Inzamam-ul-Haq: ‘ICC should do away with two-match Test series’

In a wide-ranging interview, Inzamam talks about T20 cricket, the importance of India-Pakistan bilateral series and why the International Cricket Council (ICC) should do away with two-match Test series in the future...

Inzamam-ul-Haq believes India is reaping benefits of its robust domestic structure, whereas Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not been able to develop their first-class cricket that much.   -  Special ARrangement

Franchise cricket was still at a nascent stage when Inzamam-ul-Haq hung up his boots. The former Pakistan captain admits that the game has changed immensely over the last few years with the emergence of several franchise leagues.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sportstar, Inzamam talks about T20 cricket, the importance of India-Pakistan bilateral series and why the International Cricket Council (ICC) should do away with two-match Test series in the future...

You are back in the Pakistan Super League as the mentor-batting consultant of Peshawar Zalmi. How has the experience been so far?

For a cricketer, it is always good to return to the ground and share his experience with the youngsters. Ever since I have come into the PSL with Peshawar Zalmi, it has been a lovely experience to work with the young and talented players and guide them.

READ: PSL - Rashid Khan earns Lahore five-wicket win over Islamabad

For players like me, who have retired more than a decade ago, T20 remains a new format. And so far, I have enjoyed every moment with the young guns and the environment is also very good.

What are your thoughts on the bio-bubble. How challenging does it get for cricketers to stay motivated in such an environment?

Now, virtual communication has become the norm. The PSL got delayed by a few days and that actually gave all of us some time to prepare, because otherwise, coming out of quarantine and hitting the ground straightaway could have been difficult. Even though players were training in their rooms, it is not easy to be confined to a room for 10-12 days. Bubble life is challenging - both physically and mentally, but it is beyond anyone’s control. So, the players need to be mentally strong.

When you play cricket, you are anyway under pressure. In our times, whenever we had a bad game, we would try and shrug off the disappointment by hanging out with friends or going out for a meal or just going shopping. That helped the players to relax. But now, you have no option but to stay inside the bubble. If you are playing a long series, you end up spending months in a controlled environment, which is definitely tough.

“India has done very well in T20s and it remains a tough team in the tournament. Even England and Pakistan are good T20 sides. The standard of the T20s have gone higher because most of the top players feature in franchise leagues and have vast experiences in the shortest format.”

Another important thing is that you don’t get to meet or interact with players from other teams freely because of so many protocols. As a result, there is no scope to pick their brains. So yes, it is definitely challenging for the players.

In your playing days, franchise cricket was unheard of. But over the years, several leagues - including the IPL, PSL - have come up. Have these leagues improved the standard of the game?

In terms of bank balance, things have improved (laughs). On a serious note, cricket has changed immensely and it is time to accept that. Even some 15 years back, all the focus would be on a player’s technique and how he fared in Test cricket. But now, things have changed and the focus has moved on from just technique. Now, it is about whether you can hit big and how you can handle the situation. Now there is a demand for such a kind of cricket and hence, there is adequate supply.

I believe that each era is different from the other. Our previous generation played on uncovered wickets and as a result, technique was even more important. Then we came in, and the focus remained on technique. But in today’s time, it is about the skill set and high level of fitness. Today’s requirement is different from the old times and I believe, had franchise leagues existed in our times, even we would be required to possess a similar skill set and fitness.

With the emergence of so many leagues, there have been ‘club versus country’ debates. How should the cricket boards maintain the balance so that it does not affect the international cricketing ecosystem?

If you look from the cricketers’ point of view, their career span have shortened. If a cricketer is playing regular international cricket and league cricket throughout the year, he aims to remain fit, but with too much cricket, it impacts the (workload) and eventually, the careers are shortened. The cricket boards and the players should ensure that country comes first and being the governing body, even the ICC should encourage players to play for the national team. That should always remain the priority.

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What are your thoughts on the current Pakistan team and how do you see the rise and rise of Babar Azam?

Babar is an absolute great player. It is so good to see him perform well and consistently. After a long time, a player of his calibre has emerged. He is an amazing talent.

Pakistan recently played against South Africa and Zimbabwe and performances have been good. But there are a lot of youngsters in the team who need to work really hard in the future. I think they are yet to contribute as much as is expected from them. They will have to work hard and once they gain the confidence, they can do well.

Look at the way a young Indian team defeated Australia at home! The moment you win a big away series, it boosts your confidence and similarly for Pakistan’s youngsters, it is important to develop their skills. The more they play overseas, in different conditions, they will get better and I believe, once they start winning away series against good teams, they will gain more confidence and self belief. The forthcoming overseas series will be crucial for Pakistan’s youngsters. If they can consistently perform, they will get better.

