Couch Talk 101 (Play)
Guest: Misbah ul Haq, Captain, Pakistan Cricket Team
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Pakistan’s captain Misbah ul-Haq. He talks about his late start to his cricketing career, what it is like to be Pakistan’s captain and how he handles the various personalities in the team, the lack of international cricket in Pakistan, his scoop shot in the 2007 World T20 against India and his future amongst other things.
Welcome to the show!
Misbah ul Haq (MH)– Thank you!
SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure having you on.
Let’s begin with your playing career. You had a very late start to your career. Your first class debut was when you were 24 years old and your Test debut was when you were 27. Considering how young players come into the first class system and national system in Pakistan, it was a pretty late start for you. I came to know that Geoffrey Boycott had said that you will never make it as an international player. So, can you talk a little bit about your early career, why it was so delayed?
MH– Actually, I was just playing cricket in Pakistan – it was mostly with tennis ball. People used to play with that and I used to play in my school days with a tennis ball most of the time. I wasn’t playing regional cricket with a cricket ball, and I really started very late. But, I was in love with this game. I really enjoyed this game wherever I played. I was also busy with my studies. So, I couldn’t really play much cricket at that time. So, I really started playing the regional games when I was in college. I moved after graduation to Faisalabad and played a little bit there in the college. Then, finally when I came to Lahore for my post graduation, I started playing cricket here – club cricket for service industries. I was busy in my studies, and during studies I used to play my club games and some of the Grade 2 games. But, I took it as a profession after my post graduation. So, that was the reason I really came late in to the set up. Right from the start, one thing was very clear, that I was really enjoying this game. I love this game and I really wanted to play this game.
SJ– What kept you motivated to keep playing at that level so that you kept yourself in contention for Pakistan?
MH– I think the most important thing was my passion, the way I enjoyed this game. i love to play this game, and that was the main motivation for me to keep playing this game. At some stage, when I started playing the game [with] some of the national and international players at first class level, I realised that I can also play at the top level. Then, I started thinking on these lines and took it seriously, I worked hard and performed well at first class level. Then, it became a sort of challenge for me to prove myself at this level.
SJ– Now, you have been Pakistan’s captain for a while now. It has been a period of relative calm. If you look back in the 1990s, you had 4 – 5 captains within 4 – 5 years. So, what is it like to be the captain of Pakistan? The fans in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan can be very demanding. The media can be very brutal. So, how do you manage the expectations of the fans and the media and your own expectations?
MH– I think it is really important to understand the situation as a captain of Pakistan. Of course people demand a lot of things, cricket is the main sport in Pakistan and people are really emotional about that. When you perform well, they really appreciate that and love you. And, whenever the team performs not up to their expectations, it could be the other way around. You need to understand these situations. And also the media, because the whole of the nation is like that. It can be reversed at any time. You need to understand this, work hard and try to meet their expectations. That is what I did in this case – really trying to do just be with the team, try to perform well. There are times when you don’t perform well and you have to just listen to everybody, because the people will come hard at you. But, I think you need to get out of this with good performances and hard work, that is the key.
Being the captain of Pakistan, it is really a proud [thing] for you, to be the captain of the country no matter the levels of difficulties that you are facing, but it’s a big honor.
SJ– There is a question form listener, Shoaib – because you have this quiet, calm, mellow personality on how you approach cricket, approach your players and everything but, yet, I’m sure you are quite aware that there is this division – either people are very supportive of you or completely against you – that someone with your kind of personality generates that sort of feeling, it must be surprising for you.
MH– *laughs* It’s alway s like that. People sometimes say that I am reactive and I am not aggressive, and these kind of things comes from different people. But, it is not how you pretend, it is how you act. It is not important that you must be aggressive towards your own teammates or towards the opposition. I think it is your performance – how you perform at the cricket field, that’s what is important. Your performance shows your attitude at the ground. If you can show your aggressiveness, if you can show your body language, with your performance at the crease, that is the key for me. I always believed that for a player, the performances is the key. Whatever you do, if you are performing well, that shows how keen you are, how aggressive you are on the cricket field.
SJ– Outside of performances, how do you handle, as captain of Pakistan, the personalities and the egos? For example, you may have player that is a little reserved, like Mohammed Hafeez or someone that seems to have fun on the field, like Saeed Ajmal. Or, someone like (Shahid) Afridi who has a larger than life persona in the team. You have to handle all of these personalities in the team. How do you manage that?
