DateLine: 19th June 2010
We are delighted to present an exclusive interview with former Pakistan captain and ICC match referee, Asif Iqbal. Asif is an articulate individual blessed with great knowledge on Pakistan cricket and cricket in general. He represented Pakistan on 68 occasions and also skippered English county team Kent with great dignity and success.
Here, he speaks to PakPassion.net about anumber of topics including upcoming Pakistani talent, solutions to the PCB conundrum and his thoughts on the captaincy issue.
Pakpassion.Net: There is an overwhelming amount of questions that I would like to ask but let’s begin with the most significant ones. First question is regarding the present state of Pakistan cricket. What are the differences between cricket now and in the past?
Asif Iqbal: I think the core predicament is with the deficiency of international cricket within Pakistan. This could be a major reason behind less exposure to the game recently in Pakistan. Not even going back to my time – if you look back at the 90’s, the team used to play more often at home and it created more interest amongst the masses.
Although – I still think we have some budding superstars in our team. I rate Mohammad Aamer and Umar Akmal as class players and I think they will go far in the future and lead the team to great heights. I sense they will develop further as they play more cricket abroad and gain invaluable experience.
PakPassion.Net: I would now like to ask you about Umar Akmal. Don’t you think that when Umar Akmal tries to bat he plays on one side of the wicket too often?
Asif Iqbal: No, cricket has evolved and the types of strokes being played these days are quite unique. I think he is quite capable of playing on both sides of the wickets. It’s unjust to say he plays on one side of the wicket when the bowlers are continuously bowling it to him there.
All the cricketers these days have begun focusing on heaving shots on the leg side though. It’s a power area for most batsmen in this era and they have to play to their strengths as all other batsmen do. The idea is to groom these youngsters into players that can constantly play on both sides without any fear or hesitation.
PakPassion.Net: What are your thoughts on Abdul Razzaq?
Asif Iqbal: I think he has always been a talented individual and someone with great poise with the bat and ball. I thought he could have improved further with the bat because he had a ton of talent.
I thought his attitude was meagre a few years ago. He left the setup after being dropped and decided to join the rebel league [ICL], which was a detrimental move for his career. When you get dropped, stay and fight it out. I thought it was a mediocre move and perhaps decreased his career to its current point where he is performing here and there and has no consistency.
PakPassion.Net: Do you feel the bans placed on various players recently were justified?
Asif Iqbal: There can only be one answer to this question. The reasons given for the ban suggested that most of them should have been banned. It is always difficult sitting here and discussing such issues because you really do not know who is dishonest and who is saying the truth. Plus, most of the facts were not released in a professional manner by the PCB and this led to more perplexity.
If I was handling the situation, I would have sent the players causing problems home right away. There was no justification for the team manager and the other officials to allow the detrimental activity to occur and cause disruptions during an important tour.
PakPassion.Net: Do you feel that Shahid Afridi ends up putting his own interests ahead of the team?
Asif Iqbal: Absolutely not. I don't think he is that kind of an individual. Yes, there are times where he comes across as a player who is perhaps lacking cricketing IQ – especially when he plays rash shots. He does end up getting caught in the build-up and gets out but I do not think he does this on purpose. It is the way he is as a batsman and he is capable of playing good innings.
I think the responsibility given to him now will do wonders. The idea of making him captain will lead Shahid into increasing his knowledge of the game. He will play hard and he will play with a certain amount of respect for his wicket in the middle. He will want to lead from the front.
PakPassion.Net: Should Afridi have been made captain for all three formats of the game?
Asif Iqbal: Yes, he should have been made captain for all three formats. He is a natural leader and to have dropped him as captain after the T20 world cup would have been impractical. He deserves patience from the administrators but in return he will have to improve himself mentally and change his approach to the game.
The captain has to be the most knowledgeable individual out on the field. He has to be able to soak up the pressure and realize all the different intricacies the game is enveloped with. Half hearted efforts from the captain will always create reduced efforts from the players around him.
PakPassion.Net: How badly do you think – the senior/junior culture is hurting the team?
Asif Iqbal: I do not think the senior/junior angle is hurting the team. There should be mutual respect between both. Juniors should be respecting the seniors and the seniors should be doing the same. The juniors should not be made to feel pressured in any way based on their age.
This is a team sport. Yes, this is a certain aspect of Pakistani culture – you should be respecting your seniors but the same is expected in return. The seniors should realize that the team will go nowhere if they don’t work as a proper unit. If you fight from within – the team will constantly lose.
PakPassion.Net: Next question is regarding – Mohammad Yousuf? Do you feel he was justified with the retirement or misguided?
Asif Iqbal: This leads back to my previous statement. We simply do not know all of the facts revolving around the accusations/bans. If he was innocent then he was completely justified with his decision to retire/protest. You can question whether retiring was the right step because he should have appealed.