“It is important that the top eight teams are asked to play at least a certain amount of Test cricket a year. The ICC should also consider doing away with the two-match Test series. There should at least be three Test matches in a series and that is a must to save the longer format.”

There was a time when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka dominated world cricket. But do you think now Asian cricket has largely become India-centric because Pakistan and Sri Lanka are still in a transition phase?

That's true. Until 2010, there was intense competition among these three teams. But over the last 10-12 years, India has improved its game immensely and has certainly gone ahead of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The credit goes to the IPL for sure, but I must admit that India has focused a lot on its first-class cricket structure and that has played a huge role in its development. The associations have got money and the players have got world-class facilities - in terms of training. India is reaping benefits of its robust domestic structure, whereas Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not been able to develop their first-class cricket that much.

Some 15 years ago, when a youngster came into the scene, he would get a few years time to settle down, but now, there is no breathing space. The moment one enters the scene, we expect performances from him.

Earlier, touring sides struggled against the Australian team despite having top cricketers in their ranks. It was nearly impossible to beat Australia at home, but a bunch of youngsters from India actually did an incredible job by defeating the Aussies in their backyard. And that’s why, your first-class structure needs to be top notch - because it prepares you well. That is one area where Sri Lanka and Pakistan are slightly lagging behind.

Back in your playing days, the Asia Cup was a prestigious tournament, where the young cricketers could prove their mettle. But now, the tournament seems to have lost its sheen. Do you think that it is important to revive the tournament for the betterment of the game in this part of the world?

Each and every competition is important. In our times, the Asia Cup was a tournament where the top teams would compete. The more you play high quality cricket, you develop your skills. For instance, if India were playing Pakistan, the players would be excited to put in their best efforts because they know the importance and intensity of these matches. That not only helps a player grow, but also helps him earn appreciation from the fans. I think it is important to have these tournaments.

India-Pakistan series was followed much more than The Ashes and people thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment. For the betterment of the game and the players, it is important to have the Asia Cup and also bilateral series between India and Pakistan.

When we would play against each other, it was a great feeling. In those bilateral series, it was also an opportunity for the young cricketers to learn a thing or two from the senior players. Be it a Sachin Tendulkar or a Sourav Ganguly or Mohammad Azharuddin or Javed Miandad, the youngsters could just walk up to them and pick their brains. That was a fantastic opportunity to improve one’s game.

The on-field rivalry was intense, but at the end of the day, players respected each other and shared a camaraderie. Meri toh bari khwayaish hain ke yeh cheez dobara shuru ho jayein ( I wish this [India-Pakistan series] resumes) .

The World Championship final will be played between India and New Zealand next week. Going forward, what should be done to make Test cricket more exciting?

If you have to keep Test cricket alive, the ICC needs to make it mandatory that each and every cricket board commits to 10-12 Test matches a year. These days, most teams play two-match Test series and the focus is mainly on ODIs and T20Is, so it is important that the top eight teams are asked to play at least a certain amount of Test cricket a year. The ICC should also consider doing away with the two-match Test series. There should at least be three Test matches in a series and that is a must to save the longer format.

I know time is a constraint these days, and as a result, we hardly see teams play a full-fledged five-match Test series, but being the governing body, the ICC should look into this.

Having said that, I must talk about some positives. In our times, out of 100 Tests, only 20 would have a result and the rest would be drawn. But now, 80-90 per cent matches have results, and unless there is a rain interruption, there are hardly any drawn games - that is definitely a positive sign, but we need to look at other aspects as well to ensure that Test cricket remains exciting.

The T20 World Cup will be held this year. Which team, do you think, has the edge in the tournament?

It is very difficult to predict a winner in the T20 format. On a good day, one player can single-handedly destroy the opponent and things can change in a matter of three or four overs. As of now, there is no clarity on where the tournament will be held, so that will also play an important role.

India has done very well in T20s and it remains a tough team in the tournament. Even England and Pakistan are good T20 sides. The standard of the T20s have gone higher because most of the top players feature in franchise leagues and have vast experiences in the shortest format. The overall standard of the teams are very high and I am looking forward to some high quality cricket.

Until a few years ago, most teams from the sub-continent - including India, Pakistan - would rope in overseas coaches. But that has changed now with India roping in Rahul Dravid, Ravi Shastri or Pakistan appointing Misbah ul Haq as the senior team head coach. How do you see this?

Rahul Dravid has done an incredible job with the India U-19 and the A teams. I think the boards looked at foreign coaches initially because our local cricketers were not too keen on coaching and they did not have the necessary coaching degrees.

But now, they have done their coaching levels and are taking a lot of interest in the game - which is a good thing. As a result, you see so many local coaches in tournaments like the IPL or the PSL. This experience is certainly helping them and the boards have also realised that they have all the qualities.

The way things are, I am sure coaches from the sub-continent will be hired by overseas teams over the next five or six years.

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