How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

In the wake of Pakistan’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood around the team is different and much darker. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

  • Despite the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s of the 2024 T20 World Cup, there could be reasons to be optimistic

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

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress 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 becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly 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 about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad 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 back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

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


Nadal ‘not comfortable’ ahead of Olympics bid

Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

Nadal ‘not comfortable’ ahead of Olympics bid

BASTED, Sweden: Rafael Nadal will head to the Paris Olympics chasing a third gold medal but admitted his “level was so far from what it should be” after losing in the Bastad clay-court final on Sunday.

The 38-year-old Spanish great went down to a straight-sets defeat to Portuguese journeyman Nuno Borges in his first final since capturing a 14th French Open in 2022.

“The level was so far from what it should be. Probably the energy too,” said Nadal.

“It has been a long week with long matches. Even if my body, I don’t have damage, that’s important — but mentally and physically, I am not used to playing four days in a row and playing long matches.”

Nadal was playing his first tournament since an opening round exit at the French Open in May.

He skipped Wimbledon to focus on his clay-court bag of tricks ahead of the Olympics which are being played at Roland Garros, the site of 14 of his 22 Grand Slam triumphs.

At the Games, Nadal will be looking to add to his singles gold from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and doubles victory at Rio in 2016.

As well as singles, in Paris he will team up with French Open and Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz.

“I played the final, that’s positive. I was able to play long matches without having an injury, that’s good,” added Nadal of his week in Sweden.

The former world number one has played just six tournaments in 2024 due to injury while his ranking has slumped to 261.

“In some way I felt that I arrived here practicing much better than what I played on the tournament during the whole week. That’s something that I am not satisfied with,” he explained.

“I arrived here with the feeling that I was playing a good level and I was not able to show that during the whole week. That is something that I am not happy with.

“Anyway it’s a final, so I can’t say it’s a bad result because it’s the first final since a long time ago. But I was not able to feel myself comfortable enough during the whole week to be satisfied with the week of tennis that I played.”


Nadal defeated in first tour final in two years

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Nadal defeated in first tour final in two years

  • Borges dominates Spanish star as the latter struggled to find fluency

BASTAD, Sweden: Rafael Nadal lost his first final in two years on Sunday as the Spaniard went down 6-3, 6-2 to Portugal’s Nuno Borges at the clay-court Bastad Open.

The Spanish tennis great had shown signs of a return to form in Scandinavia as he made an impressive run to the final, just one week before tennis at the Olympic Games gets underway on the clay in Paris.

But Nadal, rather than celebrating his 64th title on the surface and first since Roland Garros 2022, was dominated by Borges as he struggled to find fluency with his serve and ground strokes.

“I don’t know what to say. I think I was wishing for this moment for a while already,” said Borges in his post-match interview.

“It’s crazy; in tennis, it doesn’t happen when you expect it sometimes. I know we all wanted Rafa to win; a part of me wished that too, but something even bigger inside of me really pushed through today ... I’m just really happy overall. I really don’t know what to say, I’m very emotional.”

Elsewhere, Matteo Berrettini breezed to a 6-3, 6-1 win against France’s Quentin Halys in the Gstaad final, earning the Italian his second clay-court title of the year. 

The sixth seed Berrettini capped off a fine week in Switzerland by needing just 59 minutes to dispatch the world No. 192 Halys.

“It feels unbelievable. It feels like it was yesterday that I won my first title here six years ago, but a lot of matches and a lot of things happened,” said Berrettini.

“I’m just so glad that I can keep playing and enjoying, and I think I found the energy of six years ago during this week. This place is special for me. I’m just so happy,” added the 28-year-old who has struggled with injuries since reaching a career-high world number six in May 2022.

Berrettini’s second title on clay this season, after winning in Marrakech in April, will ensure he breaks back into the ATP top 50 on Monday.

Currently ranked 82, Berrettini was outside of the top 150 in March but a return to fitness and a fine 16-6 record for the current season has seen the 2021 Wimbledon finalist begin to refind his best level.

Sunday’s final was briefly interrupted for rain just after Berrettini secured a crucial first break in the opening set.

When the players returned 30 minutes later, the Italian won six of the next seven games to claim his second Gstaad title.


