Transcript: Couch Talk with Mudassar Nazar

Couch Talk 139 (Play)

Guest: Mudassar Nazar 

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Welcome to the show, Mudassar bhai!

Mudassar Nazar (MN)– Thank you!

SJ– It is my pleasure having you on!

I want to talk a bit about your playing career and then your coaching career and now your time with the Global Cricket Academy with the ICC in Dubai.

First of all, your father, Nazar Mohammad was the first batsman to score a century for Pakistan. You followed in his footsteps to become an opening batsman for Pakistan. Were there expectations of you to choose and excel in cricket at a very young age?

MN– I don’t know whether there were expectations, maybe the public expected it. My father was pretty mild about the whole thing. Although, when I look back, he did bring me up differently compared to the rest of the family. He must have seen my interest in the game at an early age, my passion about the game. So, I was given the freedom to play cricket at odd hours, while the rest of my family, my elder two brothers didn’t have that kind of free hand. They had to stay at home, stay indoors whether it was hot or cold, when I was allowed to play cricket at all hours.

Expectations? People talk about the burden, but I never looked at it that way. I never felt that it was a burden. I was so madly in love with the game and madly in love with my dad that I just wanted to be like him. This is how the opening stuff came to me. The first ball of the day, the first ball of the innings… That came from following in my dad’s steps. He had given up cricket well before I was born. It is just that I had wanted to be like him.

SJ– I read in an interview where you mentioned that you knew you would play for Pakistan by the time you were 10 years old. How do you explain that sort of thing?

MN– It is just that I was so passionate that nothing else mattered. I had to become a Test cricketer. It wasn’t said in the context that I was so good that I was destined to be a Test cricketer. I didn’t want to sound it that way, but there was never any doubt in my mind, I was never going to fall short of that. That was my whole ambition that I have to become a Test cricketer. I will be a Test cricketer one day. My existence was all driven towards being a Test cricketer.

It was only when I became a Test cricketer that I found myself sitting at home and thought “What now?”. Now that I have become a Test cricketer, what happens then? Many people imagine a cricket career along the lines of “If I become a Test cricketer, what it would be like?” For me, [it was only after] I became a Test cricketer, I realised there is life after this. What do I do now?

SJ– Your debut came against Australia in the 1976-77 series. You were facing (Dennis) Lillee and (Jeff) Thomson in Australia. And you had mentioned that you didn’t have the proper guidance to knowing what you should be doing to face these bowlers in Australia. Can you talk a bit about your debut?

MN– I can talk about that because it was something that I would never do to a youngster, what happened [to me] on that tour. We had been on the tour for well over three weeks, and all I did was bowl in the nets. That was all I did. Not just me, there were a lot of youngsters on that tour. It was a historic tour because he youngsters that went on the tour played for  Pakistan for a very long time. From the selectors’ point of view, they had done their job.

On that tour, we had a lack of bowlers, so all we did was bowl and bowl and bowl. Never got to bat. We weren’t lucky enough to be playing the earlier games as well. So, it just meant there was no batting.

On the eve of the Test match, Sadiq (Mohammad), who was a formidable opening batsman, went to hospital to have his little finger x-rayed. When he came back, it was starting to get dark at the Adelaide Oval, where we were playing the match next day. He came and announced, “I can’t play tomorrow. Because I have fractured my finger.” So, they started a discussion and they started looking around. Mushtaq (Mohammad) and Imran (Khan), being Imran – who even in those days was a senior member – looked around and said, “Yeah, who is going to open tomorrow?” he then looked at me and said, “Pad up and go and practice in the nets.” They gave Saleem Altaf the new Kookaburra ball and said, “Go and bowl at Mudassar.” I knew that he would be tough on me.We would practice till 2 o’clock when I was in Youngsters Cricket Club. He must have been very tired at the end of the day. But he took the new ball and bowled three balls at me that sailed well over my head. And then he said, “Yes. that’s enough.” That was my whole preparation for the Test match. And I was in Australia for nearly a month for that.

The next day, I was facing Lillee and Thomson. Before that I had seen Lillee a few times, a few clippings of him came through Pakistan in the news and videos where he got the Rest of the World out for 58, and then Garry Sobers subsequently finished up scoring 250 odd. I knew he was one hell of a great fast bowler and very, very quick. I had only heard of  Jeff Thomson but I didn’t know what was in store for me. Nobody told me how to face him and what to expect. But I was over the moon, I was elated that I was going to become a Test player.

