The left-arm pace bowler missed out on selection for the recent World Twenty20 and remains off the selectors radar despite commendable stats at international level.
He continues to ply his trade in Twenty20 leagues around the world, most recently in the Pakistan Super League where he was a member of the Karachi Kings squad and was coached by the newly appointed Pakistan Head Coach, Mickey Arthur.
Now one of the top-paid players in the Caribbean Premier League where he will represent the Guyana Amazon Warriors, the 31-year-old spoke exclusively to PakPassion.net on a range of subjects including the Pakistan Cup, Inzamam-ul-Haq’s appointment as Chief Selector, his aspirations of a return to the Pakistan team and his experience of working with Mickey Arthur.
Let’s start with the recently concluded Pakistan Cup, how was that experience?
Sohail Tanvir: It was an excellent tournament and it proved to be a very competitive one too. The quality of cricket was impressive and from a spectator’s point of view, there were lots of exciting games with some close finishes which is pretty impressive as these types of tight results are not common in One-Day cricket as the game is spread over 50 overs; this is more the domain of Twenty20 games. I also think that the weather was quite hot with daytime temperatures approaching 40°C so the teams bowling first had a bit of a disadvantage. I am not making excuses here; we all know that these types of issues are part and parcel of the game and we as professional sportsmen are used to it and do get on with it. The groundsman needs to be given credit also as he did a great job to prepare the pitch every night for the game the next day in such heat. It really was an amazing task accomplished by the ground staff and also, ultimately, the PCB who with the sponsors organised this tournament in such a short space of time.
Your past record in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) has been good, are you looking forward to the upcoming edition as well?
I started at a low price level at the CPL back in 2014 with the St. Lucia Zouks and then improved further with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in 2015. This year, I have been chosen as one of the top-paid players for the Guyana Amazon Warriors which is a great honour for me and I am really looking forward to fulfilling my duties in that regard. Obviously, being an Icon player raises expectations around you and I am training hard to make sure that I am up to that task.
How do you view the recent appointment of Inzamam-ul-Haq as Chief Selector and will that open any doors for your return to the Pakistan squad?
To be honest, I am still unable to understand why the door closed on me in the first place. I was only playing in one format which is Twenty20 and in that I was the top wicket taker for Pakistan in 2015. In my last international Twenty20 series which was against England, I was joint highest wicket taker for Pakistan alongside Shahid Afridi with five wickets, so not much wrong there either. If you talk about my batting, then I was the third highest run-getter in that series after Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi which is not poor by any standard.
So as you can understand, I was very disappointed to not be included for the Pakistan squad in subsequent games. A few critics question my fitness but as you know, the Pakistan Cup was played in very warm weather conditions. Unluckily, Azhar Ali our captain lost all tosses and we ended up bowling first in temperatures around 40°C. To my credit, I played all four games and also bowled up to ten overs in those games so surely fitness was not an issue there. My economy rate (4.08) in this tournament was the best amongst all bowlers and my batting was also important for the team. The 26 I scored off just 9 balls against Islamabad was crucial for our victory in a very tight situation. So overall, in terms of performance, the Pakistan Cup was pretty satisfactory for me. Regardless of this disappointment, as a player my job is to deliver and that is what I will concentrate on regardless of who is in the selection committee.
Now, Inzamam-ul-Haq has just taken over as Chief Selector and it will take some time for him to get used to what is happening around him. I don’t think he has been following Pakistan cricket that closely as he had his own commitments with Afghanistan cricket but I do hope that with the passage of time as Inzamam gets to know things better, the situation will improve for me personally. Modern cricket has changed a lot – I know we all say that but many of us don’t understand that concept. I am hoping that the management will take into account the changes that have been brought about in the modern game. Gone are the days when getting hit for six runs an over was considered a crime in the eyes of management. Nowadays, a bowler giving away 55-60 in his ten overs is considered ‘a job well done’. Whereas 200-225 was considered a par score before, recently teams are consistently scoring 300+ and still losing games so one could say that the economy rate expectations have changed a bit.
We need a Chief Selector who understands all these considerations of the modern game and I believe Inzamam is that person. The PCB have to be congratulated on the decision to appoint him but then I must caution everyone against any overnight improvements. Just like it is necessary to give time to players to improve, the same applies to the Head Coach, team management and in this case, the Chief Selector as well.
Lack of fitness of our current contracted players has been in the news a lot recently, does this shock you given there is so much emphasis in this area?
Frankly speaking, I cannot comment on the fitness of those players as I am in no position to do so but I will speak about the general emphasis on this aspect. Fitness only means anything if a player has the skills to perform. Now, you can say that being fit helps a player perform to his potential but what helps you on the field of play is your skill. Quite possibly in years gone by, fitness was not that important and you could get away with skills alone but it is not the case today. All of today’s players know that fitness is an important part of their game but unfortunately as you pointed out, this still appears to be an issue with our players.
