Not a meek coach


Considering how he has formulated a winning team

Tactical nous seems to be underrated, or at least not talked about as much, in cricket. Perhaps even more underrated is the ability to man-manage. Tomorrow might be the second last Test Mohsin Hasan Khan will coach Team Misbah in Tests, but for the time he’s spent in the dressing room, Pakistan is grateful to Khan.

Pakistan has traditionally worked well with strong captains, who in turn have advised the board on the selection of the coach. The appointments of Richard Pybus and Geoff Lawson were both made on recommendations of the captains of the time. In practice, good coaches have had to take a backseat to their captains, much like Bob Woolmer and even Waqar Younis had to. In the case of the former, Inzi developed into an autocrat of sorts. In the latter’s case, one of his captains fell to the spot-fixing saga, another to perceived marginalisation from team selection matters. Consider this: of the four Pakistani players to have ever been found guilty of fixing, two were captains. Their coaches were assumed to be bystanders.

Khan’s greatest ally throughout his tenure as interim coach is his ability to keep up the meek coach routine, though meek is far from what he has been. Khan had run into squabbles with Shahid Afridi and Waqar Younis over selection matters in 2010, while he also painted Misbah-ul-Haq’s installation as captain as a choice made out of necessity since Younis was unavailable to lead Pakistan. Karachi’s cricket association accused him of anti-Karachi bias while Abdul Razzaq spoke of an anti-senior conspiracy, but Khan rode that pressure out. Perhaps it is because of the impermanence of his position, perhaps because of the personal confidence reposed in him by a new board chief that Khan managed to pull the selectors and the captain in the same direction. A record of no lost series has become an outcome borne out of practice, not simply logic or luck.

Assuming that the PCB reinstalls Khan in his role of chief selector – after all, he was interim coach and should still have his old job – there is a larger debate over how much influence a captain and coach have over selection matters. In 2010, before the South Africa series in the UAE, the Pakistan squad was announced without consulting the captain or the coach. At the time, Khan had argued that while he preferred that the captain and coach’s input were sought, nowhere did it state in the PCB constitution that the coach and captain “must have a say in the selection of any squad.” Afridi and Waqar had protested the decision, while Misbah had simply been told that about the squad he was supposed to pick a team from.

But along with Misbah, Khan has managed to create a Pakistan that is pragmatically exciting. While Misbah may lap up the plaudits despite his dour style, the core was created by Khan. Identifying Mohammad Hafeez and Taufiq Umer as a long-term opening partnership in Tests, and subsequently persisting with them, the elevation of Azhar Ali to No 3 and a chance to learn from Younis and Misbah, the axing of Umer Akmal on the pretext of poor temperament, persisting with Adnan Akmal, and of course the three-spinners strategy have all been decisions taken together with the captain. The underperformers have been sent home and a new hungrier bench has been identified. Letting Misbah choose his own lieutenants (Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal) was a masterstroke too; no captain wants to be a dummy and instead, wants to stamp his own mark on the team.

Once Khan returns to his chief selector post, a liaising link between the incoming coach, captain and selectors will have to be created. While all seems to be set for Whatmore to be named as Pakistan’s next coach, the question is how to go forward without rocking the boat and disturbing this upward trajectory. The Australians, ever on the forefront of coaching and technological innovation, recently handed their captain and coach great license in team selection. Khan’s greatest legacy will be leaving a settled combination and team. Whatmore’s mandate will be to improve on this. Perhaps the Australian solution is a roadmap Pakistan will need to adhere to.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist. Connect with him on Twitter @ASYusuf