A long way from the glitz of the Pakistan Super League and the glamour of international cricket, a duo of English coaches ploughed a discreet yet fulfilling furrow across Pakistan this winter.
Paul Franks, the former UAE coach, and his Nottinghamshire county colleague Bilal Shafayat concluded three months coaching in the top tier of the country’s professional game this week.
It culminated in their Central Punjab side winning the Pakistan Cup, the country’s top 50-over competition, in Karachi in Monday.
The win over Balochistan in the final was a repeat of the result the sides had played out earlier in the league phase of competition – a game that was played on Christmas Day.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done that – and it made it a happy Christmas,” Franks said.
“Despite the fact we were in Karachi, which has a high Christian population, I had written Christmas off. Taking on this responsibility, it was a sacrifice I had to make.
“I enjoyed the company of the staff in the evening, and we tried to focus on what we were there for. Family-wise, I was able to catch up with them at different points during the day.”
For Franks, who has also been a coach for Team Abu Dhabi in the T10 in recent seasons, the temporary winter coaching role brought back fond memories.
The former Nottinghamshire all-rounder had toured Pakistan with England’s Under-19 side 25 years earlier.
“It was quite a long time ago – I’m getting on a bit now,” said Franks, 43. “That was in 1997/98, and a lot had changed since then. The country has moved on a long way. A lot of the places we went to I had already been to before.
“Some had changed for the better. Some, unfortunately, had changed for the worse. I had some really good memories of that trip with England U19s, and I have made some really good memories on this most recent trip, also.”
Franks and Shafayat might not have been afforded the Presidential-level security that is standard for international touring teams in Pakistan but Franks said the hospitality was still faultless.
“I think we saw a lot more of the country than international teams would do,” he said. “We weren’t living everyday life. We were secure, staying in nice hotels, and travelled as a team a lot. We went out for dinner a lot and we explored.
“It was an intense period of cricket, which meant we didn’t have a lot of time off. I enjoyed the travel, seeing different parts of the country, and trying to understand the different cultures that live across Pakistan. That was the best part of the journey.”
Franks said he was grateful for the patience his players showed their new head coach when he arrived, and for “helping me follow conversations in Urdu”.
He also cited his time coaching the UAE national team eight years ago as valuable experience to lean on in his latest role.
“Understanding why they play the game and where they want to go is all part of the journey,” said Franks, who returns to his role coaching Nottinghamshire on Monday.
“The benefits of working with Asian expat cricketers in the UAE meant I knew what I was getting myself into.”
The memories he believes will stay with him longest from his tour are of the side’s huge run-chase to beat Sindh early in the competition, as well as the players’ kindness.
“The lads invited us out for dinner on New Year’s Eve, as I think they appreciated the fact I was away from my family over Christmas and New Year,” he said.
“Little things like that, they were really respectful of. We went to a beautiful place on the coast in Karachi, which was the most memorable moment away from cricket for me.
“It helped me let my guard down. I became very close to a lot of those boys. I believe you can be close to your players as a head coach – that you have to be.
“If you are going to get the best out of them, you need to know them, and they need to know you. So spending that time with them was as important as anything.”