“I have completed my tenure as bowling coach with dignity and pride” : Azhar Mahmood

By Azhar Mahmood (10th August, 2019)

I have completed my tenure as bowling coach for Pakistan with dignity and pride

It’s interesting and disappointing at the same time to see media reports of my departure from the role of bowling coach for Pakistan being described as ‘sacking’ when the truth is simply that I was initially hired by the PCB for a two-year contract which was recently extended up to the World Cup and that contract has reached its natural conclusion. A further extension to the contract would have taken place based upon mutual understanding but as we know, the PCB for their own reasons have decided not to extend the contract which is their prerogative. To be clear, I have completed my tenure with dignity and pride. Whilst the decision to not renew the contract is PCB’s alone, there is understandably some disappointment on my side for their decision, especially as I felt that we were all working really well with the team towards preparations for the ICC T20 World Cup in 2020. In addition, we had made some good progress with the Pakistan side in all formats so to see all that not taken into account by the PCB does leave me a little sad.

I was never given a chance to make a representation in front of PCB’s Cricket Committee

The actual decision to not renew the contracts was taken by the PCB Cricket Committee. From what I understand, the committee spoke with Sarfaraz Ahmed and Mickey Arthur and allowed them to make their representations, but I was never called up to offer my point of view regarding the detailed technical report which I sent of my own accord to PCB MD Wasim Khan and the Cricket Committee after the end of the World Cup. In this report, I had described the technical work done with our bowlers and offered recommendations. It would only have been fair that I should have been cross-questioned on the contents of that report and on my views, in the same way Mickey Arthur was when it comes to how the team has performed in recent times.

I could only work with players that were provided by the Selection Committee

I have heard a lot of unfair and uncalled for criticism levelled at myself which seems to imply that our bowling has been at its worst during my tenure as bowling coach. Whilst it is easy to point fingers at the bowling coach, let’s be clear about the fact that I could only work with players that the selection committee provided to me and I have no say in that choice of players. If we look back at the players handed to me at the start of my stint, we had Wahab Riaz who had a huge issue with no-balls where he had bowled no less than 90 no-balls in one year alone. But I am proud to say that this problem was sorted out during my tenure as was his issue of inability to bring the ball back into the batsman. Even during the time when Wahab was not part of the Pakistan side, he was continuously in touch with me to work on his problems and that did pay off with inclusion in the 2019 World Cup squad. Pakistan also had a problem with extras where almost 30-40 runs in extras were being conceded in most games, and once again, this issue was sorted by my persistence.

Our critics should open their eyes and check the statistics of bowlers during my tenure

Looking at the bowlers that I worked with, you will note that most of them were very young and inexperienced at the international as well as the domestic level and I helped them transform them into excellent prospects for Pakistan. Take the example of Hasan Ali who came in very young and then became the number one bowler in ODIs. Of course, nowadays, his form has taken a downward turn at the moment. Now, a bowler’s form can drop from time to time but if one is to look at his overall statistical record, he isn’t that far away from the current number one ranked bowler, Jasprit Bumrah. And whilst it is true that Yasir Shah is a leg-spin bowler, I worked a lot on his technical and mental aspects and helped him improve so much in Test matches. What is painful for me is to listen to criticism about my efforts on the field with our bowlers by people who have no interest to learn the truth and understand what work I have put in. I for one can see the results of my labour with these bowlers and I would also recommend that critics open their eyes and look at the statistics of these players before commenting on my performance with the side.

Many positive for Pakistan during my tenure as Pakistan Bowling Coach

Obviously one of the greatest highlights of my tenure was our victory in the Champions Trophy in 2017 but our memorable Test series victory in the Caribbean also stands out as a huge achievement during my time with Pakistan side. The fact that we reached the number one position in ICC’s T20I rankings is also an achievement no one can deny but what makes me really proud in terms of my responsibilities as bowling coach is the how well our bowling resources have progressed. If we look at the period preceding my appointment as bowling coach which was between 2012-2015, only once did a bowler take a 5fer in ODIs and that was Sohail Khan during the 2015 World Cup game against India. In contrast during my tenure, from 2016 to 2019, our bowlers achieved 5-wicket hauls on 7 occasions. Hasan Ali reached these milestones 3 times, Mohammad Amir once, and we all know about that special spell during the World Cup when Shaheen Shah Afridi took 6 wickets. On top of that, we have the likes of Usman Khan Shinwari and Afridi who took 4-wicket hauls four times during ODI games for Pakistan.

