'The most demanding job in the world of cricket'
Although this job has been offered to me by default, I'm going to do my damnedest to keep it for a long time. Richard Pybus, a likeable bloke, did a wonderful job in England as well as a clinical operation against Bangladesh in the ATC Test. Unfortunately, due to the present circumstances we have had to say goodbye to him. His perception of the game was shrewd and his heart was in the right place. We should thank him for his role in the development of our national side.
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Secondly, I had been away from home for a while, so did not know the younger players at all. I was therefore totally dependent on the advice of the selectors, which in my view was a serious disadvantage. This time it is different and hopefully will pay dividends.
As a true cricket fan I have always followed the progress of our national side, and for the last nine months I have been associated with the youngsters as the Chief Coach of Pakistan Cricket Academies. My knowledge of the players is therefore infinitely better than it was in 1992-93.
I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with the PCB Academies and to wrench myself away from the project is very painful. Even if I do well with the National team, I would like to stay involved with the academies, as I believe they are a necessary step forward to bring consistency to our cricket. In my absence they will be in the safe hands of my coaches, of whom Ali Zia and Mohsin Kamal are outstanding.
The team is off to Sharjah for a tri-nation tournament. Apart from a single Test against Bangladesh, the players have been relatively inactive since their return from England last summer. The other teams in the tournament have been involved in regular international cricket, which is an advantage. However, all the Pakistan squad members have been playing in domestic cricket this year, and attended our training camp fit and ready. We have won more trophies in Sharjah than anywhere else in the world. The pitch there was the brainchild of a Pakistani curator, Mohammad Bashir, and it has always behaved like the pitch at Gadaffi Stadium. Like most pitches in Pakistan it is rather benign and batsman-friendly.
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Sri Lanka are a brilliant outfit in one-day cricket, but are often caught out in Test matches because they lack quality bowlers apart from Muralitharan. A few years ago, their school cricket was the best organised in the world. Sadly, this has declined, but things have moved on in other ways. Nowadays they rely on modern coaches from all over the world, armed with the latest hi-tech equipment. The renowned South African, Barry Richards, is soon to join their ranks and help them towards their destiny.
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We have a balanced squad, although I would have felt more comfortable with Saqlain Mushtaq, who is missing the trip for family reasons. He is a quality performer and we are bound to miss him. Wasim and Waqar will again spearhead the attack, and fingers are crossed that Shoaib Akhtar will come through this tour unscathed. He is looking fitter after playing in domestic cricket this season. I am sure that after a couple of games he will feel more comfortable, and ready to explode on the cricket scene once again.
It's a pity Inzamam will miss the first two games, but it gives us a chance to try out a youngster in his place. Once in his stride, Naved Latif can be a treat to watch. Saeed Anwar has always been at his best in Sharjah, and Shahid Afridi must be dreaming about playing on this benign pitch (if he can control his aggression). Youhana and Younis add stability to the middle order, with the all-rounders to follow. I feel if we play to our strengths and have a little luck, we should come home with another trophy. Let's hope I get off to a good start!