I went in and Majid [Khan] faced the first ball. Lillee came in. There used to be 8 ball overs in those days, and they were an eternity. Majid cut him for 4 in one of the balls and drove straight past mid off when we ran 4. Throughout that over I just felt as though Dennis Lillee was bowling with a tennis ball. It would pitch and sail over Majid who was a very experienced batsman and very good at playing against pace bowling. He would just stay there and watch the ball sail into Rod Marsh’s hands. Just like a tennis ball. I didn’t know about it. the pitch was probably the blandest. The things was going to get tougher in the coming matches.

When I played my first ball I Test cricket, Jeff Thomson was bowling. I took the leg guard. When I stood up to survey the field, there was nobody in front of the stumps. Everyone was behind. All vacant area, acres of it. Just absolutely empty. Even the cover point was behind square. Short leg who is normally in front was also behind square. That was the kind of bounce he would generate, that the ball would go behind the square. Nobody in front. That was a novel experience. I can’t say it was frightening because I didn’t know what fright was in those days. I was 20. I had just become a Test cricketer, it was just fantastic. The first ball he bowled at me, it was at my throat, probably a loosener. I got a bat on it, the ball fell in front of me – there was nobody there and we ran one run. He got Majid out on the very next ball.

Every time I played and missed I thought the ball was swinging a lot, and it was because the ball was going past my nose. I had absolutely no idea until I looked around and I looked over my left shoulder and saw my teammates. They were doubled over in laughter. They were just laughing at me. “Who is this youngster going on the front foot to probably the fastest bowler ever?” But, I survived. I survived an hour and a half. Gary Gilmour replaced Dennis Lillee. He came and bowled this ball, at a much less pace. I went for an expansive drive and got out caught behind. I had been there for an hour. In the second innings, me and Majid put on 60 odd runs for the opening partnership. I played for 2 – 2.5 hours. I went out to the leg spin of Kerry O’Keefe, which was a disappointment.

That was my baptism. I felt good, but I wasn’t good enough to stay in the team because Sajid Mohammad was the main opening batsman. He came back and scored a century in Melbourne. So, I had to wait longer.

SJ– But you did go on to score 10 Test 100s. But the thing is that a lot of them came against your favourite opposition, India. Was there any additional motivation when facing India? or was it the kind of bowling that you faced that you felt comfortable?

MN– The main thing was that I was a front foot player and used to batting in the subcontinental conditions. India had a great bowler in Kapil Dev, many of my successes failures have come against him. Somehow, if you have a long career, you will always have some favourite team. I wish I were as good as Sunil Gavaskar… I wish my record against the West Indies were the same as Sunil Gavaskar’s, but we were poles apart. He was such a great player and I was just an ordinary player. But we do get a favourite team, whom we get runs against. But there is no doubt in my mind it wasn’t as technically equipped away from home as I was at home.

SJ– You have carried your bat through the innings like your father. You played one of the slowest innings in the century, and you had some large partnerships including that 451 with (Javed) Miandad. What does it take to play such long innings again and again? You can see that the players play a very long innings and then go through a very low period because they have exhausted all their powers. But how did you do that? How did you break your innings?

MN– We were lucky that when we were brought up there was a lot of school cricket and college cricket. We used to play for 3 day duration. That gave us the time to build an innings and stay at the crease for a long time. I feel pity for today’s youngsters, they have to adapt to 3 different formats of the game. Sometimes the demands on them are a lot more difficult than they were for us. We were given the time to prepare for an innings, and enjoy the innings. That made us stronger as well. a) we learnt the art of scoring. b) we were strong enough.

I see a lot of batsmen reaching their 50 and start getting cramps, which is rubbish. In order to play long innings, you need to be fitter. Getting cramps after 50 runs, that is rubbish. If you look at the demands of a good cricketer today, who has to prepare for 3 different formats, if he wants to make a name for himself. Otherwise he is limited to just one format. But, we were lucky. We were brought up that way. Probably that is why I like Test cricket more than any other format, even though I am a disciple of all three games. I love watching all three, and I firmly believe that there is room for all three formats in the world of cricket.

