New ‘Legends’ cricket tourney to bring back classic bowl-out format

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the performances of the Pakistan men’s cricket team over the years?

There are many answers, although the description is usually followed by the qualification that the team is the most dangerous in this state.

After the team’s failure to advance to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into him becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that the best performance will come from a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united.

In my opinion, it is time that those involved in the Pakistan cricket world gave up the myth of what it takes to cheer a team. In its place should be the realization that the raw talent that once helped them create moments of magic is not being properly utilized and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new in the current environment. Problems with chairmen and selection have multiplied over the years, leading to allegations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe there is reason for hope.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white-ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red-ball cricket, are in positions that allow them to make decisions that are likely to be fully supported by the hierarchy, even if they are just to save face.

Let’s hope the coaches take full advantage of this opportunity and chart their paths immediately. It is no understatement to suggest that they are ready for the most difficult task of their careers. I was trained by Gillespie in Yorkshire and I know his style is to be calm which will help me in this role. He prefers to let the players lead in casting the supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, as evidenced by his stint in India winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni.

Anyone who follows the men in green will be well aware of all the problems with the team environment, so they need to be addressed first. It is very unstable with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not choose a two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messages to go out and express themselves. However, with two coaches in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a credible backroom staff that is the same across all formats. Now is the time to implement it, as the pressure to improve both team and individual performance will increase rapidly. In my opinion, the environment needs a refresh and the unnecessary baggage that has accumulated over the past few years needs to be removed.

One of the most difficult and controversial questions is that of the captain. In the current situation, I would underestimate the power and importance of the captain. This is against my nature, but for the immediate future the coach must be a figurehead and a leader. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, to cut through the noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white-ball match isn’t until early November in Australia, so there’s no immediate need to act. However, there are two Tests against Bangladesh in August. The current captain is Shan Masood.

Another controversial issue is the selection process and the role of Wahab Riaz within it. It was not until March 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously served as chairman, but that title was removed and Riaz remained a member of the committee. Somewhat impractical, each member had an equal vote that would form a majority decision. How it works in practice is not clear.

In my opinion, the experiment should be ended and the coaches should have the final say on a limited committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chairperson, was the senior team manager during the World Cup, despite the team manager and coach being there! The public believes that Riaz has too much influence. It remains to be seen whether a review of Pakistan’s FIFA World Cup results will recommend its reduction. Results are expected soon.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee the training camp ahead of these games to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we cannot rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We have to make sure we have a team mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and support those with the necessary character and skills. One possibility is Mohammad Haris. He has a modern approach which definitely needs to be infused into the team’s approach and continued till the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could develop into a good finisher, while an investment in Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary boost to get back to basics and improve his performance. From my point of view, he would be advised to forget about captaincy and focus on scoring goals and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he seems to be on track to become world class. I expect Gillespie to provide that level of support to both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would be in my World Cup squad, while Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be a No. 1 all-format spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batsman for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He’s done it before and I have no doubt he’ll do it again, but he’s another one who needs to get back to basics.

My proposed change of approach for both coaches may not come very naturally to either of them. Both favor a strong captain who takes the lead while creating an environment that encourages players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that coaches need to lead from the front, deal with the noise and protect their players from the inevitable attacks from former players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are encouraged to set clear expectations. The team must become the priority in an uncertain culture that forces players to think more about personal performance.

These two men need to settle the players in their minds with a combination of hand-holding and tough love. Hopefully, the period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.

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