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

Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi, right, consoles batting partner Naseem Shah as they leave the field after their loss in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 June 2024

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

  • The two coaches need to lead from the front and protect the players from attacks by ex-cricketers
  • The coaches should also set up clear expectations within the team to make player perform better

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.

Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

Updated 6 sec ago

Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

  • PPP says it will not become part of any ‘undemocratic move,’ though the matter will be decided by top leaders
  • The government announced its plan to impose a ban on PTI for alleged involvement in anti-state activities

ISLAMABAD: A key coalition ally of the Pakistan government on Saturday distanced itself from the decision to ban jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for its alleged involvement in anti-state activities, saying it would not become part of such an “undemocratic move.”
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar announced the government’s plan earlier this week to ban Khan’s party, just days after the Supreme Court handed PTI a major legal victory by declaring it eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.
Tarar justified the decision on the basis of “available evidence,” saying the ex-PM’s party was guilty of inciting violent protests last year, which made its followers set government buildings on fire, along with publicizing state secrets.
Shortly after his announcement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition partners, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), said they had not been taken into confidence.
Subsequently, government representatives, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, on Friday and told him about the decision to file treason charges against Khan and two senior PTI leaders, former President Arif Alvi and ex-Deputy National Assembly Speaker Qasim Suri.
“We have clearly told Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s representatives our party would not become part of any undemocratic move like banning the PTI,” Sehar Kamran, a PPP lawmaker, told Arab News. “We are the government’s key coalition partners but we were not consulted on its decision to slap a ban on Imran Khan’s party.”
Kamran said the PPP would take the matter to its Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting for a final decision, though “one thing is for sure that we are not going to be part of any undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal action of the government.”
She said it was not clear yet as to when her party’s CEC meeting would be called as the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was out of the country.
“The government should try to find out democratic and constitutional solutions to its problems,” she added.
Sharif’s another key coalition partner, MQM-P, also said they were not taken on board before the announcement of the government’s decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against Khan and other leaders.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s party has not contacted us yet for consultation on their decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against the party’s leadership,” an MQM-P media cell official told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will discuss the matter in our party before making the final decision whether we should stand by the government or not,” he continued. “It is too early to say anything about it. Let’s wait for the government to share its plans with us first.”
Arab News reached out to the information minister for comment but did not receive a response.

PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

Updated 3 min 45 sec ago

PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

  • Naila Kiani highlights lack of training facilities for high-altitude climbers, calling for a mountaineering school
  • Kiani says foreign mountaineers prefer to bring Sherpas from Nepal instead of taking local porters with them

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday appreciated Pakistani women for providing valuable services in every field while holding a meeting with the globally acclaimed high-altitude climber Naila Kiani, who highlighted a lack of training facilities for mountaineers in the country.
Kiani, who garnered attention for being one of the few Pakistani women to scale some of the world’s highest peaks, met the prime minister at his official residence in Islamabad.
Among her notable accomplishments, she has successfully summited Mount Everest and K2, the world’s highest and second-highest mountains, respectively. Her accomplishments have made her a significant figure in the mountaineering community, inspiring many with her determination and resilience.
“The prime minister said providing facilities to the women in various sectors including information technology, education, professional training, sports and other sectors was part of the government’s top priorities,” said an official statement released by the PM Office after the meeting.
“The prime minister congratulated Naila on becoming the first Pakistani woman to conquer 11 peaks, above 8,000 meters, calling it a proud moment for Pakistan,” it added.
Speaking to Arab News after the meeting, Kiani said she had presented proposals for specialized training and vocational education in the mountaineering sector.
“I spoke to the PM about lack of any training facilities for mountaineers,” she said. “Pakistan doesn’t have a single internationally qualified mountaineer due to a lack of state-of-the-art mountaineering training institute.”
“The PM instructed his team to set up a committee immediately and start working on the establishment of a mountaineering school,” she continued. “I am also chairing a sub-committee, and the team will visit Skardu next week for official meetings and to visit the potential site for the school.”
Kiani said the proposed training facility would also help facilitate high-altitude climbers from abroad.
“The lack of training leads to so many issues for western climbers who take Pakistani high porters,” she informed. “They prefer Sherpas [from Nepal] instead. Establishing this school will not only enhance skills of all high-altitude workers and climbers but also help flourish the region economically. We can attract a lot more foreign adventure tourists if we are more skilled.”
Home to some of the tallest peaks and stunning landscapes, Pakistan attracts foreign climbers and tourists from around the world in every mountaineering season, making it a premier destination for adventure enthusiasts.

One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 20 July 2024

One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

  • Baloch Liberation Army kidnapped seven ethnic Punjabi tourists from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19
  • BLA offered to release the abductees in exchange for its fighters, but the government refused the proposal