Our current domestic structure to blame for lack of pace in fast-bowlers

There is some strange perception that the fast-bowlers’ pace has fallen during my coaching tenure which is laughable to the say the least. The reason for this is not because of my coaching but due to the domestic structure we have. If you look at the case of Shaheen Shah Afridi who had come to us from the Under-19 system, you will see that his body simply cannot take the workload so inevitably his pace has suffered over time. Where he was used to bowling ten overs in One-Day format, he is now having to bowl twenty to twenty-five overs per innings in a Test and he is struggling. But all that had started to improve once he came under our care as his fitness and conditioning also took a turn for the better. This is a similar problem that was faced by the likes of Mohammad Imran Khan and Sohail Khan as well. Both of these bowlers and others too, were used to playing matches in domestic cricket where teams got bowled out in 60 overs and a second or third spell was a rarity. So, coming to international cricket where a Test innings could easily last 90 overs or more, was a huge issue for such bowlers and their pace was affected by this.

Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi both came to the fore during my tenure

If we look at the Hasan Ali’s ODI record, we will see that all of his 53 games so far have been played during my time as bowling coach. And if we look at Shaheen Shah Afridi’s ODI career, all of his 19 games have been played during his time with us. Usman Khan Shinwari who in my view was hard done by the selection committee has 28 wickets in 15 ODI games. So, for those looking to castigate me as the destroyer of Pakistan’s bowling attack, I will respectfully submit that I am the one who has developed excellent new bowlers for the side who will serve the country in the future.

Despite poor match results, our bowlers have always performed well

It is unfortunate that the majority of the bowlers being provided to the national side are coming in on the basis of Twenty20 cricket which also explains why we are the top team in T20Is. Regardless of that, we are still doing well in ODIs and our bowling in Tests, despite the match results has not been that bad. Once again, our bowlers have received some unfair criticism in ODIs but if you look at the completed games of our recent ODI series against World Cup winners England, they made 1424 runs against us but we also made 1356 runs which is a difference of just 68 runs. These are types of facts that some members of our media do not pay any attention to and are also ignored by every Tom, Dick and Harry who sits on a TV show to analyse Pakistan cricket.

Pakistan bowlers under my supervision have been more consistent

It was during my tenure that Imad Wasim became the number one ranked T20I bowler in ICC rankings. Similarly, Hasan Ali took the top position in bowlers in ODIs and Shadab Khan is now ranked number 3 in the Twenty20 format, whilst Faheem Ashraf is holding the number 10 position in the Twenty20 format as well. In the case of Mohammad Abbas, who came to us via the domestic cricket route, we immediately identified him as a good future prospect. We then saw what he did in UAE, where he took wickets on flat pitches. Could we have imagined a Pakistan fast-bowler bowling so well in UAE? There was time before I started that bowlers would be happy if they took 2 wickets, but we had a high number of 5fers in my tenure which cannot be ignored. The fact is that Pakistan bowlers under my supervision are more consistent and they have improved variation in their bowling. From the experienced Mohammad Amir to a newbie like Mohammad Hasnain, each of the bowlers have shown improvement under my supervision. I would venture to say that we rarely lost a match due to our bowling in the last few years. Our bowling has rarely disappointed us and if there are defeats then there many other issues such as our fielding which come into play. Take for instance, our recent World Cup campaign, where we were guilty of dropping the greatest number of catches but still, somehow the bowling got the blame. It stands to reason that if a catch of a player like Jason Roy is dropped then he will more than likely make you pay.

Coaching at the national team level should be about fine-tuning skills and not fixing basic problems

Mohammad Hasnain had a lot of promise and was selected based on his Under-19 and PSL exploits. He was supposedly looked after at the NCA but despite that, I spent a lot of time sorting some basic issues like his bowling run-up which is not what should be happening at the senior level. Apart from Hasnain, other bowlers had basic technical issues as well and I mentioned these problems in my report to PCB MD Wasim Khan and the Cricket Committee. The fact is that at the international level, I as a bowling coach should be working on planning and strategy and fine-tuning skills of bowler. This is how it works in the rest of the world. I am certainly not complaining about this as I took that as part of my job, but am simply making an observation that I should have not spent my time solving basic problems such as no-balls and run-ups, all of which should have been addressed at the NCA.