The main problem lies with the board. The committee that was formed to handle the bans were full of PCB employees. This is not the way such significant hearings are handled – its gross injustice on the players because such hearings can be rigged unfairly.
PakPassion.Net: Do you feel Mohsin Khan, the current PCB Chief selector is deserving of his current position?
Asif Iqbal: I do feel he is qualified. The main way to judge such individuals is through results. He has played cricket all over the world in the past and has experience in regards to what players are superior and who are not. Former players are the finest people to choose as chief selectors.
However, the main thing we have to remember is that these former players should be involved with the system. To be a former player is one thing, you have to be involved with the sport in order to become an efficient member of the selection panel or any other facet of the team.
PakPassion.Net: Do you feel there is an overload of T20 cricket these days?
Asif Iqbal: There is an immense overload of T20 cricket. This format of cricket is all about the financial feature of the sport. All questions about the format revolve around the money being raked in. The biggest problem caused by this format is the fact that it is horribly disrupting the other two formats.
Players are not interested in the other formats as they are not lucrative anymore. Administrators are finding it hard to woo players into playing the important formats because they realize money from T20 cricket is hard to beat. This has to be changed immediately otherwise the sport will falter.
PakPassion.Net: Let's talk about when you used to play. You were regarded as one of the fittest players around during that time and fielders seemed better – do you agree?
Asif Iqbal: I disagree with that. I feel the current players around are much better fielders than we ever were. The focus on fielding drills is much stronger now than it was back in the day.
Yes, fielding depends on each player and his willingness to go out and train hard. This is the negative aspect about our players – they are not training hard enough with their fielding drills. The level of coaching is much higher and the drills are effective. If the player works hard – he is able to improve. PakPassion.Net: What is the difference between Pakistan’s domestic circuit and England’s county cricket?
Asif Iqbal: There is a massive difference. It is not even close. The cricketers produced in England’s system are much better then Pakistan’s. However, the difference between the systems has never stopped the nation from producing tremendously talented players.
One thing I find displeasing is the fact that individuals want to bring the Australian/English system to Pakistan. Changing systems in nations in that manner is erroneous. Those systems work for various reasons and it is not sensible to assume if we follow their ways, everything will get healthier. There is more to look into then just mere overhauling of a system.
The greatest method is to improve the system itself. Try picking out the problems and eradicating them – nothing should be dramatic but all the subtle problems should be removed.
PakPassion.Net: When you used to play domestic cricket – which bowler was the best?
Asif Iqbal: Unfortunately, I didn’t get many chances to play domestic cricket in Pakistan. However, in the few matches I did play – Sarfraz Nawaz was the best. He was an incredible bowler at his peak – his ability to reverse swing the ball is known by everyone. He really changed the way fast bowlers bowled because he was always willing to improve his bowling.
PakPassion.Net: What about the best fast bowler in international cricket during your time?
Asif Iqbal: Richard Hadlee. He was an absolute master. The conditions never impeded his bowling – he was always looking to get you out and most of the time he was triumphant. He had exceptional control over the ball and could get it to move both ways. He was a passionate bowler and knew how to get the job done for his team.
PakPassion.Net: According to you – who was the greatest captain in Pakistan history?
Asif Iqbal: I would have to say Mushtaq Mohammad. He was exceedingly knowledgeable about the game of cricket. A captain should be able to conjure a plan and implement it with precision. He was brilliant in this aspect and he was always leading from the front. A captain as intelligent as him would always get the best out of his players because there was never a moment where he did not know what he was doing.
PakPassion.Net: If you were to choose between Younus Khan or Shahid Afridi – who should be the long term Pakistani captain for test cricket?
Asif Iqbal: Shahid Afridi. Younus Khan has gone through quite a few controversies recently surrounding the team. We do not know the actual truth but that aspect is always lingering around. Shahid Afridi is also the captain in the other two formats – so for the sake of consistency it is imperative he remain skipper.
However, I do feel that Younus Khan is a must in the team. He is a world class batsman and there is no doubt about that. He deserves his spot in the team as a pure batsman and they should select him for the upcoming tests
PakPassion.Net: What are your thoughts on the current state of the PCB?
Asif Iqbal: Well, their actions are in front of everyone. The statements they have made are beyond ridiculous and unprofessional. All of this has been an ongoing problem for the past few years and it does not seem like it will be going away anytime soon. It is regrettable – many of the people within the PCB have been around Pakistan cricket for a while and they should be guiding the team in the right direction.
PakPassion.Net: According to you, who do you think should be made the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board after Ijaz Butt?
Asif Iqbal: The job of PCB chairman is different from the role of the chief selector. This individual does not require a cricketing background. He should be the best qualified individual – who has shown the ability to run a major organization flawlessly in the past.
You have to hire individuals that are accountable for their actions. The focus should not be around the chairman himself. The individuals working around him should be equally professional because the PCB requires a group of individuals who are responsible. This is the only way the board can recover and become better.
PakPassion.Net: Would you accept the role of PCB chairman if offered
Asif Iqbal: No. The reason why I would not accept is because I have been involved within the system. I know how the cricket board is run. The person who is brought in should be someone independent of all of the internal situations – someone who has never held a position with the PCB. There are many individuals within the board that are politically shrewd and know how to get their way. A strong personality is required who has no past with the board and that aspect is vital.
PakPassion.Net: When you were captain in 1979, Pakistan went on a tour to India. For that tour, you did not select Sarfraz Nawaz even after Imran Khan was injured?
Asif Iqbal: Like I stated, I have immense respect for Sarfraz Nawaz. I already rate him as the best bowler to have played during my days in the domestic circuit within Pakistan. The reason for not choosing Sarfraz was because I did not feel I was capable of handling him. It was a critical tour for us and I did not want to spend 90% of my time on one player – it simply was the way it was. I did not want that responsibility during such an important tour.
PakPassion.Net: How do you feel about the way you were treated by the PCB after losing to India in 1979?
Asif Iqbal: We were surprisingly treated wonderfully. They did not say much to us in terms of negative statements. Before we went to India – they had come to Pakistan and we had won the series. I was captain during that series as well. I had told the PCB prior to going to India that I would be retiring after that series regardless of what happened. I had already made up mind.
When we flew back from India – the people at the Lahore airport were exceedingly pleasant and applauded us. They appreciated our effort in India and felt we had tried our hardest on the tour.
There were many people yelling my name outside the PCB headquarters – one of the officials told me to not go out as problems would arise. I told the official that as captain it was my responsibility to meet these people because it was their right and we had just lost the series. Surprisingly, the fans instead of yelling at me – placed me on their shoulders and started pleading with me to not retire. It was an incredible honour and something I won’t forget. There was an elderly man who said, "You are Pakistan’s son and it is unfair for you to retire after playing in India". He asked me to come back and play one more test in front of the Pakistani fans. I was completely taken aback and honoured but at that point I felt that I had done well in my career and had to retire.
PakPassion.Net: You used to be called an "intelligent captain" – what advice would you like to give to current and upcoming skippers of Pakistan?
Asif Iqbal: Player power and other issues are only there when the cricket board is being incompetent. When the players are allowed to take a stand whenever they wish – problems start arising and the cricket team falls apart.
The only advice for skippers is for them to give complete respect to their players. They cannot expect respect when they are not willing to give it back. If you respect the players – they will almost always be willing to play for you and will understand all of the decisions you make. The best way for a captain to lead is to perform and that is always imperative as well.
PakPassion.Net: Next question is regarding Sharjah. You have organized many matches in Sharjah as director of cricket in Pakistan. There have been many issues regarding match-fixing in Pakistan. What do you feel about Sharjah?
Asif Iqbal: The whole concept behind holding so many events in Sharjah was to garner some money for our cricketers. It was a wonderful place with an excellent fan base willing to come to the matches routinely.
The visits to Sharjah were always action packed and were regarded as lovely experiences. The fans were always craving for Indo-Pak cricket because both teams did not visit each other at home venues. Sharjah became that neutral ground where both could play and still attract great numbers in terms of fans at the ground. This was the only reason for holding games there.
The allegations with match-fixing had nothing to do with me. I was responsible with organizing the matches. Most of the allegations were incorrect and it was highly unfair to completely remove the cricket from there.
PakPassion.Net: Do you feel the problems arose because of the BCCI?
Asif Iqbal: No – I don't think the problems with Sharjah not getting games arose because of the BCCI. The fact was that the schedule became packed and the cricket calendar did not have room for games at Sharjah. Even if I was doing the organizing for a series in Sharjah – I doubt even I would have been able to get a series done there.
PakPassion.Net: Why are we not able to see you in the media anymore? Asif Iqbal: All of my life, I have been constantly involved with cricket. There comes a time where one just feels like sitting back and relaxing with the family. However, I do have a show on ARY and it is quite regular in nature. I give my opinions during those shows. Commentary stints are not possible because I do not have much interest in travelling.
PakPassion.Net: What are your thoughts on the likes of Misbah Ul Haq and Mohammad Hafeez? Do you feel they have been getting too many chances over others?
Asif Iqbal: I feel there are a lot of promising youngsters in the country. They deserve chances over the likes of these players. I do feel Misbah Ul Haq was quite promising when he first entered but he has gone into a shell now. He is not the same player anymore and needs to go back to domestic cricket.
I do feel Misbah can play test cricket though. Of course, he would have to improve his form immensely but to write him off would be wrong. He will have to earn it again. Mohammad Hafeez is a limited overs player – he does not deserve a role in test cricket. You have to realize the difference between test cricket and limited overs cricket – priorities have to be set by players and if you start veering off to the money in the shorter formats – your game will falter and you will become a regular slogger.
PakPassion.Net: Thank you for your time.
Asif Iqbal: Thank you very much.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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