Oscar Piastri claims maiden win at quarrel-hit Hungarian Grand Prix

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Oscar Piastri claims maiden win at quarrel-hit Hungarian Grand Prix

  • Finished ahead of his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris
  • Piastri, 23, won by 2.141 seconds with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton finishing third for Mercedes

BUDAPEST: Oscar Piastri claimed his maiden Formula One victory on Sunday when he finished ahead of his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, after a vexed radio argument produced an extraordinary finish to an incident-filled Hungarian Grand Prix.
In a race of fluctuating fortunes and many quarrels on and off the track, the McLaren duo secured a comprehensive one-two after starting from the team’s first front row lockout since 2012, Norris finally obeying team orders to hand his team-mate his first career win.
Piastri, 23, won by 2.141 seconds with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton finishing third for Mercedes to claim his record 200th podium finish.
He survived a late collision with Red Bull’s three-time champion and series leader Max Verstappen, who flew off, but recovered to finish fifth.
Charles Leclerc came home fourth and Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz sixth, sandwiching a grumpy Verstappen who was called to see the stewards to explain his collision with Hamilton.
Sergio Perez finished seventh for Red Bull, having started 16th on the grid, ahead of George Russell in the second Mercedes, who started 17th, and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda. Lance Stroll was 10th for Aston Martin.
“It’s very special,” said Australian driver Piastri.
“I dreamt of this as a kid and if it was a bit complicated at the end, I did put myself in the right position at the start of the race.
“It’s a hell of a lot of fun racing with McLaren. This is an incredible feeling.”
Norris was first to congratulate his team-mate, after he had appeared to reject team orders and allow the Australian to pass in the closing stages.
“Well done, a good 1-2 and lots of good points for the team. Well deserved,” he said.
Norris had made an uncertain start and he, Piastri and Verstappen were three abreast into Turn One where Piastri exited in the lead as the Dutchman ran wide and cut back into second place, gaining a clear advantage and pushing Norris down to third.
This prompted an exchange of messages before race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase told Verstappen to allow Norris to pass, a command that clearly irked him.
“So, you can just run people off the track?” barked the Dutchman.

By lap 10, Piastri led Norris by 2.7 seconds with Verstappen third adrift by two seconds ahead of Hamilton and the two Ferraris, led by Leclerc.
Hamilton eventually reeled off a series of fastest laps to rise to third, but Verstappen on younger tires reeled him in, waiting to pounce as the Briton endured a lurid slide out of Turn 12 before pitting again on lap 41 after fending off the Dutchman.
At the front, Piastri was in cruise mode ahead of Norris with Verstappen third, 11.5 seconds adrift. Hamilton rejoined fifth behind Sainz, but with Leclerc, on new mediums, on his tail.
Norris pitted again for mediums on lap 46, rejoining fourth ahead of Hamilton, followed by Piastri on 47, handing the lead to Verstappen with Norris up to second, but told to “re-establish the order at your convenience.”
Verstappen made his second stop, for mediums, on lap 50, rejoining fifth behind Leclerc, but adrift of the Ferrari by 4.5.
In the lead, Norris was reminded of his team instructions and responsibilities as Piastri closed in.
“We know you’ll do the right thing,” said McLaren, but Norris, knowing he could reduce Verstappen’s championship lead, stayed silent when told not to stress his tires.
“Tell him to catch up, please,” he said.
As McLaren’s tensions boiled over, Verstappen lunged down the inside of Hamilton at Turn One on lap 63, but locked up and clipped the Mercedes. The collision sent him airborne briefly before he bounced clear and wide before rejoining in fifth.
McLaren then issued an ultimatum to Norris.
“There are five laps to go. The way to win a championship is not by yourself. It is with the team. You are going to need Oscar and you are going to need the team.”
With three laps remaining, Norris slowed dramatically to gift Piastri the lead.


Cecile and Laurent Landi helped Simone Biles reach new heights. The Olympics serve as a homecoming

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

Cecile and Laurent Landi helped Simone Biles reach new heights. The Olympics serve as a homecoming

  • The Landis say the key to their coaching success is making it a point to adjust to each athlete rather than the more rigid style they grew up with in France
  • The Landis are moving on after the Olympics. Cecile Landi was named co-head coach at the University of Georgia in April

