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Exclusive interview with Atiq Uz Zaman – Head Coach SSGC

The greatest misfortune for Atiq Uz Zaman was that he played his cricket in the era of Moin Khan and Rashid Latif. Atiq undoubtedly was one of the finest wicket keeper batsmen from Pakistan domestic. But because of Moin and Rashid, he could not play much of international cricket. He gathered a vast experience of playing league cricket in England. He holds some decent number with both bat and gloves in England as well as Pakistan. Atiq is now working with Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) as head coach for the last three years. Team Crictale had a long sitting with him and talked in detail about Pakistan cricket team, domestic cricket structures, and numerous other subjects.

Crictale – You have an experience of coaching in England as well as in Pakistan, what is the primary difference you feel in the coaching methodology in both countries?

Atiq Uz Zaman – The biggest difference is the independence of the player. In England, the coaching is to make a player feel independent. Here in Pakistan, it is most like spoon feeding to a player all the time. Each time the player is looking towards his coach instead of making his own decisions. Even the captain relies on the coach all the time. The basic rule here is when a team enters into the ground, the job of the coach is done there. Next depends on the captain and his players.

It is the job of the captain to lead the players on the ground and not the coach. If in case a coach feels something needs to be changed, then he can pass a message. But then again, it should be like sending messages after every five minutes. This is wrong, don’t try to play the match while sitting outside. Let the player do that while standing on the ground.

Crictale – What is your selection criteria for picking up a team? Is there any particular area which you focus the most?

Atiq Uz Zaman – Team balance and the combination is the key factor in any team. You look at the pitch than the conditions. The fitness level of the players is the third important factor. Keeping in mind all these details, you make a team. For example, when you play in Punjab, the pitches here are fast. The seams around here so you pick your fast bowlers with one spinner. With this, you also make a strong batting combination. All-rounders especially, who can bowl fast give you easy pickings during selection.

Crictale – What is your methodology while coaching a team?

Atiq Uz Zaman – My coaching methodology is pretty simple. I give my players an environment in which they feel relaxed all the time. There is no extra pressure or even genuine pressure on the players playing in SSGC. They all are professionals. Some of them have played for Pakistan and some are on the verge of getting a chance. I cannot teach them how to bat and ball at this level. They know everything. All they need is confidence. My job is to give them confidence. Let them breathe freely. For any player, apart from attitude, technique and other factors, luck matters the most. One should keep that in mind. At this level mostly the players do not fault when they don’t perform, they are just unlucky.

Crictale – What are your suggestions towards resolving all the issues in Pakistan domestic cricket?

Atiq Uz Zaman – There are a lot of things which needs to be changed. Domestic cricket schedule comes at the top. It needs to be formed on a fair basis. There is no point in making a team first play against regional teams and then at the end against departments. There is no logic in it. The current cricketing schedule just backs regional teams. It should be a mixed schedule in which regional and departmental teams should compete on a daily basis. Pitches should remain consistent as per the venues. This will help the team get an idea about a certain pitch on a certain ground.

The standards in the umpiring need to be raised. Their fitness should be monitored as well. They should have a fitness test like the players. There is no consistency in local umpires. One day they are at the top in their decisions and next they lie flat on the ground.

Crictale – Green top wickets are producing more seam bowlers rather than genuine pacers, Wahab Riaz is the only 140 kmph plus bowler in recent years. Such pitches are killing the pace of our bowlers, do you agree?

Atiq Uz Zaman – You are absolutely right. Most of the pitches here have grass on them. On such pitches, the bowler only bowls the ball full and his job is done. The pitch and grass do the rest. There is no learning in it. The best pitch in Pakistan is the one on the Diamond cricket ground. This one has the bounce, it produces seam movement as well. Spinners get the ball to turn on it so this is the best one. Those who will play here will get all the flavors and as a result, they will learn more with the bat and ball. Such pitches should be made for all the domestic games.

Crictale – Regional teams play most of the games on their home grounds. This has affected their performances as well. They tend to win on their home grounds, but then fails on the other tracks. This will not help to raise the overall standards of the game, do you agree?

Atiq Uz Zaman – I totally agree with you on this one. This will not help improve anything. The administrations of regional teams should be asked this question. The draws are formed in such a way that the regional teams play most of their games on their local tracks. These regional teams’ administration people are always running behind saving money. There is no standard for the facilities given to the regional teams. This is the base of cricket in Pakistan. Now some factions want to wrap up the departmental cricket in Pakistan which would be a huge mistake.

Crictale – Coming to International cricket, since the 2011 world cup Pakistan team mindset is very much defensive in ODI cricket. This defensive mindset has affected the performance and Pakistan now has become a very weak side. How should this mindset be changed to become more aggressive?

Atiq Uz Zaman – To play aggressive cricket you need confidence. Our players don’t have it. How can they play with confidence when they are not sure about their place in the side? These players have a low skill set to play aggressively. You need confidence again to develop this skill set to play attacking shots.

How many Pakistani batsman plays a reverse sweep except for Misbah? Even tail-enders from the other teams can play such shots. McCullum and AB can hit Yorker for a six over the deep fine leg. Do our batters have this skill, no they don’t? The reason is that they don’t practice these shots. Others spent hours of practice on such shots. Here due to lack of confidence, such shots are absent from the ODI cricket. If you have the confidence then you will execute such shots, if you fail you will try to master them like others.

