Mohammad Hafeez May 30, 2012

'Captaincy is leadership, not age'

Pakistan's new Twenty20 captain looks forward to the challenge of leading his side in Sri Lanka, and talks about what he hopes to bring to the role

How did your team-mates come to call you "professor"?
They started calling me "professor" as a joke because I give a lot of feedback, and it was Ramiz [Raja] bhai who spread it in the media. My family and friends call me Chanda [moon].

What sort of feedback?
I actually get involved in planning the team. I do a lot of calculations and assessments about the team and its position, and I'm blunt about sharing it.

You were recently appointed Pakistan's Twenty20 captain. What does it mean to you?
Representing Pakistan at the national level is a big honour, for which I have a high regard, and being a captain of the side is the highest level you achieve as a cricketer. It's a privilege and I am thankful to the PCB for honouring me and trusting me. As a player I have earned a lot of respect. Now it's time to gain more respect as a captain.

As a player you own your performance, but as a captain you are responsible for the whole team's performance. You have to be on your toes all the time. For me it means a lot as it's about respect, and now it's important for me to get results in the field.

What is your philosophy for leading Pakistan? How are you going to follow on from Misbah-ul-Haq?
Every captain has his own ideas and approach in executing plans. I too have plans; there is no set pattern and formulae captains follow. My idea might be a little different, but whatever it is will be with the consensus of the team management.

The basics are to give all players the required confidence, as I believe no player can give you 100% until he isn't given the confidence he needs. I know each selected player is talented and has a role to play. I will create a comfortable atmosphere where every player will feel confident. The rest is my responsibility, to get the best out of these boys in the field.

Players generally have to face a lot of criticism for bad performances, and as captain there is added pressure
Pakistan is a cricket-loving country and people get too emotional, mainly because the expectations are very high. I think there is a need to understand the sport and its components. It's a game in which you can't maintain a straight winning graph because you can't have the same day every day.

Criticism is good and healthy if it has logic, and critics should understand that no sportsman in the world can guarantee a victory on every day he plays. In our country people only expect the best, but sometimes you play extraordinarily and sometimes plans won't work.

What would you have done if you weren't a cricketer?
I could have been an engineer. I did my FSC [higher secondary] from Sargodha College and always wanted to be an engineer, but instead I got involved in cricket and opted to do a Bachelor of Arts.

You weren't able to hold down your place in the national side in your first seven years. What have you done differently since?
You can't succeed until you learn from your mistakes. There are good and bad experiences, and this process never ends. You shouldn't lose hope, and I strongly believe you can achieve anything through hard work. There is always a right time for everything. I agree that in those seven years I wasn't able to make an impact but I worked hard to come back.

Do you agree that captaincy is best given to players after 30, when they are more mature?
I don't agree. It's not about your age, it's about leadership qualities. Any player who understands cricket, has ideas, and good man-management skills, can be a captain. Also, it's not important that every good player can be a captain because the qualities vary from player to player.

How confident are you about captaining the side?
This is not the first time I am going to lead a side. I have been captaining at the regional level, departmental level, and the Pakistan A team, though it's different at this level. But then I know most of the players and have been playing with them over the years. I am optimistic about my captaincy and aim to become a better player and contribute in winning games. I understand I have additional responsibilities. I have to maintain a balance.

Are you satisfied with the squad selected for the two Twenty20s in Sri Lanka?
You always require the best line-up to play and the balance of the XI is important. Yes, I have been given a good combination. The best part of the team is that each player is talented and has a well-defined role. That will reduce my effort to redefine their role. We have a set combination and only need minor adjustments depending on the conditions.

"Players like Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul and Umar Akmal are my best men in the side, who have been performing well for years in the format"

Players like Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul and Umar Akmal are my best men in the side, who have been performing well for years in the format. This will only help me.

What does Twenty20 cricket mean to you?
To be very honest, I am a big fan of Test cricket. It has a grace that attracts me. I really enjoy playing it because it requires a great deal of skill. I feel privileged to play this format because it lets you feel you are at the top of your profession.

Twenty20 cricket is entertainment, with more commercial values. It's short and fast and pulls in the crowds. I enjoy playing it. It keeps you on your toes; you have to be quick and move with the flow. You have to keep switching your plans, as the game changes with every ball.

What do you expect from Sri Lanka?
Both teams will be facing tough competition. We will be wary about the fact that Sri Lanka are always tough in their home conditions, but they are not invincible. We have a good record against them in recent times. They might have experienced players, who must be warmed up after playing in the IPL, but we have kept ourselves in perfect shape too, training and practising hard in hot conditions for the last month.

You are 31. You started playing international cricket about ten years back. How long do you want to play?
I don't want to make a precise statement here but I can tell you I will walk away when I'm no longer useful. I understand every player has to go one day, but I am currently enjoying playing cricket and have maintained a good fitness level. I haven't given a thought to how long I will play but I will continue till my form and fitness favour me.

You made a statement recently that the IPL was a missed opportunity for Pakistan players.
I was comparing the Pakistan team to the rest of the world. Most of the players, including those from Sri Lanka, played in the IPL under intense scenarios, which is good from a practising point of view.

Yes, there is an opportunity because once you go there you become a better professional. And the more cricket you play, the more your chances of improving. I never meant to say I miss it generally, but at the end we had to play matches here as part of practice ahead of the Sri Lanka series.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent