Interview: Moin Khan November 27, 2007

'Malik should captain in ODIs, Yousuf in Tests'

Former Pakistan wicketkeeper Moin Khan, now a coach with the Indian Cricket League, talks to Sriram Veera about the problems facing Pakistan cricket.

"Main bhi koi teesmaarkhan nahi tha (I was not such an extraordinary player)," says Moin Khan as he sits down for a chat. He was, though, a passionate cricketer and still holds strong views on Pakistan cricket. Currently in India as the coach of Hyderabad Heroes, a team in the Indian Cricket League (ICL), Moin held forth to Cricinfo on the Pakistan captaincy, foreign and local coaches, Mohammad Yousuf, and of course, Kamran Akmal.

Moin Khan with Azhar Mahmood at an ICL training camp in Hyderabad © AFP

The obvious question first. Should Kamran Akmal be dropped?
I have been saying for some time now that Kamran needs to be "rested". He has been struggling for a long time now. I would blame the selectors. There should be healthy competition, and they had an example in Rashid Latif and me. When Rashid used to play, he knew, Moin is sitting out, and I knew that Rashid is putting pressure on me. The team benefited from that competition. Just to show off to each other, Rashid and I used to do extra practice! But in the end that only benefited the team and us.

If you leave anyone alone, there comes a time when he starts to relax and think there is no one beyond him. It is natural. The selectors should have thought about that, even when Akmal was doing well. They should have kept an understudy and Akmal would have known he couldn't afford to slip. Now it's good, they have Akmal and Sarfraz [Ahmed]. Now both will be extra hungry, and that is crucial.

What is the problem with Akmal, do you think?
Akmal's problems started off in the England series. It's not as if his technique is really bad - he was doing very well in the past. Now a few problems have crept in: he is standing up early, not keeping his eyes on the ball till the last ... you know, the basics. I spoke to him on a couple of occasions in Pakistan. "Look, this is the problem, work hard on it." But playing non-stop cricket doesn't give you the time to work on your technique. I don't like the term "drop" - he was a good wicketkeeper, he just needs to be rested and given time to work on his keeping.

Even his batting has slipped. He has been shoved up and down, all over the order. When you are batting well or keeping well, and your team is winning, you might just get away, but when your one department is affecting the team's chances of winning, then it becomes difficult.

Isn't there the danger of pushing Sarfraz too early into the big league? India has an example in Parthiv Patel.
I don't think he is too young. Nineteen or 20 can be a good age to come into the national team for a keeper. You are young and fit. Even when I came, I was just 19. Of course, I had four years of first-class experience, which was vital. I was dropped few times of course but ended up playing 14 years for Pakistan.

Sarfraz has come through the domestic process. He played the Under-19s in 2005, and he was captain of the World Cup-winning team later ... played a year of first-class. I am confident he will do well. He is quite similar to Akmal, in the sense that he is very confident and aggressive in batting. He plays for my team, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). I have seen him keep very well and also bat well, especially under pressure. Domestic cricket teaches you lots of things - it tests your physical and mental fitness.

See, Akmal is 25, Sarfraz is 20. There is a five-year gap. It would be nice for him to come into the fold now. When one goes, the other will fill in.

Several former Pakistan cricketers have criticised Shoaib Malik's captaincy. How do you rate him?
See, he doesn't have the captaincy experience. He just captained his regional side for some Twenty20 games and suddenly he becomes the captain of the national side. It is going to take time for him to develop. I will never blame him; it happened too suddenly for him.

Shoaib Malik doesn't have the captaincy experience. He just captained his regional side for some Twenty20 games and suddenly he becomes the captain of the national side. It is going to take time for him to develop

The problem lies with the board. They should have groomed a captain. When I used to play for a regional team, we used to get a message from the cricket board - 'Moin ko captaincy karao (let Moin captain). We are looking at him as a captain in the future.' That's what this board should have done. They should have communicated that to the local associations. The board should have planned better. They are the ones who are supposed to show vision.

But isn't that harsh on the board? They were grooming Younis Khan and he went on to reject it.
True. I was very disappointed that he didn't take up the captaincy. For a player, for me, it was the greatest honour to be the captain for my national team. I have never spoken with him on this topic because I was so shocked that he didn't want to take up captaincy. I was very sad.

You were there for three or four years as vice-captain. If you don't want to be the captain, then tell the board you don't want it. He wasted three years during which the board could have groomed someone else. By the time Inzi retired, you would have got a new captain. There must be some problem with the administrators and him and the players. That's why he didn't take it up I guess. But Pakistan cricket suffered in the end.

So Malik is the captain by default. Do you think someone else could have been given the job? Say, Mohammad Yousuf? I would have had Yousuf as the Test captain. Like how India has gone with Kumble and Dhoni. It would have been perfect. The problem with Yousuf for ODIs is his fitness, I think. It's difficult to field him in the circle, as he is not so agile. You can't stand at fine leg and work as a captain. The PCB has probably gone for a player who can fit in all the three forms of the game, and I guess they thought Malik was the best choice. I would have Malik for the ODIs and Yousuf for Tests.

Do you think Yousuf will be bitter about not getting the captaincy? You have played with him. What do you feel?
There will be a natural feeling of disappointment. But Yousuf is a very sensible person. He has been performing really well, and I think his attitude has been perfect. It all depends on how the individual takes it. When I made a comeback in 2003, Inzi was my junior and he was then made captain. I played under him for one year. You have to be realistic and remain professional.

Experts reckon that there is a distinct lack of aggression in this current Pakistan side. The team looks completely different from previous Pakistan teams.
See, the thing is, you don't have players of that quality in this team. Like, in the nineties there was Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aaqib Javed, Mushtaq Ahmed, and more. They were all match-winners. There is only Shoaib [Akhtar] now, and he hardly plays two or three games in a year. So there is no consistent match-winner in the team.

Lost in translation? 'Players are wary of going to the coach as they think they can't understand him anyway' © AFP

If there is a match-winner then everybody supports him and gets inspired by his performance. We used to depend on those match-winners - we knew they could turn the game around anytime. So we used to work hard, support them, constantly keep encouraging. Also, we knew we had to compete with them [the match-winners] and do our job well. Jab shaam ko milna hai ek doosre ko toh chehra toh dikhana hai yaar. (We needed to be able to show our faces to them in the evening.) We needed to have performed as well. This is a very healthy thing.

There are no match-winners now and I guess the other players are lacking that confidence. They are probably focused on their own performances.

What do you think can be done?
In the ODIs [against India] and the series against South Africa, mazaa nahi aa raha tha (there was no fun in it). At times it gets one-sided when you don't see any passion in the field. No one is encouraging, backing each other up. See, the wicketkeeper is the backbone of the team, but he is struggling with his own form and the energy has gone down as a result.

My performance was bad, at times. Main koi bada tees maar khan nahi tha, but even then I used to try and lift the performances of others. If even one player can lift his game and that helps in turning around the game, you have done your job.

What about the coach? How do you rate Geoff Lawson?
From what I have heard from some players, I believe he is okay, average. The coach has to plan strategies, help people in bad form, give them tips, and improve their morale. I think Lawson has had just one coaching assignment, for New South Wales, and hopefully he will improve.

Would you have rather had some other coach - a Pakistani?
See, it's not a patriotic thing. In Pakistan the language problem is a big thing. Players are wary of going to the coach as they think they won't understand him anyway. It's difficult. Let's say there was a Pakistani coach - a player can go up and talk to him.

It also depends on the coach. If he sees the players are shy, then he should go to them and try to sort it out. That's where he is accountable. Bob Woolmer was a very polite person - good, never used to get tense, and a good communicator. He was an Englishman and so his accent was understandable. Lawson is an Aussie and his accent is very difficult. Even some of us, the experienced players, when we meet an Australian, it's pretty difficult to understand!

You know what they say: a foreign coach comes without baggage and so on. The players seem to prefer foreign coaches too.
Players handle the foreign guys well. They think they can relax with a foreign coach. If I am the coach, I would know each and every thing, who needs to do what. No one can escape. I have played in the same climate. The foreign coach, by the time he settles down and gets to know about players, the culture, he is fired!

Players handle foreign coaches well. They think they can relax with a foreign coach. If I am the coach, I would know each and every thing, who needs to do what. I have played in the same climate. The foreign coach, by the time he settles down and gets to know about players, the culture, he is fired!

If my conscience is clear, and you are my coach, I should trust and respect you. Why do players not want a local coach? He'll make them practise more, that's why.

They may also feel a local coach might play politics?
All this politics talk, vendetta talk is rubbish yaar. Who has been blocked out by a local coach? Not politics, I would say just likes and dislikes. Let's say there are six players. You might like all six, and I might like three. You might say, take all six, while I will want to pick three. Because I have played cricket here and I know. And it is based on cricketing reasons, local knowledge. It's not politics.

Who do you have in mind to coach the team? There is Miandad, of course. Then there are Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis. They won't miss the sorts of things that will not be clear to a foreign coach, about what's going on.

Wasn't Waqar the bowling coach briefly?
And how they got rid of him. Can you get anybody better than Wasim and Waqar to coach the bowlers? The board should think of utilising them better. I don't know what their problem is. Ego hassles. When our non-cricket administrators interfere in cricketing matters, then that leads to problems. The selectors should be given an independent rein to do their job.

Let's say you were given the job. What would you do to, say, solve the problem of who should open?
Imran Farhat, Salman Butt, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Nazir - but these boys are not performing consistently. It is difficult to pick a pair. But my point is, the mechanism could be better. They have been used, dropped, picked again and dropped again. There is no settled combination.

When you drop someone, there is a reason for dropping him. Tell him the problem, the areas you want him to work on, and send him to domestic cricket. Tell him to play for two seasons, and take him back only if he performs. Take the in-form domestic players instead of taking the players who keep repeating the same mistakes. The players should be monitored in domestic cricket - how is their attitude, have they changed their game? First-class cricket is very important. You can develop patience, learn how to build a innings. ODIs and Twenty20 have spoiled the technique of these boys. They should be sent to first-class cricket.

Will you take up the job if it is offered to you?
I am new. This ICL is my first international assignment. So I am not mentally prepared to be Pakistan coach now. I would like to go into the academies and help there rather than be a national coach straightaway. If the captain suggests to the board, bring in Moin Khan, then I will go. I need to know that the captain wants me.

Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo