'I've already seen some ordinary players graduate to brilliant ones'
I was neither hurt nor amused by this development, as I've seen many such moves in my career. Please remember, I am a son of a former Test cricketer. My father was very popular and much loved by the cricketing fraternity but at times he too, was a victim of our system.
Imran Khan, my old captain and friend, has always been extremely vocal about my ability to enhance the performance of our national team. While I am honoured and humbled by his estimation, I was daunted at the enormity of the task before taking charge of Pakistan cricket academies.
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Pay was poor compared to my earnings in England but I was attracted and flattered by the offer to serve Pakistan cricket again. During my stay I had meetings with past and current players like Imran Khan, Rameez Raja, Wasim Akram and Ijaz Ahmed, asking for their frank view. They were unanimous in saying if I really wanted to make a difference, then I should take up the academies and forget about the contentious job of coaching the Pakistan cricket team.
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I have to admit that after looking at the available talent, I was mystified. Like most of you, I had been brought up on the notion that there is an abundance of talent in Pakistan. Well, I was in for a hell of a shock. I didn't see any real talent in the major cities of Pakistan, so I had to look elsewhere and it was pure relief as well as a pleasure. I found that the budding cricketers living away from major centres were more earnest and ready to strive for better things.
We set up six cricket academies in Pakistan and after a couple of months of hard work and sheer dedication on the part of my coaches and the players, things started to improve and the tension inside me eased. Players in the academies were totally committed and loved this new scientific approach to the game.
We did not run them into the ground as used to happen to all of us, in the various cricket camps I had attended during my playing career. They quickly realised this is a scheme designed to look after them and make them better players.
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All players selected for academies attended special lectures given by various former Test players on the different elements of the game.
Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad, Iqbal Qasim, Haroon Rashid, Nazir Jr, Shafiq Papa, Ashraf Ali and many other Test cricketers gave their valuable time for this worthy cause in enlightening our students with lectures on different cricket subjects. It reminded me of the days when I was a BCCP colt and taught the rudiments of the game by people like Kardar, Fazal, Imtiaz and some other notable cricketers of the past.
Khizar Hayat delivered two outstanding lectures on the laws of the game and more importantly, on player behaviour. Amir Siddique spoke to the players on their mental toughness, as did all our National and regional coaches.
Gen Tauqir Zia also addressed the players on what is expected of them, and encouraging them to make the most of this rare opportunity.
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There is also talent emerging from the Under-19 setup. I am hopeful we will give a good account of ourselves in the Junior World Cup in 2002.
Najaf Shah, Salman Butt, Azhar Ali and Azam Khan will emerge as Test players if they continue to work hard and progress. There are many other players who have improved by leaps and bounds and hopefully, will soon catch up with the ones mentioned above.
Due to poor planning and weak infrastructure, Pakistan cricket has not developed as well as it should have. It was necessary to provide a stimulus to our cricket by opening up these academies. The present cricket management has taken a bold step and deserves praise and encouragement to continue. I hope Pakistan cricket fans will keep faith in this project and have the patience to wait for the result, as it's a long and a winding road. I have already seen some ordinary players graduate to brilliant ones. What's more important is we've only been at work for about five months.
The clear improvement within the academies has given me a new lease of life. As a supporter and lover of Pakistan cricket, I can see them growing from strength to strength, providing we stay on course.
I'd like to thank Gen Tauqir, Brig Rana, Rameez Raja and the rest of PCB staff for their unstinting support.
Gen Tauqir deserves special mention for this development and I would single him out for the success of the project. He alone has had the courage to take this step where past cricket boards have failed. He could have spent dormant PCB funds elsewhere but prudently chose to do so for the long-term benefit of our cricket. If you think I've gone overboard in praising him, I'm afraid it's only the gospel I am preaching! Remember, this is the gent who threw me out!
In the end, I would like to thank all our National and Regional coaches. They were outstanding in their efforts, and right behind me.
The implementation of this programme would not have been possible without the brilliance of Ali Zia and Mohsin Kamal. In fact, without them, I doubt whether it would even have started.
Let's hope we can come up to everybody's expectations and take Pakistan cricket to the top, where it belongs.
Chief Coach/Cricket Analyst
National/Regional Cricket Academies
[Editorial Note: This is the first in a weekly series of articles by Mudassar Nazar]