October 17, 2001

'I've already seen some ordinary players graduate to brilliant ones'

Nirala Sweets
For years, my name was associated as a player with the Pakistan cricket team but more recently as the next coach. To deny I wanted to be coach of our national side would be telling you a white lie. To put the record straight, apart from a few approaches over the years by the various Pakistan cricket boards, I was neither approached not consulted about the job. In fact, my present employer's first action was to kick me out even before I'd taken charge of the Pakistan team.

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.

Mudassar Nazar
Mudassar Nazar
Photo © CricInfo
Many months ago, I received a phone call from the PCB Chairman, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, who knew I was coming to Pakistan from England to celebrate Eid with my mother and family. He invited me for a chat while I was in Lahore. We met up in Mangla and he threw down the gauntlet of coach of Pakistan Cricket Academy.

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.

Mohsin Kamal
Mohsin Kamal
Photo © CricInfo
After a lot of soul searching, I agreed to take the job with the help of Ali Zia and Mohsin Kamal. We presented our syllabus to the PCB. With some trepidation, we kicked off in May. We felt all eyes were on us since the Australian Cricket Academy has helped Australia build a formidable team.

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.

Ali Zia
Ali Zia
Photo © CricInfo
Dr Tauseef, who also helped players with their weight training and swimming, gave them a diet programme for the first time in their life. To begin with it was difficult for the players to adjust to a different kind of food. There were some complaints but soon it was business as usual and it made them fitter and stronger. Dr Meesaq looked after prevention of injuries and conducted the aerobic and anaerobic exercise regimens. Dr Sohail was with the National Under-19 team at Lahore and although there were three doctors with the National Academy, he looked after the Under-19 camp on his own. Dr Riaz was just fantastic, working tirelessly to coordinate with the doctors' panel and making everything run smoothly with the National and Regional Academies. All gave lectures to the six academies on sports medicine.

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.

Dr Sohail
Dr Sohail
Photo © CricInfo
During this period we took Pakistan 'A' team to Sri Lanka and returned home victorious. I'm reliably informed, it's the first time such a feat has been achieved and if I am being honest, we should have returned home clear winners rather than marginal ones. We should organise lots of tours at this level to give our players more exposure at an early age. In Sri Lanka, Danish Kaneria, Hasan Raza and Irfan Fazil were absolutely brilliant, performed consistently and at times were dynamic. After the tour we were able to work with the players on one-to-one basis.

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.

Mudassar Nazar
Chief Coach/Cricket Analyst
National/Regional Cricket Academies

[Editorial Note: This is the first in a weekly series of articles by Mudassar Nazar]