SJ– Batting is about partnerships, that is how you score runs. Not every batsman can bat the same way. For example, for Australia, David Warner is going hammer and tongs, while Chris Rogers is playing in his own way, at a strike rate of 30-35. People batting with (Virender) Sehwag go at a much, much slower rate than he does. What was it like for you?

MN– You complement each other. When I played my first class cricket for PIA, I used to bat with Majid. Majid would go at the same pace as the rest of the fast scoring players. I was more sedate. But he made life easy for me. He would attack the bowlers and all of a sudden the field would open up and the bowler will worry about the line and length, trying to stop the run flow. .

Warner is so gifted, unbelievable gifted. The guy can play in the same pace in Test cricket as well as in One Day Cricket and in Twenty 20. Sehwag is an exceptional player. People like Sehwag are only born once in a life time. They are match winners for you. They score at such a rate!  You have to get them out early. It doesn’t matter if the ball is swinging, it doesn’t matter if the ball is spinning; if they get going you are done on that day.

SJ– As you said, you played alongside Majid Khan, and you also played with Mohsin Khan, who people consider to be an attractive batsman. How would you – as a batsman, from your point of view- not get suckered into how they are batting? They can make batting look so easy. What kind of discipline do you have as a non-striker?

MN– It is a lot about having confidence in your own ability, and your own game. You need to understand your own game. You need to understand the need of the team as well. The partnership, which it is, both will start going at it if we are both good at it, that is fantastic for the team. But you don’t always get that. There would always be a player who is more sedate, who goes along the pitch which is also helpful for the team.

Mohsin Khan went off to score runs a lot quicker than me. but it wasn’t the runs he scored, the pace he scored at, it was actually his composure that I admired from the other end. He used to be so confident. That is what I admired. He never worried about getting out. The thing I lacked in my batting – was the fear of getting out. That leads to your downfall, you become timid and not go for your strokes. I would stand there and admire that guy putting his bat down going to bat. He was so calm. Of course he has butterflies, of course he worries about it, but he shows no emotion. He loved the challenge. You have to admire that in your partner.

Also, you are different than him. Maybe some of the qualities I have, he doesn’t have. So, it is a partnership, goes hand in hand.

SJ– You played in an era of great fast bowlers and spinners and also great batsmen. Who is the best batsmen, Pakistani or otherwise, that you really admired and enjoyed watching?

MN– Oh, very easy answer. I have not found anyone better than Sunil Gavaskar. He was my hero. Even though we would find it very hard to dismiss him, especially during the early days when he used to come and bat against us and I was an aggressive young man who wanted to unsettle him. His composure, the time he had and the amount of big scores he used to get, his concentration would be some unflinching. He was a nightmare, yet delightful to play against. I wanted to send him back to the pavilion, yet I just wanted to carry on watching him. He was a master when it came to play against the fast bowlers.

Against the spin bowlers, I thought the greatest batting I ever witnessed against spin was in his last innings in Bangalore against Pakistan in 1987. And, he was in an era where you had Greg Chappell and Viv Richards and Javed Miandad playing at the same time. Allan Border too. Great players, there might be one or two that I am forgetting. Yet, none had a better record against the West Indies, who were so dominant.

Imran Khan always takes my admiration because there were a lot of allrounders. On their day, they would out-do each other. But against the best in the world, Imran would stand firm and pick up wickets and score runs and every now and then win matches against them. These are the kind of people you look up to, who stand up against the mighty opponents, like the Australians and the West Indians were in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Sunil Gavaskar, he easily takes my vote.

SJ– Excellent! You had the happy knack of taking wickets, breaking crucial partnerships, both in Tests and ODIs. did you consider yourself as a batsman or more of an all-rounder?

MN– As a batsman who bowled, and who was pretty confident when he came on to bowl. I will sum up using one thing that Ted Dexter had said on commentary. I was one day watching the highlights and he was commentating. He said, “He looks alright, not that great. But look at the length he is bowling. He bowls at a length that the batsmen don’t like. He is always asking questions.” That is what my bowling was all about. Because I played against all of them in England, I played against most of them in league cricket, I would come across them every now and then in the NatWest Trophy or international cricket. I knew all the batsmen I bowled against. I knew where to bowl to them. It wasn’t just that I would bowl a ball and get a wicket that the captain would have me come back again and take a wicket again. No. there was a method to it. I bowled within limitations. There was a role that I had to play. I knew that when I come on to bowl I have to bowl 5-6-7 overs so that bowlers like Imran, Sarfaraz and Wasim could get some rest. Often, I needed to pick up wickets. There is no point in me coming and bowling and Imran coming back to bowl to the same batsman. Many a times, when I broke a partnership, I really didn’t get the next over because it is fine that I had taken a wicket but there were better bowlers. They would come straight back on and bowl the  side out. I played my part to help Pakistan win many matches. I am happy and delighted that I was able to do that.

