport with all the selectors, including the chief selector. They appreciate my input, as they have to know what I am thinking with regard to overall strategy, and I too listen to what they think.

The key is definitely communication, and we try to speak on a regular basis to avoid the gap so that we are all on the same page. Moving forward, as long as we are able to pick the best XI for those conditions or format, we will get positive results.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent

Comments