‘Big name’ Waqar Younis back for Pakistan cricket team again
It sometimes feels as if exits in Pakistan cricket – whether forced, manufactured or none of the above – only occur so that subsequent returns are possible.
That is one way of looking at the re-appointment of Waqar Younis yesterday as the coach of Pakistan, more than two years after he resigned.
But because it is Waqar, at least a little of the cynicism can be shed. If one ironclad rule of public exits is that one should go when people are asking why, and not why not already, then Waqar was probably too much of a stickler for it last time round.
It really felt, in August 2011, that Waqar and Pakistan were in the middle of something special. They had negotiated a particularly turbulent 18 months. Performances and results with a redrawn team ethic were assuming a kind of valour.
So deep did his imprint feel at the time that it was impossible to ignore it in Pakistan’s series wins against Sri Lanka and, memorably, England even though they came after he left.
If that sounds like a slight to his interim successor Mohsin Khan, well, then maybe it is.
It felt even more an incomplete affair because it was never clear why he left. He plumped for personal reasons, including never clearly explained health issues.
A very public fallout with Shahid Afridi could not be entirely ruled out and later it emerged there were financial compulsions.
Waqar had always privately maintained that employment with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was a loss-making proposition, given how much he earned as a commentator.
In all, a wide gamut of smallish reasons snowballed into an early, rancour-free but unsatisfactory exit.
Why did Waqar work? There is no secret to coaching: some work better if they micro-manage obsessively, others produce better results when shorn of regimented control. No method works forever.
Waqar flourished because, despite being a big name former player – and they do not come much bigger – he brought a little humility to his role.
He once expanded on his belief that one of the things Pakistan needed in a coach was a big name. “In our place, players are sometimes bigger than the game, that is a reality and a tradition,” he said. “To suppress that, you need a bigger name from on top.”
It is an interesting way to look at it because what he did was to both use and subvert that. Some of his younger players could not but respond to a man they had probably idolised while growing up, especially when he showed that he was willing to sweat it out on the field with them, as well as take a back seat off the field.
There was obviously a problem with Afridi, then the ODI captain, but with Misbah-ul-Haq as the five-day leader, there was cohesion and deep respect. That was and will again be crucial.
But to return now? Pakistan do not progress or regress linearly like most sides. They have done neither definitively since Waqar left but it is also not as if they have been in stasis.
The dynamics to which he returns have changed. The age is no longer what it was. Pakistan do not require rebuilding as they did after the 2010 tour of England. They need to develop.
Off the field there is a different administration in place with a vastly rejigged management set-up. Waqar generally liked to be in control.
He will necessarily have to cede some space to Moin Khan, who, short of captaining the side himself, is in charge of pretty much everything as manager and head selector (through committee, he is also the man who chose Waqar).
That could be fun to watch because the pair have not always got along. Waqar has also said he believes the less people jostling for influence in Pakistan’s dressing rooms, the better the side performs.
There will be benefits. Both Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad had significant spurts of development in Waqar’s time, as members of the set-up if not conclusively as batsmen. He returns with both considerably advanced.
They are in form, confident and established. From here Waqar needs to ensure they become the men around whom Pakistan’s batting revolves.
In need of his utmost attention though, is the fast bowling. Mohammad Akram is an honest, hard-working man who has somehow overseen a rapid decline in fast bowling, encapsulated pointedly by Junaid Khan’s inexplicable recent regression.
Whatever else he may or may not achieve, it is impossible to imagine Waqar not revitalising those resources.
Given how crucial pace is to Pakistan’s fortunes – nobody knows it better than Waqar – that prospect alone may be enough to justify his return.
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This article was also republished by ESPNcricinfo here.
Published: May 6, 2014 04:00 AM