Asif Mujtaba had a 22-year, first-class career in Pakistan and played 25 Tests and 66 ODIs for the national team between 1986 and 1997. After retiring from professional cricket, Mujtaba moved with his family to Texas. He was USA's assistant coach at the 2012 World T20 Qualifier and for the last two years has been the head coach of the Central West Region team at the USACA T20 National Championships in Florida. Mujtaba sat down with ESPNcricinfo in Florida to talk about how he came to settle in the USA, what he thinks about the country's talent base and how USA cricket can improve.
What brought you to the USA?
Just life. I had the option (to decide) where to settle. I came with all my family especially for my kids' education. That's the main reason why I moved here in December 2006. I've been in Plano, Texas the whole time. I had been coming here since 2002, visiting relatives and friends every year, in Plano, Houston and San Francisco. I got my US citizenship in 2010. I had a residence permit since 1996 actually, but I never stayed here permanently.
If I had stayed back at home, I'd be more into cricket, more into professional aspects like coaching, media, commentary. I had a lot of opportunities there. But because of my family I thought it was better to move here. I don't regret it.
What has it been like switching from a career where you are performing in front of thousands of people to leading a fairly anonymous life in a different country?
It's not hard. The person I am, I can adjust myself in any condition. I've never felt or thought, 'Who was I? Who am I?' I do not carry things with me. Whatever the situation is, I go with it. I do cricket coaching for fun. I'm not getting paid anything for it. I want to pass on whatever I have for the betterment of USA cricket. That is the only purpose. It is my passion to keep in touch with cricket. Now I am also doing youth coaching on Saturday and Sunday in Dallas. I still play the T20 league in Dallas because the game starts at 9 am and finishes at 1 pm but I get out in time to coach youth in the afternoon.
What is the standard of cricket like in the areas you've coached and played in Texas?
We have very good talent all around the USA. The thing is we have to get them together to have better execution, placing things together in the right direction. There are good bowlers, good spinners, good batsmen. Everything is there but the guys are all working 9-5 Monday through Friday. It's difficult for them to work five days and you ask them to train and be fit. They hear a USA team is being picked and then they start a bit of training. They aren't used to regular training because they don't have time.
Something has to be put together: a pool of players and give them an incentive to be fit, a bonus or something. There needs to be a plan and structure. With all the talent there is in USA, they should not be playing in Division Three or Four. I have seen the teams in Division Three. USA has more talent but the other teams are very organised. In one year USA will pick one group of players and then the next tournament the team is totally changed. How can you build a team? There's no team chemistry.
You were with the USA team in 2012 as an assistant coach at the World T20 Qualifier in the UAE. You saw the teams USA went up against: Ireland, Scotland, Namibia. What things did you notice in terms of a team like Ireland, where their squad is consistent with paid professionals, vs USA's squad?
USA beat Scotland. That's what I'm talking about in talent. Ireland and Scotland success did not come in one year. I played professional cricket in Scotland from 1989 to 1993. They hired professional cricketers, overseas players in their clubs, and they played against each other and learned from them.… They are playing better cricket because of the structures. Any small kind of sponsorship they get helps and they work within their resources to work for the cricket. Unfortunately that is not happening here and that is a problem.
In that Scotland game, for example, that was the last game of the group stage so they had six games to gel and build chemistry whereas USA lost to a weaker Uganda team in their opening match. How much preparation does the team need before a tournament begins?
You need it to see who does what. Suppose you go for a tournament and you know six months ahead. You need at least three or four weekends bringing the team together, have proper practice, not like a boot camp, but have good practice games and socialize. That will help. Now, they show up to a first game in a tournament and they don't know what will happen if someone gets out. Can the guy behind me perform? The captain might not know and the coach might not even know who can perform. You need to see them in game situations to see how they react and what their mental approach is. You can't select a team based on how they look in the nets. You need to see them under pressure. Those who can sustain pressure in game situations can perform and you can build a team around those players.