SPRING: Cecile Canqueteau-Landi fit “in the box,” as she put it. She was skinny. She was blonde. She was pretty good at gymnastics.
And so at 9 years old, she was whisked away to become part of the French national team program, a path that ultimately led her to the 1996 Olympics.
There was reward in that journey. Yet looking back nearly three decades later, Landi wonders how many promising young athletes had their careers and their lives altered — and not for the better — because they didn’t fit someone’s preconceived notion of what a gymnast needed to look like by the time they reached their 10th birthday.
When Landi transitioned into coaching in the early 2000s, she vowed not to make the same mistake.
So maybe it’s not a coincidence that when Landi and her husband Laurent — himself a former French national team member — walk onto the floor at Bercy Arena for women’s Olympics qualifying next Sunday, they will do it while leading the oldest US women’s gymnastics team — headlined by 27-year-old Simone Biles — the Americans have ever sent to a modern Games.
A healthy partnership
In another country in another era, maybe Biles becomes something other than an icon. Maybe she becomes a casualty.
“An athlete like Simone would never have reached her full potential in France,” said Cecile. “Because she would have been put aside because she didn’t fit that box.”
For the Landis — who began coaching Biles in 2017 — there is no “box.” There can’t be.
“It’s not the athlete that needs to adjust to the coaches,” Laurent Landi said. “The coaches need to adjust the athletes and the athlete’s abilities.”
Biles was already 20 and the reigning Olympic champion when the Landis agreed to helm the elite program at World Champions Center, the massive gym run by the Biles family in the Houston suburbs.
They knew Biles fairly well at the time having already coached gymnasts who competed alongside Biles at several world championships and the 2016 Olympics. During the interview process, all three agreed there was no point — and no fun — in having Biles merely try to hold on to her otherworldly talent. To keep her engaged, they needed to make sure she kept moving forward.
The result has been perhaps the best gymnastics of Biles’ remarkable career, a stretch that includes three world all-around titles and another handful of entries in the sport’s Code of Points with her next name next to them, from the triple-double on floor exercise to the Yurchenko double pike vault that drew a standing ovation at the Olympic trials last month.
Biles views her relationship with the Landis as more of a partnership.
“They’ve been big mentors in like my adulthood (because) they got to see and harness the more mature Simone,” Biles said. “They’ve helped me a lot not just in the gym but out of the gym too.”
When Biles moved into her first house, Cecile who came over and showed her how to operate the dishwasher. When a gymnast who had just gotten their driver’s license had a problem with one of her tires, Cecile went to a nearby gas station and gave a tutorial on how to use the air pump.
“If we can help and they want the help, then why not?” she said with a laugh.
Changing with the times
The trick is finding a way to provide that help safely and productively, particularly amid a culture shift in the sport aimed at empowering athletes to take ownership of their gymnastics. It is a delicate needle to thread. What serves as motivation for one athlete could be construed negatively by another.
It’s a reality the Landis are well aware of as they try to find the proper balance between being too rigid and too lax. They grew up in a time when the coach/athlete relationship was one-sided. There was no back and forth. There was no discussion. The coach set the standards and expectations. The athlete met them or they didn’t last long.
The shift toward a more cooperative approach was overdue, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Laurent Landi admits he’s not the most patient coach, though those around him say he has mellowed a bit over the years. He also understands if he wants to keep doing this for a living, he didn’t have much of a choice.
“Yeah, there will be frustration,” he said. “But you can always go around some stuff and just take your pride (as a coach) away and make sure that the athletes still get the skill done.”
It’s an approach that helped World Champion Center’s elite program send five athletes to the Olympic trials, with Biles and Jordan Chiles making the five-woman US team while Joscelyn Roberson and Tiana Sumanasekera were selected as alternates.
It’s the kind of success Roberson envisioned when she moved to the Houston suburbs a few years ago to train under the Landis. She was intimidated at first before realizing her new coaches “have a million different ways to coach one skill,” a marked departure from what she was used to.
The goal is to meet the athletes where they are at on a given day, understanding no two gymnasts are the same and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. Perhaps even more importantly, they have learned to evolve as the nature of coaching evolves.
“We’re not always right,” Laurent said. “If you do your own way all the time, you will hurt the majority of the athletes. Maybe one will survive and will be an amazing person, amazing athlete but the (other) 90 percent, they will be broken. ... We had to adjust to Simone, otherwise we would have broke her.”
It’s not just Biles’ age they had to accommodate, but her schedule. She is no longer a precocious teenager who buries herself in the gym. She’s a newlywed whose schedule is packed with everything from corporate commitments to building a house and a family with her husband, Chicago Bears safety Jonathan Owens.
“When (we) tell him he just hears ‘you’re missing practice’ and kind of freaks out,” Biles said. “Because he sees all the end goals and then he gets the calendar and then he’s like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s fine. We’ll do this today, we’ll do that.’ So it just takes time for him to process.”
Biles certainly appears well-prepared. She arrives in Paris at the height of her powers more than a decade after ascending to the top of her sport. She’ll be accompanied by a pair of coaches who view the trip as more of a business trip than a homecoming.
A new challenge awaits
While the Landis have been approached to take over the women’s national team program in France in recent years, returning never made much sense to them even with the women’s program is in the midst of a resurgence.
“I think our family will be very proud, probably more than we are,” Cecile Landi said. “Because in a weird way, it’s just work for us.”
And perhaps, goodbye too.
Cecile, long a supporter of NCAA gymnastics, earlier this year agreed to become the co-head coach at the University of Georgia. Laurent will remain at World Champions Center in the short term until the Landis’ daughter Juliette — who will dive for France during the Games — graduates from high school next spring.
After that, who knows? The young gymnast who was put in a box has become a coach who no longer puts limitations on anyone, herself maybe most of all.
“I think I’ve done everything I could do in elite, and beyond what I could ever have imagined as a little French girl in a little town,” Cecile said. “I’ve coached the greatest of all time. I’ve coached many kids. I’ve had many great athletes in NCAA and elite that I feel like I want to try what’s next, a new challenge.”


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.