SJ– You played your last Test match when you were 33. You must have felt that you still had a lot more to offer to Pakistan.

MN– Yes. Two things happened. I was living in England, my son was 5 years of age. He started schooling, he couldn’t come on tour. And also, I couldn’t go back to Pakistan and play 4-day game. If you didn’t play 4-day games you couldn’t play in the Tests. In the last 2 years, my Test cricket suffered because of that. I hadn’t played enough first class cricket.

Secondly, more crucially, I had to take on the Pakistan Cricket Board. Unfortunately I was the only guy who was pushed in to look after the contracts, negotiate the contracts and that put me in a very precarious situation with the cricket board. In the end I just thought that I don’t need all of this. I remember not retiring, but just staying in England and saying “I am not going home.”

SJ– I want to talk about your coaching career. You have been the coach of Pakistan, been with the academy and then with Kenya and now with the Global Academy here in Dubai. How do you go about handling the big name players that invariably have big egos? Say, having a team with great talents like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Inzamam (ul Haq)… All these guys – how do you go about it on the man management side of things.

MN– It is very difficult. Different players have different  temperament. The coach has to be brave and very good at man management. You think that the likes of Alex Ferguson didn’t have a problem at Manchester United? I remember Steve Bruce asking Alex Ferguson, “You ask us to be on time, and not wear certain things to training etc., but you allow Eric Cantona to do what he wants and he turn ups for training in Jeans. How could you allow that?” To which Alex Ferguson said, “Steve, If you can do what he can do with a  football, with your feet, I will let you do the same thing.”

There are times when the likes of Sarfaraz Nawaz or Shoaib Akhtar or Inzamam ul Haq is in your team, who don’t toe the line or not energetic, it becomes a challenge. You can overcome that challenge. But, when the cricket board management is not strong enough or the media is too intrusive, which is in the case of Pakistan… In Pakistan, there is no elected cricket body, the Prime Minister is the chairman. It is very difficult in Pakistan. As a coach, you are always looking over the shoulder. One bad result and you are out. One bad result and one section of the press is going to absolutely vilify you. From that aspect, I found it very challenging. Also for people not part of the system, maybe to people who are not Pakistanis, it would seem very hard. But we put up with it, we just get on with it.

SJ– The Pakistani team in the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and even in the 2000s, was just filled with great players, talents. Batsmen and bowlers – pace and spin alike, etc. But, the talent pipeline seems to be drying up in Pakistan. I am assuming that the lack of international cricket must be another stumbling block in attracting newer talent to take up cricket in Pakistan. What do you think can be done to overcome that geopolitical reality within Pakistan?

MN– Look, there is no running away from the fact that international cricket not happening in Pakistan has a bad effect on the whole thing. What happened in the apartheid era in South Africa? They stopped playing, they stopped getting sponsorship, they just stopped playing international cricket. But they kept sustaining their cricket, they kept running the development programs in their country, and there were players that went to several countries playing league cricket. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, it is not rich country. Pakistan is a poor country. In Pakistan you don’t get many sponsors. But at the same time, some of the hierarchy in Pakistan which has come and gone has never been benevolent to the development of the game. They think, “If you just look after the Pakistan national team, that is fine.” Pakistan team would be producing results, good or bad, they would be judged on that. That is just rubbish. You have to keep your first class cricket cycle and keep improving it. Nowadays every country has academy system. In Pakistan we started the academy and we had to stop the academy. We have broken that cycle about 3-4 times, and that is why you are struggling with the inflow of the youngsters today. Having said that, I have just been a part of Pakistan – A team. Pakistan has more stock of fast bowlers than any other country in the world. i just came back from Australia, South Australia were playing against Western Australia. I remember, in Western Australia, there would be very, quick bowlers playing for them, 4-6 of them, and many waiting in the wings. I didn’t see any of that, and I didn’t see any of that in South Australia. I have seen South Africa, and their u-19 team,  I have seen India and England.