Crictale – It has been observed that a few opening batsmen like Ahmad Shahzad and Nasir Jamshed used to bat aggressively when they started playing for Pakistan. Since 2013 Ahmad, in particular, has become a very defensive player, where did he go wrong?

Atiq Uz Zaman – He did not go wrong. He was forced to change his mindset and batting technique. If a player is aggressive by nature and he hits his shots. There is no reason to ask him to change his natural batting style. Ahmad was aggressive. He scored runs as well. Instead of boosting his strengths, he was asked to work on his weaknesses. This approach is wrong. Give freedom to the players.

Ahmad Shahzad, Nasir Jamshed, Sharjeel Khan, Awais Zia, Khalid Latif and Khurram Manzoor are special talents. Awais plays for SNGPL and he has scored in every game. We have given him a free hand and never asked him why he got out playing a shot. You have to give confidence to a player. Make him fly with strength and not fall with his weakness.

Crictale – This is the point related to the previous two questions that forced a change in mindset has damaged Pakistan team in ODI cricket. Batsmen were instructed to stay at the wicket. That seeded defensive approach in their batting approach, your take on this?

Atiq Uz Zaman – There is a proverb, positive thoughts give positive actions and positive results. Negative thoughts give negative actions and negative results. This is the problem here. Other teams are hitting 350 runs in ODI cricket. Pakistan makes something between 250 to 300 runs. Though they have touched 300 twice in the recent past.

You have to play fearless cricket in order to compete with others. One should give credit to the former head coach Waqar Younis. He wanted the players to play attacking cricket. He wanted the batsmen to improve their strike rates. There was not much work done on the skill set of the players else the results would have been different.

Still, I believe that there is an improvement in the Pakistan ODI team. Though there should not be any credulity raised here. We defeated West Indies, which is a very weak side. We should expect the same results against all the teams, especially in ODI cricket.

Crictale – Coming to test cricket, since 2010 after the spot-fixing scandal and then 6 years of hard work. Pakistan is now number one test team in the world, how to you rate this journey?

Atiq Uz Zaman – This shows you how much talent is there in Pakistan cricket. These players don’t get the proper facilities and diet. There is not proper training to enhance their skill set yet these players create huge moments in international cricket. They played quality cricket consistently and at the end they became the number one test side in the world.

Second, this is because Pakistan test squad has a strong captain. Misbah has led the guys really well. He plays with a certain team. There are certain players he selects. He has not made multiple changes in the test squad and now the whole team has one philosophy and that is to win and only win. Beating England two tests on the home soils is not a child’s play. They are the best test team skill wise. The mindset of the test team is strong, they go for the kill. They have this self-belief that they can beat any team in the world.

Crictale – How do you rate Shahid Afridi’s career, as a coach are you satisfied with his performances in international cricket? Also tell us about your thoughts on the farewell game for Shahid Afridi, should he be given one or not?

Atiq Uz Zaman – Shahid Afridi deserves a farewell for sure. He has won the most man of the match awards in the world. This means that he was an impact player. He has a genuine match winner. He has helped Pakistan get to multiple wins on numerous occasions.

His stats will never show his impact on the game. He averages 20 with the bat, but most of his 20 won Pakistan the game. Afridi took wickets at important stages of the game and aid Pakistan to reach the finishing line. He and Misbah both have similar sort of international careers, but Afridi is much popular than Misbah. Afridi has his own style while Misbah has his own. People are more inclined towards Afridi due to his playing style. He never changed his style which is the main thing. A player like Afridi deserves to be given a big farewell. He should hang his boots in front of his own people.

Crictale – Do you feel Azhar Ali justifies his pace in the ODI side, both as a player and captain?

Atiq Uz Zaman – Azhar Ali is a different sort of a batsman. He is not an attacking player. Azhar has his own methodology. He has batted well in the past. Even in England tour, he scored runs. At the moment he is just low in confidence. The moment he will get the confidence back, you will see him getting runs.

Crictale – How good is Sarfraz Ahmed as a T20 captain?

Atiq Uz Zaman – He is a really good captain. The best thing about him that he makes the right decisions. His bowling changes are brilliant. He keeps rotating his bowlers. This makes the batsmen guessing all the time. He does not let the batsmen settle down. I feel that it will be too early to hand him the ODI team as well. Let him get the experience by captaining the T20 side. When the board feels he is ready only then give him this job as well.

Crictale – Mohammad Amir has played for your side in domestic cricket last year, how good he is as a bowler?

Atiq Uz Zaman – He is a world class bowler. Despite living an exiled life from cricket for 5 years, he has not changed anything about his bowling. He is a genuine match winner with the ball. His attitude is now more mature. His thinking has totally changed. He has doubled the amount of hard work.

He took wickets for us and even scored runs as well. So for me, he is one of the best bowlers in the world. I don’t have any doubt on this one. The reason he did not perform in England is his fatigue level. He has played non-stop cricket since his comeback in domestic and international cricket. His body needs rest.

At the end, there are things which I would like to mention. PCB needs to change its methodology. We have been seeing the same faces for the past 20 years on the board. They have failed to deliver. They should be changed immediately. Also, there are domestic players who are ready and should be taken at least for Pakistan A side. There is some really good talent in Pakistan domestic cricket and it needs to be flourished and not wasted.

(This interview has been conducted by Muhammad Hamid Javaid).



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