Exclusive: Azhar Mahmood on Pakistan camaraderie and a way back for Wahab Riaz

Amer Malik 18:40 30/05/2018
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Azhar Mahmood is in the news and for good reason – as the mastermind behind the Pakistan bowling attack that took England apart at Lord’s earlier this week.

No stranger to British shores, he successfully played county cricket for Surrey and Kent.  He also married there in 2003 and, with a young family, is having to juggle his time between continents as well as commitments.

Amer Malik caught up with the former all-rounder at Lord’s, a day before the first Test match between England and Pakistan that saw the visitors take an emphatic nine-wicket victory.

Part one of the interview focused on Mahmood’s work with Pakistan’s bowlers over the last two years. The second part, below, focuses on the tour of England as attention turns to the second Test at Headingley starting on Friday.

Having watched the team play in the warm-ups against Kent and Northamptonshire, I saw a great atmosphere and great camaraderie between all the young lads in the side, along with all the support staff. Hasan Ali stood out as very jovial. This must only be a good thing for the team?

We have a great bunch of guys, each with their own individual personalities, all getting along with each other. Players such as Hasan, who is an extrovert, whereas Faheem is quite shy on the pitch.

Asad Shafiq who is also quite witty when among friends.

Team bonding is an important factor, and one great thing I’ve noticed is these guys pray for each other’s success. It’s beautiful, it really is, it just shows you how close-knit this unit is. Smiling and laughing while playing isn’t a sign of weakness, but confidence, it shows that we are comfortable with the situation, and not tense, which can be detrimental to performance.

Pakistan toured England in 2016. After Yasir Shah, the next highest wicket-taker was the often, and sometimes unfairly, criticised Wahab Riaz. Should there have been a case for his inclusion?  Not having raw pace in a team that is normally known to have it in great quantity.

As you know we’re here in the early part of the season, and conditions are not conducive to pace, and that’s the reason the selectors did not pick him. Wahab is part of our future plans. Sometimes you need to drop a player for him to come back stronger, as complacency can creep into your game.

Wahab had a great [Pakistan Super League], bowled with some genuine pace, we have done a lot of work with him and will continue to do so, as you’ll notice his no ball rate is now so much lower – he only bowled a few during the PSL. Plus his stint at Derbyshire will help polish his skills.

Wahab Riaz.

Wahab Riaz.

With the absence of Misbah and Younis Khan, do you think there will be a lot of undue pressure on some of these new guys to perform? We all know how ruthless Test cricket can be.

This tour is an opportunity for the younger guys to step up and put their hands up, and make a mark, especially someone such as Imam ul-Haq, and Shafiq, the latter is already an established test batsman.

Imam against Ireland, showed his maturity, he batted beyond his years and experience. This silenced his critics, and I’m positive he will continue in doing so. In Sarfraz, we have a great captain, always encouraging his players to push for their best.

Q: How will your batsman handle Stuart Broad and James Anderson?

A: In English conditions, these are two great bowlers – with 900-odd wickets between them. They will be extremely tough to handle, but we are ready to face them. It’s also an opportunity for the batsmen to make a name for themselves. If you perform and make your mark in England, it will always looks good on your cricketing CV.

Finally, you have sacrificed a lot of time – especially being away from your young family based here in England. Your eldest daughter Inaya has taken on the mantle of the next Mahmood to represent Surrey. This must be something you’re very proud of. Who would you like to see her represent if the opportunity arises – England or Pakistan?

I’m so proud of her. Mashallah, she was given the opportunity to play two years ago, without any help from myself.  Now my wife Ebba and I both encourage her to play and travel with her to all her games. If later on we get to that stage, then we’ll leave it up to her to decide.

Off the field you’ve been known to enjoy sports other than cricket. Are there any in particular? I know you’re an avid Arsenal supporter. Were you of the opinion that Arsene Wenger should stay or leave? And are there any other sporting achievements you could mention … ?

My only other achievement outside of cricket is beating you (Amer) in a round of golf – more so, as it was the first time I had been on a golf course.

(Ever the diplomat, Azhar made no comment on the Wenger question … )

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