MH– You need to accept everybody with their personalities. You don’t want everybody to be like you. I enjoy being with them because of the kind of personalities they are. All the time, just try to understand what they need. Whatever they like to do, (I would) try to be like them whenever I used to be with them on or off the field. That is how the teams are and everybody knows each other when you spend so much of the time with each other. We know the weaknesses and strengths of everybody’s personalities and we have to be with each other all the time and accept those. That is the key to make a team work like a team. I really enjoy [my time] with everyone, I have no issues with somebody because it is their nature – you can’t change it. Somebody is very light all the time, somebody is very serious all the time, somebody needs to speak all the time – you have to accept that.
SJ– You are one of very rare cricketers because you have a post graduation, you have an MBA degree. To have any kind of college degree is quite rare among international cricketers. How much of that plays a role in how you handle the various people and the various tasks ahead of you, as a batsman, as a cricketer and as a captain?
MH– I think it has really helped me, my education has helped me throughout my career. Assessinging situation, assessing people, how to act and how to react. I studied a lot of subjects regarding human psyche, management, leadership, different kinds of subjects that really helped me throughout my life, in every aspect of my life, not only sports. I think I am really lucky in that I have already studied that and I know a bit of that. So, it is really helpful especially while being captain of different teams, and captain of Pakistan team. Knowledge is something that always gives you something special in decision making. So, I think it has been really helpful and it is important for me that I have that background.
SJ– It is said that a captain is only as good as the team he has. You may have all the ideas, you could be Imran Khan, but if you don’t have good players in your team you cannot succeed as a team. When it comes to the formation of the team, how much of a say do you have as a captain, in picking the squad?
MH– It is really important for a captain to have a good team. I had a good team, it responded really well since I took the post in 2010. I think youngsters really performed well and seniors took the responsibility. The last 1-2 series, you could say that we were not up to that mark, we were not performing well in the last 5 – 6 months. But, before that we were performing really well. It is important that you have a good squad to win the matches, the series. Sometimes you struggle and your team and players get out of form. That is part and parcel of the team.
Normally the selection committee really listen to my requirements, whatever I have, and fulfil that regarding what I need in the squad. I think at the end of the day we are all together, everybody unanimously decide on what we are going to do. Sometimes, they respect your thoughts, they respect your suggestions, and sometimes you will have to listen to them because they also have some of their ideas. It is a mutual decision, understanding, that we are taking forward as a team. Obviously, they listen to me and sometimes I have to listen to them, we talk and we have long conversations about that and finally we take decisions.
SJ– You mentioned the recent 5-6 months. One of the thing that mainly the team has struggled in is the top order batting. You are coming in with 3 wickets down and you and Younis Khan are basically rebuilding again. There is a question from another listener, Omair Siddiqui – you played a lot of domestic cricket in Pakistan, have you noticed any drop in the quality in the batsmen coming through the Pakistani first class system? If you think so, why is that happening?
MH– There could be different reasons for that, but it is definitely happening. A lot of talented batsmen are coming through our system, but still when they come to the international scene, it seems like they lack something. Some of the basics are missing and that is why they struggle at the top level. They really take some time to settle down. I think we need to improve the quality of the competition of Pakistani domestic cricket. At the moment, I don’t know what is happening, I have not played domestic cricket for the last 2-3 years. There is something that needs to be improved – maybe we could say the quality of competition, the facilities, the kind of work we have to put into our domestic level players to do well at international level, and we need to lift our standards of international cricket.
The main thing hitting us is the exposure. Look at the other teams like India, most of the domestic players have exposure to international players in the IPL and are playing so much cricket. They are getting mentally strong, getting self confidence on how to perform at that level in front of big crowds and the cameras when everybody in the world is watching. That is the key, that is hitting the Pakistani players most of the time. When you come to international level, you are under pressure, but you never had that exposure before. That is the thing which really hurt the players and you really get behind [the rest of the world on] how to perform in those sort of conditions. You need to improve that, you need to give players more exposure, maybe it is a better idea to have your own international league where players get exposure at that level.
SJ– There hasn’t been international cricket being played in Pakistan since 2009. As a young boy, young man, you must have watched a lot of international cricket growing up. For most international cricketers their passion for the game comes from watching cricket in their hometown or home stadium. What sort of long term impact does not having international cricket played in Karachi or Lahore have on future generation players coming from Pakistan?