Again, I cannot speak for other players but from my experience, I can tell you that when I started playing, keeping oneself fit was never given any importance. It was all about improving skills. Things have changed now but there is an underlying issue with lack of this awareness at the grassroots level. One cannot blame the PCB for this as this is just a cultural issue for us. Contrast that with England or South Africa where people are well aware of how to work on their fitness. So players at the Under-12 or Under-16 level are made aware of how to maintain their fitness or about the right techniques to train and so on. When this same player graduates to the senior level, there isn’t much more he needs to be told about these issues; this is not the case in Pakistan. Once this awareness is embedded in our young players then maintaining fitness will not be such an issue in the later years.
How was your experience in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) with Mickey Arthur as coach for Karachi Kings?
He was a very good coach for us. One thing I say is that if you wish to judge any person, you should see them when things are not going their way or when they are under pressure. In Mickey Arthur, I saw a very cool-headed person who refused to press the panic-button even though things weren’t going so well for Karachi Kings. Of course there was pressure on the players and the coach but he remained in control and carried out his work as normal. There was no overreaction, finger-pointing or attempts to blame individuals by Mickey. He was passionate about cricket and about Karachi Kings as well. I suppose at the end of the day, he will need some space and time to prove himself.
Mickey Arthur appears to be a bit of a disciplinarian so do you see an issue with that when he works with the Pakistan players?
To be fair, with such Twenty20 leagues as the PSL, the time to implement any policies from the coaching staff is limited so I did not see the side of Mickey that you are talking about. Language or communication in English was an issue but we had Mushtaq Ahmed in the middle who helped out in that aspect. Going forward, when Mickey works with the Pakistan team and depending on whether he has a local person in his coaching staff or not, language may be an issue as many of our cricketers may not be able to communicate that well. Having said that, if you are just talking about cricket then most players will be able to understand instructions even with limited knowledge of English.
What will be the biggest challenge for Mickey Arthur as he begins his tenure as Pakistan Head Coach?
Whenever anyone takes up a position like this, the only real challenge is to improve the ranking of the team. In Pakistan’s case this effort will be centered around the Limited Over formats. He will know that Pakistan are a much better team in all versions of the game than our ratings seem to suggest. For him the first task will be to come on board and understand the quality and temperaments of the players who are in the team. Once he gets familiar with the players and they with him, his job will get easier and the performances will show a marked improvement. In that respect, Pakistan are lucky to have someone like Mickey Arthur who has some great experience of coaching the likes of Australia and South Africa. He will be able to use this experience to assist the Pakistan players and work out plans to improve their performance.
Pakistan’s batting has been a big weakness in the recent past, do you feel that Mickey Arthur can help improve that aspect of our cricket?
If you look at our previous records, our batting has never been good enough to overtake our bowling strength in terms of winning matches. In my experience, I have never heard anyone say that we are a better batting side than a bowling one. This is not to say that we have not produced any batting greats. We had names like Majid Khan, Hanif Mohammad, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq and nowadays we have Younis Khan who can be considered as one of the top batsmen in the world. In my view, what Mickey should be looking to do is to make our batting side strong enough so that it can support our bowling side. The idea being that our batsmen should put enough runs on the board which our bowlers can defend with ease. We will never have the batting strength which will make us into a top batting side like India. This is similar to India’s position who have never had the best bowling side in the world, despite spending large amounts of money and hiring top coaches from around the world. I am confident that Mickey Arthur can deliver this improvement for Pakistan as he has a proven track record in such matters and one hopes that he can repeat the same for Pakistan.
Looking forward to Pakistan’s tour of England, are you optimistic about their chances?
This will be a tough tour for Pakistan, let’s not underestimate the challenge here. The home side is very likely to prepare seaming tracks for all formats of the game. Like I said before, our bowling has never been a problem but our batting must rise up to the occasion and provide the support needed by our bowlers. This will be the biggest challenge facing Pakistan in England and could easily decide the overall fate of the series.
William Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary commemorations have recently been making headlines around the world and whilst The Bard of Avon may well have left a legacy of fantastic plays and poems to please millions, one thing he did not count on was his words being used to describe the organized chaos which is the embodiment of Pakistan cricket as it stands today.
Thus, the words taken from Shakespeare’s famous play, Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” are words that only those who have watched the crazy goings-on in Pakistan cricket can appreciate with great interest. Whether it is the manner in which past PCB Chairmen have been chosen, placed or removed or how we have seen Pakistan team captains and coaches come and go via the revolving door at the PCB headquarters, the fact remains that Pakistan Cricket and its practitioners live (and possibly thrive) on such excitement and confusion.
