Pakistan v New Zealand 2014-15 December 12, 2014

Waqar's productive second coming

Chandresh Narayanan
Waqar's second stint as Pakistan's head coach has been more enjoyable, thanks to his players showing more responsibility and the chemistry he shares with his support staff

"There is a lot of belief in the dressing room that we can be the best team in the world" © AFP

Three years ago Waqar Younis quit his job rather abruptly. What had promised to be a repeat of his glittering cricketing career ended because of health and personal reasons. He slipped back into the commentary box and watched the Pakistan side perform from afar.

Three years later, Pakistan's head coach job fell vacant yet again. This time Waqar was tempted to throw his hat in the ring again, for another crack at what had been a "difficult gig" in his first stint.

A young family and time spent away from them weighed on his mind, but he chose to take the job up after due thought. Today, as he looks back on his decision to return to the role in July 2014, it all seems worth it to him.

"Look it's very joyful, it's very hard also at times, because you're away from family all the time. It's not easy not only for the boys but also for the coaches," Waqar says. "It takes a lot out of you. The families deserve a lot of applause because it's an immense sacrifice."

In a lot of ways, nothing much has changed in terms of the personnel Waqar has had to work with. The same two captains - Misbah-ul-Haq (Test and ODI) and Shahid Afridi (T20) are still in operation, like during in previous tenure. The core of the senior players, minus Shoaib Akhtar, is still around.

But Waqar has sensed a change - a shift in the approach of the players, in that the side appeared to be ready for more responsibility, and therefore have been able to grow together. "There is a lot of belief in the dressing room that we can be the best team in the world," he says.

The mantra during this second tenure has been about keeping things simple. Aiding him in this effort are two former Test players - former Zimbabwe batsman Grant Flower as batting coach and former Pakistan team-mate Mushtaq Ahmed as spin bowling coach.

The three have played a lot with and against each other, which has helped in developing a good understanding among the backroom staff. Waqar credits Flower and Mushtaq with helping create the ideal dressing-room atmosphere.

Flower in particular has gained immense praise from the batsmen, especially after the side stood up to Australia in the two-Test series in the UAE. "He will probably say, if you ask him at 1 o'clock in the morning, 'Let's go for throwdowns' or 'Talk to me.' He will always be ready. I think that brings that respect factor," says Waqar.

Mushtaq was a vital member of the great Pakistan bowling attack of the 1990s. His stint in county cricket and the England side as spin bowling coach have given him immense experience. He is the ideas man the head coach leans on at crucial times: "He brings a lot to the team. He offers a lot of energy," says Waqar.

But the key men in Waqar's second stint as head coach are the captains, Misbah and Afridi. You cannot get two more different characters to deal with. Misbah, firm and calm, has emerged as Pakistan's most successful Test captain. Afridi on the other hand is the more expressive, aggressive individual, and a showman.

Waqar is finding the challenge interesting, but four years after he first worked with the pair, he says he is still learning to deal with their different personalities.

He picked up some clues about man management when he first worked in a coaching role with the side, as bowling coach under the head coach at the time, Bob Woolmer, in 2006. Waqar spent time observing Woolmer's approach in dealing with the multifaceted Pakistan side under Inzamam-ul-Haq.

When he later took charge as head coach, he tried to put the lessons to use, but the spot-fixing controversy proved to be a major blip in that first spell, in 2010-11.

Three years later, Waqar says he has come a long way from those troubled times, and he now hopes to be third-time lucky in a Pakistan coaching role.

The goal this time is much more long-term. "This World Cup is of course key, but after that you have to really start building the team again," says Waqar.