Pakistan is blessed with fast bowlers, and yet people say that we are not getting anyone who bowls quick. Yes, we don’t have anyone bowling at 155-160 kph. Then again, Shoaib Akhtar came, Waqar Younis came, Wasim Akram came. That happens once in a decade. We have got bowlers who can bowl excess of 140 kph and there are more than 10 of them. Nobody has that. There are left armers, right armers and they have all got different actions. All we need to do is to work on them and get them into the system and get them to the academies. And instead, we didn’t take them. That is what Pakistan needs to do. We keep saying that domestic cricket in Pakistan is not good, and I think we have valid reasons for saying that. All the more reason why we should be getting all these budding youngsters into the academies, and then take them on tour. If nobody is in favour of coming to Pakistan, we might as well take them out. The last time the A-team went on an international tour was when I was in-charge of the team. That was 6-7 years ago. We have lost a generation of players. How do we cover up for that? Fortunately, I am saying fortunately because I have seen the Pakistan A team and I keep close tabs on the Pakistan u-19 team, there is a pool that you can work with, you can carry on working down the line with u-16 players, so Pakistan can still tap good players.

Our stock is not as great as other countries when it comes to overall aspects. You can look at batting, wicket keeping, spin. We don’t have 70-80 players there. we have got 30 players who are good enough to play and do well for Pakistan. If we can develop them properly and if we can look after them properly and then on top of that, start working on the development of the game in Pakistan and keep the cycle going, we will not be badly off.

SJ– There is a question from a listener, and that is – Which is the better Pakistani XI? The one that played in the 1970s and ‘80s, or the one that played in the 1990s and the 2000s? Wasim-Waqar era vs your time!

MN– The ‘90s Pakistan – when Imran left, I had left before that, Javed was still around – that was the best ever team Pakistan ever had. They had batting, they had bowling and sheer talent as well. They were on such a strong footing. But unfortunately, match fixing started and they became afraid of losing because they thought, “If we lose, they are going to blame us for match fixing.”  Pakistan team of the 1990s were as talented as Australian team and I don’t care if you had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in the team, you had the Waugh brothers, Mark Taylor, David Boon and a lot of other great players playing for them. But Pakistan were as good as that. But it is just that the fear of losing cost them. Even today, you ask anybody – who would you not want to be facing when you go to bat? And the universal answer is Wasim Akram. If you have Wasim Akram in the team, if you have Waqar Younis in the team, Mushtaq Ahmed in the team, you have 3 bowlers. And then you have Saqlain and Shoaib Akhtar. And you have Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzak as all-rounders. How can you lose a game? These are top players.

We [in the 70’s and 80’s] just had Imran. He would be helped by Sarfaraz (Nawaz) and Abdul Qadir, and then Wasim came along. And then when Imran started to decline, then all of a sudden Waqar Younis turned up. We didn’t have a full team. We used to have 4-5 top players, and the rest of us would just make the numbers. But the 1990s had 7-8 ‘great’ players playing in the same team. That was Pakistan’s best XI, yet it produced so little result-wise. It is unbelievable.

SJ– Alright!

Finally, Mudi pa, you have been associated with the ICC’s Global Cricket Academy. Could you talk a little bit about your role here?

MN– My role at the moment is Head of the Development. The idea was fantastic. The ICC would look after the elite players of the world. That is how it started. Because of the economic meltdown that happened, the project didn’t finish. By the time they finished the academies and started work and we opened up as ICC’s Global Cricket Academy, ICC High Performance Program had moved in different direction and we were supposed to look after that part of the ICC program. But, we do every now and then a high performance program like what is happening in the next couple of weeks. We are going run a 4-nation program at the academy. We do run independent school programs. We do run independent academy programs where the expat kids come and play cricket, and we have kids in abundance here. There are about 700 kids and we have them in all ages starting from 3-year olds. We have been fortunate over the years to create different age groups. Now, in United Arab Emirates would benefit from it. Recently we signed a contract with UAE Cricket, we are going to look after the national team and hopefully the national u-19 team as well as help them with the grass root cricket. What we started to do in 2009 is coming to fruition now. Hopefully from now on things will take a different route and I can only see good things for UAE cricket coming out of it.

SJ– Fantastic!

Thank you so much for your time and all the best with the academy.

MN– Thank you.

SJ– Thank you so much! Bye.


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman