Grant Flower: ‘I’m not sure Pakistan’s players train as hard as the other best players in the world’353 views
Batting coach Grant Flower has claimed that Pakistani batsmen are not as hard working as far as fitness is concerned saying our players are very inconsistent with the way they practice.
Flower said Pakistani batsmen remain in the elusion that whatever they have been doing in order to keep themselves fit is enough for them to excel in the international circuit.
“At the international level most of the guys’ techniques are sound. With Pakistan, it is more trying to get the routine right, but it is also about the preparation off the field regarding fitness,” Flower told ESPNCricinfo.
How has your journey been so far as Pakistan’s batting coach?
It’s been varied. Success with the Test team, I really enjoyed that part of it, as we had a settled side with a good captain and we got some good results. My point of view regarding the batsmen has been really good and we had victories against very good teams. But as far as one-dayers and T20s go – we struggled, and looking at the stats, the guys’ performances had gone down.
What are the negatives?
Our performance with the bat. The averages and strike rates of quite a few players have actually gone down since I’ve been with the team, so I have to ask myself some questions. But I don’t have all the answers.
But the positive has been the Test performances. It’s pretty good with the settled unit. I have a good captain, who leads from the front and has a good cricketing brain. But sometimes there is more pressure in ODIs and T20s, as you have to make quick decisions under pressure all the time. In Tests you have more time. Everyone says Test cricket is all about patience, but I think it depends on how you look at it.
What were your thoughts before joining the Pakistan team and now after spending nearly two years with them?
I always thought the players are exciting, skillful strokemakers, so I was looking forward to working with them. I knew they play with flair and that was exciting. I thought it’s a matter of just fine-tuning.
But it was quite tough. I have to see where I went wrong regarding the preparation of the batsmen. I think you can’t just pinpoint one thing. There are a lot of things to weigh regarding the way Pakistan cricket is, how the guys play, the things they have to deal with off the field, and, more importantly, the mental side, which, I think, has a lot to do with batting.
But from an overall perspective, I have enjoyed it. I would have enjoyed it more if we had more success in the shorter versions of the game. But I have no regrets about taking up the job.
What are the aspects you have worked on with the batsmen?
At the international level most of the guys’ techniques are fairly sound. With Pakistan, it’s more trying to get the routine right, but it’s also about the preparation off the field regarding fitness. You not only need that in fielding and bowling but equally in batting. If you are physically fit it, will definitely lead to a good lifestyle and better judgement at the crease. In practice, if you are using the same routine, that surely will lead to consistency.
Our players are very inconsistent with the way they practise. Of course, there are a few exceptions, and it’s not surprising that [those players] have better records and have been more successful over a long period of time.
How much is a batting coach to be blamed if his batsmen have failed?
To a certain extent. If the coach is unsuccessful over a long period of time, there is a good chance he is not going to keep his job. You can only say so much, get them all the practice they want in the nets, talk to the players, but the players have to make the right judgement at the crease as it’s their own career at the end of the day.
I don’t think our guys have done well with pressure. In the international level, especially with batting, the major aspect is how you deal with pressure, the critical moments. Our players haven’t been up to the mark on that.
You have been emphasising attitude a lot. Can you elaborate on what you are trying to establish?
Attitude meaning your preparation as a professional sportsman. It requires a lot of sacrifice to play for the country. You can break it down – mental side, reading about the game, being a good student of the game, learn every day, lifestyle, gym work, and all those things required to be a better cricketer. It’s not like 20 minutes in the gym, 20 minutes in the nets. It’s about quality time, absorbing everything rather than just being seen doing the right stuff and walking away saying that I have done enough. A lot of guys kid themselves. They think they are doing enough to be playing for Pakistan and getting great results. I know a lot of time they are not doing enough. Sometimes I wish they could watch how world-class players prepare and what it takes. They watch a lot of cricket, but I don’t know if they really digest what they see to get to the top.
Is having a sports psychologist the answer?
I think it would help in certain cases, as some players enjoy that side and some don’t. You should be careful about how you go about it, because I think some players are afraid of what they are going to find out about themselves.
A lot of coaching comes down to man-management, knowing your players and what will work for some players. From Pakistan’s point of view, a lot of players don’t know what works for them. Some of them are afraid of finding out the answers.
I think they should definitely be encouraged to use the psychologist. I am sure the psychologist will say a lot to them and then a lot of them will come back to establishing routines. The best batsmen at the moment, [Virat] Kohli, AB [de Villiers], have routines. Their lifestyle is getting them where they are now.
So does this mean the players are not working on their weak areas because they don’t want to know the answers?
I think they do work on their weak areas, but they could do a lot more. When you are an international player, you should be waking up and asking yourself: what do I have to do more to improve myself? If you are not answering that question then I don’t think you should be there.
It’s a huge privilege to be representing your country and I think psychology has a big part in it. I hope the upcoming camp will also cover the psychologist session and I hope the players take that in a positive manner.
The batting collapse is a routine feature in Pakistan’s cricket. How do you feel watching your batsmen not doing the right things despite everything you have done to make them better players?
Yes, very frustrating. I think at the time they go on to the field they try a 100% percent, but they are not playing at their 100% ability. If you go back to the preparation, in the camps they are not putting in all the effort that can get them to a certain level. A lot of camps end up curtailed. The camps are not long enough and intensive enough.
The intense preparation you should have isn’t happening before tours, so the results are not overly surprising. I know how the best around the world prepare. Our guys, who think they are preparing a 100% in the camps, gyms and in the nets, don’t compare to the best.
Given the culture and mindset of Pakistan cricketers, do you think you need a different approach to make them understand?
I am not sure. You should ask the players. Pakistan is unique. The players here don’t have the exposure that other countries are having with incoming tours. They played the first IPL, which is great, but they are definitely falling behind on the amount of cricket they play as compared to the other countries. There are exceptions like Zimbabwe, but there are many who are above them on the ladder. I think that’s the biggest reason.
You can make excuses at a certain level, but players eventually have to look at themselves for the answers. Sometime I wonder if the guys are being professional enough. I’m not sure if they train as hard as the other best players in the world.
The one important point is that the players are playing with a fear of failure. I believe this has to do with selection, but they are not alone in this. There is always a sense of competition in professional sports, and you will be dropped if you don’t do well. They have to find a way of dealing with it. However, it leads to certain players batting within themselves and not playing their shots.
So you are saying international cricket not being played in Pakistan is the reason for the failures? Don’t you think that’s an excuse, because at least Pakistan is playing cricket at every level?
You have to play competitive cricket, especially within your own country. That factor has put Pakistan back in terms of development in domestic cricket. You can see how far Indian cricket has gone ahead with the IPL. For the players, it should make you work harder, challenge you to match yourself to the world level.
Whether you use it as an excuse or not, it is still a fact. But yes, since I’ve been here we haven’t played well enough. We have been exposed in all aspects. This somehow has to do with fitness. A lot of guys are not fit enough. I am not blaming our fitness guy [coach] by any means. Our guys don’t work hard individually.
Will the PSL make any difference?
Definitely. Dealing with other players in the world, mixing with international cricketers in the changing room, speaking with other good coaches will give great exposure.
How do you explain the talent of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad?
I think they will be the first to admit that they haven’t used their talent wisely. In professional sports, if you take shortcuts, you get found out in the long run. I think they are still good enough to do well but they have to stay fit and give their 100% focus on the game and getting big scores for their country.
Shehzad has been playing differently since he was hit on the head during the series against New Zealand.
It takes a lot to get your confidence back. All he can do is practise hard against short balls to find the right balance. He was definitely affected [by the hit] and lost confidence. It can happen to anyone. He has to be honest with himself and find out how to play without fear again. When he was dropped from the Asia Cup squad, he was angry. He played without fear in the PSL as the pressure was off. He needs to do that in international cricket.
He has to re-examine his practice routines and do more taxing drills that are more reflective of international standards.
Waqar Younis said that the only way Shehzad can win his confidence back is if he spends time in the nets like Kohli does. In a bid to copy Kohli’s batting, Shehzad will get over his fear of being hit again. That he is the sort of batsman who can copy the best. Do you agree?
You can always learn from the greats, but I think it’s most important for him to find his own way. He admitted to me to the other day that he is trying. He can make things simpler for himself by getting his on-field stuff right through his lifestyle and making good decisions, getting the right preparation, getting the fitness drill right and his attitude.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are two Test batsmen who are working to become better one-day batsmen. Do you think they can make it in the long run?
Azhar, after starting as a legspin bowler, eventually turned himself into a very accomplished Test batsman. He is putting in a lot of hard work to make it work in one-day cricket. He is willing to improvise and is one of our better players. I think he should definitely be playing the format. He has the talent, but more importantly he has the attitude right.
Asad is technically our best player. He can play ODI cricket. All he needs is to believe in himself a bit more, expand his game slightly. He needs to express himself, play a few more shots. Asad reminds me of myself – playing with certain limitations. But you can’t do that these days because people expect the total to be 300-plus.
There is a belief that Sarfraz Ahmed needs to bat at the top of the order.
Saf is one of our better batsman, the most consistent. I think he was padded up most of the time for batting higher during the World T20, but the captain decided others should go ahead of him, so that is not really my domain to comment on. I wasn’t asked for my views on the batting order. He can do well [at the top of the order] but he has to keep working on his game and on his fitness.
You toured Pakistan as a batsman in ’90s. What are your memories of playing back then? How different is it from today?
There was a lot of feeling of apprehension about facing Waqar and Wasim [Akram] on green wickets. We weren’t sure what to expect. But once you face a few balls you get over the nerves. It was always exciting touring Asia for me and my brother Andy.
In Peshawar, we beat Pakistan. We arrived at the ground for practice two days before the Test and saw there were two pitches – a green one and a very, very green one. We thought that the green one must be it. But Wasim or Waqar said, no we will be playing on the very, very green one. We thought these guys must be joking. Anyway we went on to win the Test.
Your contract ends in two months. Are you happy to work with Pakistan’s batsmen if asked to continue?
I am very happy to continue working. I enjoyed working with the guys, but I hope they can wake up some day and say that playing for Pakistan is a privilege and ask: how can we get the most out of our ability? I know that as a coach it is my duty to get them to think like that, but it eventually comes down to the player himself. Yes, I do want to stay a bit longer as my contract has already been extended until September for the England series, but thereafter it depends on the incoming head coach.
What are your thoughts on the circumstances that led to Waqar Younis quitting?
It was unfortunate what happened. I feel sorry for the guy. I got to know him very well. I was quite surprised he didn’t carry on, because he had a great record as head coach in Tests and we are just going to play a four-match series against England.
What he said after [quitting] was very strong, but in his recommendations were great ideas. I see most of them are being implemented, which is good for Pakistan.
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