I will always be there to help Pakistan cricket

PCB have now embarked on quest to find a replacement for the bowling coach position and I do wish the next person to take on this role my best wishes. I will always be available for any of each of the bowlers I worked with in case they need advice. Even now, I am getting messages from some of my bowlers asking for technical advice and that was the same when I didn’t take part in the 2019 edition of the PSL. I will always be there to help Pakistan cricket and if the bowlers I have worked with ever need my help, I will be available for that too, of course with the new bowling coach’s consent.

Serving Pakistan was the only motive behind taking up the role of bowling coach

Being the bowling coach for our national side was indeed an honour for me and taking on this role was all about wanting to serve Pakistan. It was never about anything else. In fact, when I took on this coaching role, I was still playing cricket and was already considering an offer from Surrey. It pains me to hear some saying that I was more interested in the financial rewards and perks of this position when clearly that is not the case. Whilst I love contributing to Pakistan cricket, it’s not the end of the world if the coaching role has come to an end. I am glad that due to the direction provided by our Prime Minister Imran Khan and as implemented by PCB MD Wasim Khan, Pakistan cricket is moving towards a more professional approach with a new structure being planned for the future. This will result in good quality cricketers emerging from the system and we will no longer have to do with whatever we can get as was the case in the past. This will result in improvement in performances in One-Day and Test cricket formats as well.

Core of current side is capable of serving Pakistan for the next 10 years

I am glad to say that the core of the Pakistan side at the moment is quite capable of serving our team for as good as next ten years. The technical work done with these players will be beneficial for Pakistan in the coming years as they will keep on improving steadily. What we should not expect is overnight improvement as that would be unrealistic and put too much pressure on these young shoulders. The likes of Hasan Ali, Usman Khan Shinwari and Shaheen Shah Afridi were raw material whom I groomed into decent bowlers and I do hope that whoever takes on the role of bowling coach for Pakistan is able to continue to guide these youngsters to even greater heights. In this regard, the report I submitted to the PCB MD Wasim Khan and the Cricket Committee after the World Cup on our bowlers would be a good starting point to ensure that the hard work done by our coaching team does not go to waste.

Test players need financial security

We need to understand that Mohammad Amir has been through a lot, both physically and mentally, and his body is unable to cope with the pressures associated with all three formats of the game. And this is something he had been considering for the past one year or so around the time we played the one-off Test against Ireland in 2018. So, Amir is trying to extend his career by only playing the shorter forms of the game which is a smart thing to do as in my experience, I have seen people retire completely at the age of 27 due to fitness issues. I have been a witness to his struggles and to his fitness issues which many of his critics cannot understand or refuse to acknowledge. A further complication in Amir’s case is that he didn’t play cricket for 5 years and that did affect his overall fitness. If Pakistan are sensible about it, they can still make good use of his talent as he has now limited himself to white-ball cricket. This is not as strange as it sounds, as Pakistan has other bowlers who would be interested in bowling in Tests. Many other sides do that and have specialist bowlers for each format.

Whilst Amir’s case is slightly different, there are rumours that Wahab Riaz may also decide to the same so there does seem to be a trend of retiring from Tests matches. However, if we wish to ensure that this trend is reversed than some concrete actions will need to be taken. From what I am hearing about the new structure from the PCB, there may be an increase in Test match fees which makes much more sense. In the past, all players regardless of the types of formats they were playing had the same sort of contract. What should happen is that Test players must get a separate category of central contracts simply because there needs to be a differentiation in financial rewards between players who play for up to 5 days in a Test as opposed to those who just bowl 4 overs in a T20I game. Test match players need to be rewarded adequately so that those choosing to play this format alone will also be financially secure. We have good examples of James Anderson and Stuart Broad who only play Tests but are looked after so well by the ECB that they are financially secure despite playing only one format of the game.