MH– I think that is the biggest problem for Pakistan at the moment because whenever international cricket comes to the country and the youngsters and people, even the players are playing club or domestic cricket watch the players and the game live when bigger stars from outside your country are playing in your country. It really motivates you as a cricketer and gives you something that just says “this is why I am playing this game”. When you just watch them live in the stadium you learn what to do as a cricketer. That is why cricketers in Pakistan are behind all others in the world because you don’t have that sort of motivation, that sort of guidance in the country. At some stage it turns the youngsters away and the passion of the game and the interest in the game goes down. Whenever it is international cricket, and the kind of cricket going on all over the world comes to your country, it really motivates you. It lifts up the standard of cricket in the country.
SJ– I have a couple of quick questions for you. This thing, I have to ask you, because the shot that you played in the World Cup T20 in 2007, it completely changed world cricket. Basically, it led to the formation of the IPL and become as successful as it has. But, I want to ask you particularly about that shot – what was on your mind, especially against Joginder Sharma who doesn’t have much pace – what was going through your mind before you played that shot?
MH– I think that was one shot which I was so perfect throughout the world cup and even before that. I was so confident in playing that shot that I could play even to an off spinner and clear fine leg easily. So, I was so confident about that, that is why I took that option. But, sometimes you can’t execute your shots properly. Most of the people think that it wasn’t a good option to have because Joginder Sharma doesn’t have pace, but my idea was to hit it over the keeper’s head. I used to do it so many times before that and I never failed in that, that is why I took that option. But, I couldn’t execute it properly. At that time, that was my best option, that is why I took that. Now, it is a different story. Maybe, if that situation comes, maybe I would go for another option. Obviously, whenever you are in a situation like that and you are the person, you go for the option which you think you are really good at.
SJ– What were the emotions? We have all seen the pictures – you were squatting down, kneeling down with your head over your bat handle. What were the emotions running through your head? Later on, were you satisfied that ‘I made the right choice of shot, it just didn’t come off. So, I am OK with it.’ ?
MH– It is obvious, when you get out and you couldn’t succeed, for some time you feel disappointment. But again, it is how it goes. Sometimes, you succeed with your shots and plans, sometimes you don’t. Obviously that was a big decision, when you are in a [WT20] final. It was a big disappointment. But, as a player you need to move on, you have to get out of that. You should do your best, you should try hard and that is what I did at the end. If you have a boundary, you would have won the game; if you didn’t have that boundary, the other team wins that game. so, it could happen – you can’t sometimes control the result, but as a player you should always believe that you put your best effort. That was one thing that was satisfying for me. But, obviously disappointment that I could not cross the line and couldn’t win the game for Pakistan. I was pretty satisfied that I gave my best effort.
One last question – you are 39 years old. The World Cup in Australia/New Zealand is in February-March 2015. What are your goals and ambitions for yourself and for Pakistan as you look ahead to the World Cup?
MH– Frankly speaking, I never look so far (ahead). I really want to play every game with the same passion, with better performance than before. And, as a team I really want to develop a team that can really go forward and perform well for Pakistan and win the World Cup. I don’t know how long I will go, but what I will try to do is – it doesn’t matter how long I play, in the games that I play I really contribute as a player and as a captain if I am the captain of the team. At the same time, I would really like to develop the game and the youngsters have to go really forward for the next 8-10 years and perform well for Pakistan- perform well not only in the 2015 World Cup, but after that too. They could really bring that same name that Pakistan which Pakistan have had at the international level.
SJ– You talk about developing a team for the future, for the next 8 – 10 years. But, let’s say you retire, is there a leadership vacuum, a leadership gap if and when you retire? Because, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious (choice) in terms of a guaranteed spot that is in form, that can take over from you.
MH-That is what the cricket board are trying to find. Some of the youngsters are really coming up, performing well, they need a little bit of consistency. They will learn, when they play regularly on how to go about that. Obviously, when you have responsibilities, then you have to come with something special. That is how I took that responsibility and carried on. As a team, as a management, as a cricket board, this is the biggest task for us – to select someone and give him confidence in future to not only perform as a batsman or a bowler but also to think as a captain, about how to take this team along with him. The board is working on this also, we are really thinking about that. I think this is a major task for all of us now.
SJ– Are there any obvious candidates?
MH– Anybody can be a candidate. You just can’t say that he is the one because only 3 or 4 are the senior players – me, Younis Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi – these are the 4 or 5 seniors. All others are of the same age group. It really depends how they carry themselves. You can just have a close look at them, and whoever responds well with performance and attitude, you could just move towards him. It is not any particular one player because 7-8 guys are of the same age group. How you tell them, how you handle them, and keep sharing your thoughts with them so they also think along those lines.
On that note, thank you so much for coming on the show, Misbah bhai!
MH– Thank you. It was a pleasure!
SJ– It was my pleasure. Thank you!
MH– OK. Bye!