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Pakistan players share views and apprehensions in meeting with Ramiz Raja

Insecurity over selection and doubts over the consistent application of fitness standards were among the topics discussed

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Pakistan await the third umpire's decision, England vs Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Edgbaston, July 13, 2021

Pakistan's players feel fearless cricket is only possible if the board and management create an environment conducive to it  •  Getty Images

Ramiz Raja may not yet be the PCB chairman - he has a few days to go before he is officially "elected" - but he's already taking a hands-on approach to the role, having already met the national team and let them know the kind of cricket he wants them to play. His imminent arrival has coincided with the departures of the coaching team of Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis, and Ramiz intends to - as he told ESPNcricinfo - "redo Pakistan cricket GPS and be in pursuit of excellence."
Ramiz is already a member of the Board of Governors (BoG) and it was in that capacity, the PCB pointed out, that he called the Pakistan team to the High Performance Center at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, on Tuesday for an agenda-setting talk. No BoG member has done this before, though, and Ramiz isn't chairman officially until September 13. The entitlement to get involved is on the basis of being directly nominated by Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister as well as the PCB's patron-in-chief.
The meeting with players went over some broad expectations, which one player explained wasn't something they hadn't heard before. ESPNcricinfo understands Ramiz was keen to impress on the players the need to play "fearless cricket", even using the "ghabraana nahin hai (you must not worry)" expression that has become synonymous with the prime minister (who said it when addressing the country during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic), as well as ensuring the team has every resource available to play modern cricket.
The players did not just listen, however, and shared with Ramiz their own views and apprehensions.
Be fearless … but how?
Ramiz urged players to play fearless cricket using England and India as specific examples, but the players questioned the lack of support to that end by the board and management. One of the more resonant points made was that players are constantly in fear of being dropped after just a couple of bad games, which breeds insecurity. The point being made was that playing fearless cricket doesn't just require the players to be so, it requires fearlessness from the board and management. "Its not like the previous management didn't tell us to be fearless and we didn't want to but there is always a difference in saying and actually making it possible," one player said. "It's not just players but the entire system has to be fearless to make it work."
"This isn't the first time we are hearing this," one player said. The player said even Misbah had come with the same mindset but often ignored the circumstances and conditions of the game when expecting it. "If we have to be fearless in going for 350 in an ODI," one player said, "there is a possibility that we someday may end up 160 all out or 200 all out. But is the board is ready to give us that room to be fearless? Because without the support and backing from the board and management adapting to this modernity won't be possible."
Double (fitness) standards
One of the points made by a senior player in the side was about the management compromising on fitness standards with certain players, having earlier said there would be no compromise. The examples of Azam Khan and Sharjeel Khan were used in this case, the player saying that the entire team had worked hard to adhere to certain strict standards, and that it was a prerequisite for domestic and national selection, and yet these two were picked while adhering to a different standard. This had created uncertainty and doubt in the dressing room about the messaging coming through on fitness.
A foreign coach or a local one?
One of the points raised by the players was the attitude of local coaches and in particular how "judgemental" they are. The players carry a constant sense that a local coach will use their weaknesses against them rather than working with them to rectify it. The communication with coaches about that problem then becomes a reason for players to be axed, according to one player, which further inhibits talking to them about it.
Handing media pressure
The inability of the board and team management to handle media pressure, one player said, was a source of insecurity within the team, and that this media pressure largely drives selection. He said the pressure felt by the team management often gets transferred down to the players. If someone posts a stat about a player - often without the context of match situation or conditions - on social media, he added, it begins to influence the way the management thinks about that player, and makes the player doubt himself.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent