'Pakistan played with a clear mind and positive intent'

"Of course, in a Cup competition, it’s all about who turns up in the semis and final. Pakistan peaked in the final and played an almost perfect match,” says Richard Pybus, who had coached Pakistan between 1999 and 2003.

Richard Pybus played a key role in the development of the game in Pakistan during his tenure as the head coach (1999-2003).   -  V. V. Krishnan

After Pakistan's historic win in the Champions Trophy, Richard Pybus agreed to speak at length on how he sees the rise of Pakistan cricket. During the course of the interviewon Tuesday evening came the news of Anil Kumble resigning from India’s coaching job. As one of the applicants for the job of India coach, Pybus was surprised at the development. He, however, remained calm. “Let them (the BCCI) first inform me whether my application has been shortlisted or not,” is how the Englishman ducked Sportstar’s question on his chances of landing the job.

Rather than thinking about the future, Pybus was at ease, discussing the rise of Pakistan cricket. Having played a key role in the development of the game in Pakistan during his tenure as the head coach (1999-2003), Pybus was of the view that the Champions Trophy victory is a milestone in Pakistan cricket.

Excerpts:

How do you see Pakistan’s win in the Champions Trophy at a time when there is no international cricket in the country?

It’s an exceptional achievement. Pakistan have been challenged by not being able to utilise the innate advantage of playing at home. They have developed a fortress in the UAE with Test cricket, where they have become virtually unbeatable. And, to develop such an exciting group of young players and have the courage of conviction to bring them through speaks volumes of their planning, the high performance programme, selectors and team management.

Having worked with the team before, do you feel that the mindset of this young crop about handling big games — against India — has changed?

Having a young group of players with no historical baggage of losing to India or failing in the ICC tournaments allows them to play with freedom, with a clear mind, with positive intent and full focus.

In your long coaching career, there have been quite a few successes and failures. Do you think that a cricketer or the coaching staff in the sub-continent is always under pressure? One bad series and there is a possibility of the set-up being shuffled…

No, I think those days have gone where boards would sack coaches without cause or because of a regime change. Boards are far better run now, better administrated. That doesn’t mean that coaches don’t risk being fired, they carry the can for team results. Along with the captain, a coach’s position too can become untenable with consistent failures.

Where do you think Pakistan did better against opponents in this Champions Trophy?

I thought many of the teams produced exceptional cricket. India and England were standout teams. Of course, in a Cup competition, it’s all about who turns up in the semis and final. Pakistan peaked in the final and played an almost perfect match. India were exceptional throughout the tournament, and the challenge was to be able to hold on to that consistency and stay focused.

Pakistan players celebrate after winning the ICC Champions Trophy against India on Sunday.   -  AP

 

At a time when match-fixing has once again reared its ugly head in Pakistan, how much will this victory help to bring back the trust in the sport?

It looks like the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been proactive in addressing match-fixing and making it a difficult environment for 'fixers' to operate in. That shows clear intent and speaks to the broader public that they are being proactive on the matter. That in itself garners trust. The Champions Trophy victory is the icing on the cake.

Another team you coached — Bangladesh — has also done well in the Champions Trophy. Do you think that the Asian teams are slowly coming of age?

Yes, very much so. I think the boards have been proactive and have sought to secure the best coaching staff, if that is from home or overseas or a combination of both, and it makes for a strong, professional set-up around the players.

From a coach’s point of view, which are the areas that Pakistan has worked on?

I think selection committee, under Inzamam-ul Haq, has focused on bringing through cricketers who are serious about their game and serious about playing for Pakistan. That weeds out a lot of players who look the part but don’t have the attitude to put in the work or commitment to achieve success at the highest level.

This is a young team with a new leader, and there is a good sense of camaraderie among them. This has perhaps worked well for the team, unlike in the past when young players had issues with seniors in the team?

The team really has moved on; the selectors have been clear about who they want in the set-up. Sarfraz can be proud of how he brought the team together. They looked focused and were a cohesive unit, and the captain can take a lot of credit for that. He read the game better as the tournament progressed and ensured they played with the aggressive intent that Pakistan is renowned for.

How do you find the domestic circuit in Pakistan? Do you think it has changed over the years?

I wasn't really there long enough to comment on this; much of my time was spent either on tours or in camps, I didn’t live in Pakistan.

There was a time when there were allegations that most of the players don’t give their hundred per cent. But this time, it has been one good unit. How do you see this transformation?

It shows that the selection panel, the team management and high performance programme are on the same page with the vision and standards that they want for the team.

You are one of the applicants for Team India’s coaching job. Talking from India’s point of view, where did things go wrong for the side in the final?

India’s challenge when they had played such good cricket throughout the competition was to be able to maintain that level of performance. To peak again in the final after the wonderful cricket they produced in the semis proved a bridge too far against an inspired Pakistan. They can be proud of the quality of cricket they produced throughout the tournament.

Do you think India was more complacent ahead of the final?

My answer would be same as the previous one. That’s all I would say.

Coming back to Pakistan cricket, many former cricketers believe that this victory has prepared the stage for the 2019 World Cup. What is your take?

It’s still a long way to 2019, but this will give confidence to Pakistan. However, teams generally don't reflect on lessons learnt on winning.