Despite this, the fact remains that the national team has actually won some major world honours confounding all in its wake. Whereas the “Leicester City” style miracles could well continue to happen, it is also true that the current flux in the world of Pakistan cricket cannot guarantee progress without remedial action being taken in a hurry.
To many, the problems with Pakistan cricket start at the top. The ad-hoc manner in which Pakistan Cricket Board’s management seem to change can only instill a culture of short-term thinking which seems to seep from the top all the way down to the manner in which Pakistan squad members are selected and/or discarded without any real thought. The number of players who have adorned Pakistan caps for a series or even a single match, never to be heard of again is a stark reminder of this style of management. In an environment where a coach or a selector can consider himself lucky to last the original contracted period, it is no surprise that the players themselves suffer from a high degree of insecurity which exhibits itself in their own and eventually the team’s performance.
The not-so-inspiring selection of Khurram Manzoor for the Asia Cup, or Rafatullah Mohmand’s rise to fame are just a few examples of how in recent times, short-term thinking has also played a major role in the fortunes of Pakistan cricket. Whilst these policy related problems could be excused as failed attempts to take calculated risks for the benefit of the team, Pakistan cricket continues to suffer from more serious issues which if not fixed will continue to pull them back from any progress they make.
The recent spate of leaks of highly confidential reports which lead to very public spats between all concerned was a stark reminder of why the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) cannot look to a bright future ahead without a healthy dose of professionalism instilled in its very core by its leaders. Whilst the recently concluded Pakistan Cup which was termed by many optimists as the equivalent of the PSL on Pakistani soil may have brought some good news for local fans, what it also highlighted rather unfortunately was the problem which has plagued Pakistan cricket for many years.
The Younis Khan walk-out mid tournament to protest against umpiring standards and his magical return in time for the final during which time the PCB went from issuing a much reviled ‘show-cause notice’ to forgiving him in a matter of few hours was one example of the problems faced by Pakistan cricket. But more was to come, this time from the direction of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal, both of whom have shown scant regard for any semblance of rules of behaviour put down by their employer. Their escapades have been a source of acute embarrassment for the PCB but the “chalta hai” or “It’s OK” culture has ensured that despite a litany of misdemeanours they have always remained in contention for a place in the Pakistan team. When any attempts to enforce some sort of order is attempted, the age old excuse of “misguided talent” comes into play.
Umar Akmal’s talent is yet to mature in any meaningful way and it is heartening to see that the new Chief Selector, Inzamam-ul-Haq has wasted no time in establishing the rule of law and common-sense. This is something which he has made clear as he recently ignored both Shehzad and Akmal for the training camp for probables for the upcoming tour of England. Not only does that send a clear message that only 100% focus on cricket will be the way forward for both these players but it also sets a precedent for others to follow.
It’s obviously not all doom and gloom for Pakistan as there have been some spots of bright sunlight which seem to show that the future isn’t that bad after all. Mohammad Amir’s return is one example as is the rise of the likes of Sharjeel Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed or the emergence of new talent in the shape of Mohammad Nawaz or Mohammad Asghar or the continued brilliance of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the longer formats of the game. What is needed for Pakistan is a period of stability and some good professional management which could help lay the foundations for a better tomorrow. In the newly-appointed head coach Mickey Arthur, Inzamam-ul-Haq is likely to find a staunch ally who will insist on some basics of good behaviour and self-discipline and this partnership could augur well for a Pakistan team yearning for a way out of its current slump, especially in the limited overs formats.
Reports in India have emerged that the Pakistan Cricket Board is looking at alternate countries to stage its ‘home’ matches.
The UAE has been the venue for Pakistan cricket ever since its international exile over security concerns that followed the 2009 Lahore attacks.
The report released by the Press Trust of India suggests that this decision has been influenced by the fact that the PCB is unable to generate substantial revenue by staging games in the UAE.
As a result, Sri Lanka is being looked at as an alternative and could host West Indies’ tour of Pakistan later this year.
“We are discussing the matter within the board and we will also speak to other boards to study the feasibility of such a move but we are looking at moving our home series to Sri Lanka,” an unnamed PCB official confirmed.
The official added that the Sri Lankan board had in the past been receptive when proposals were discussed for Pakistan to host its series there.
Pakistan Cricket Board is considering option of hosting the series against West Indies in Sri Lanka instead of UAE.— Faizan Lakhani (@faizanlakhani) May 12, 2016
“They were receptive even when there was a chance we might host India in a short last January but the move didn’t materialise,” he said.
It is reported that the PCB had incurred expenses in the millions for paying the ground rent for the Pakistan Super League which was launched in February last year in Dubai and Sharjah.
There were also complications over venues for that inaugural tournament as it clashed with the Masters Champions League that played out across the same two emirates.
PSL organisers have already stated, however, that they have began talks with the Emirates Cricket Board over a return to the UAE this year.