QUETTA: Shan Raza, 58, was devastated last month upon learning that a separatist group had abducted his three sons, Rehan, Farhan and Hassan, along with two other relatives, in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
Since then, Raza has been trying hard to bring a smile on the faces of his grandchildren, whom he finds wearing a dismal look since their fathers were taken away from Shaban, a tourist spot some 35 kilometers away from the provincial capital of Quetta.
Pakistan’s most impoverished Balochistan province shares its border with Iran and Afghanistan and has been the scene of a low-level insurgency for the last two decades. The separatists demand independence from Pakistan and seek control over provincial resources like gold and copper.
These groups have often targeted Pakistani forces and people from the Punjab province, the heartland of Pakistani military and political elite, in the restive southwestern region over what they say are enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch men. Pakistan denies it.
Raza’s sons, his nephew and a relative had gone to Shaban for picnic on June 19. They were among seven people abducted from the spot by the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“My entire house is empty now, my family keeps asking me about the release of my abducted sons, but now we are in very gloomy conditions for the last thirty days,” Raza told Arab News this week.
“The tears in the eyes of my wife and daughters-in-law are dried, they want nothing from me but the safe return of my sons.”
Recalling the day when his sons left home for Shaban, the 58-year-old said they had initially planned to go to Peer Ghaib, another picnic spot in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district, but he didn’t allow them due to security concerns.
“Then they told me that they were going to Shaban, but I didn’t know this place was not safe either,” Raza added.
Shortly after their abduction, the BLA offered the government to negotiate their release in exchange for BLA fighters incarcerated in Pakistani jails.
The group this month announced it would “implement punishments of the arrested suspects” after the government refused to negotiate their release, but there has since been no news of the hostages. The separatists accuse ethnic Punjabi settlers in Balochistan of spying for state agencies, though they have rarely offered any evidence to support their claim.
But Raza was hopeful that the government might be making efforts to secure the release of his sons and others. “I want nothing from them [Pakistani officials], but a safe recovery of my sons,” he said.
Shahid Rind, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said the government and Pakistani security forces were making joint efforts to recover the abductees.
“The chief minister met with the despondent families and apprised them of government efforts,” Rind told Arab News. “[But] the demand to release detained terrorists for a swap of Shaban abductees is unacceptable for the government of Balochistan.”
Rihan, the son of Raza’s abducted nephew Muhammad Raza, said his family was praying day and night for the release of his father. “My mother, sister and grandmother are very much depressed since my father was kidnapped,” the 13-year-old said.
Raza said the wait for his sons and other abductees has been “excruciating.”
“We run toward the door on every single knock and get alerted on every single call on our cell phones with hopes that my sons will return home,” the dejected father said, with teary eyes.

Pakistan’s northwestern province forms inquiry commission after deadly shooting at Bannu rally

Updated 20 July 2024

Pakistan’s northwestern province forms inquiry commission after deadly shooting at Bannu rally

  • KP administration says the commission will ensure ‘transparent’ probe and its report will be made public
  • It says the incident occurred at a sensitive area in Bannu cantonment that was on alert due to militancy

PESHAWAR: The provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Saturday announced the establishment of an inquiry commission to ensure a “transparent investigation” into the killings of people in a shooting incident at a rally in Bannu a day earlier, where people were calling for peace amid a surge in militant attacks.
At least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the procession attended by tens of thousands of people. The demonstration was held at a time when KP, which borders Afghanistan, has seen a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks.
The shocking increase in daily attacks led the residents of the area to demand peace only a few days after 10 soldiers were killed by militants in the cantonment area in Bannu.
In a statement shared on his social media account, KP government’s spokesperson Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur was personally monitoring the situation in the city.
“The chief minister has also announced the formation of a commission for a transparent investigation into the incident,” he informed. “The commission will conduct an impartial investigation and present a report, which will be made public. The role of those responsible will be determined and legal action will be taken.”
Local residents and some Pakistani politicians accused the security forces of the shooting incident, though the KP official was reticent about who was responsible.
“The unpleasant incident occurred at a sensitive location in Bannu cantonment, the same place where a suicide bombing took place recently,” he added. “Sensitive areas generally have high security alerts, and soldiers and civilians were martyred in the suicide attack. The sensitive nature of this location was also a factor in yesterday’s unfortunate incident.”
The KP spokesperson urged the public to exercise “extreme caution” given the current wave of militant attacks.
Meanwhile, a global rights organization, Amnesty International, took notice of the firing incident in Bannu, calling it a violation of the right to peaceful assembly.
“The use of lethal force at a peaceful rally advocating for peace is unlawful and is at odds with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,” it noted in a statement.
“The Government of Pakistan has repeatedly failed to promote and facilitate peaceful assembly, and to ensure the safety of protesters,” it continued. “[Amnesty] urges the government to promptly investigate and hold to account officials responsible for the attack.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also said it was “appalled” by the development.
“This seemingly state-sanctioned violation of citizens’ right to life and right to freedom of peaceful assembly is reprehensible and reflects a dangerous contempt for citizen-led calls for peace,” it added.
The participants of the public gathering in Bannu have announced to continue their rally.

Pakistan welcomes ICJ ruling on Israeli occupation of Palestine, calls on world to implement it

Updated 20 July 2024

Pakistan welcomes ICJ ruling on Israeli occupation of Palestine, calls on world to implement it

  • The International Court of Justice on Friday said Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and east Jerusalem violated international law
  • Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in 1967 Mideast war, Palestinians seek all three areas for an independent state

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday welcomed the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and demanded the world implement the ruling to ensure the Palestinians get their due rights.
The United Nations (UN) top court said Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and east Jerusalem violated international law as it delivered on Friday a non-binding advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s 57-year occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for an independent state. The ICJ ruling could have more effect on international opinion than it will on Israeli policies.
In a post on X, Sharif said the ICJ ruling that Israel must end its occupation and illegal settlements was a vindication of the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people.
“I urge the international community & UN to implement the ruling, ensuring Palestinian self-determination through a two-state solution in line with relevant UN resolutions,” he said.
“Proud that Pakistan contributed to the case, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to the Palestinian cause.”

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters.”
Friday’s ruling by the ICJ came against the backdrop of Israel’s devastating 10-month military assault on Gaza, which was triggered by the Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel.
The court also found that Israel’s use of natural resources was “inconsistent” with its obligations under international law as an occupying power.
In a separate case, the ICJ is considering a South African claim that Israel’s campaign in Gaza amounts to genocide, a claim that Israel vehemently denies.