Mohammad Hafeez, the new Pakistan team supremo, is seeking “excitement” in the daunting prospect of his side’s three-Test tour of Australia, a land where they have lost their last 14 consecutive Tests.
Hafeez, the team director and effectively head coach, has never played a Test in Australia but on the eve of their departure urged his side to play modern, aggressive cricket and see Pakistan’s losing streak as an opportunity rather than a burden.
“When there is an excitement in your challenge, when there is a nothing-to-lose opportunity and a lot to gain, you’re winning,” Hafeez said. “As a team our goal is not what history says but what we can go out there and achieve. The mindset is very clear – this is a very exciting challenge ahead of us and, together, we can bring better results. I can’t answer for past results, but from here on you will see inshallah better results for Pakistan.”
Those past results make for grim reading. Fourteen losses across three generations, four by an innings, one by nearly 500 runs, three by nine or ten wickets: it is not a streak that is easily offloaded.
Pakistan fly out early Thursday morning and they do so in a bit of the disarray of the bad old days. A new captain is in place who never feels too far away from being dropped (as Shan Masood’s 30 Tests in 10 years and an average under 30 show), there is no official head coach (Grant Bradburn is officially still with the PCB), the old team director Mickey Arthur has been sidelined not let go and they’re on a fifth chief selector this year.
On the field, as has been the case on their past three tours, the worries revolve around the bowling attack. Shaheen Shah Afridi is the spearhead but it’s less clear who will step up alongside him. The absence through injury of Naseem Shah, the stagnation of Hasan Ali and the inexperience of Abrar Ahmed as the main spinner means prospects aren’t especially bright.
But Hafeez remains confident. “It is an exciting challenge and I repeat that a lot because when you want to gain something, you get excited. Naseem is injured, but I don’t think you can pin losses on the absence of one player. Every player has to deliver.
“In this team, the bowling unit has good bowlers, the best ones in the Pakistan system have been selected. The bowling line-up that we have, I have a very strong gut feeling that they can give winning performances there. When you take 20 wickets, that is when you have a chance of winning. I think our bowling is capable of doing that.”
Amid the gloom of the Asia Cup and World Cup results, Naseem’s injury, the management changes and ongoing administrative instability, it’s easy to forget that Pakistan’s last Test assignment was an uplifting one. They swamped Sri Lanka across two Tests in Sri Lanka and did so with an entertaining, attacking verve.
The batting order is in good health and Hafeez said he expected Babar Azam’s game to flourish even more now that he has been relieved of the captaincy. Hafeez didn’t refer to the much-trumpeted “Pakistan Way” – the attacking brand Arthur and Bradburn brought to the side in April – but he did insist that attacking cricket is the clear message to the players.
“Every team has their own winning mantra and strategy. We will not play according to how another team plays, but we will have to make our own strategy of how we are going to win. Pakistan’s cricket has always done better when they are being aggressive. That is the very clear message to all the players that we want them to play with an aggressive mindset. We will not change to someone else’s style, but we want to have our own strong style.”
Pakistan cricket had been left behind somewhat by the modern game, Hafeez said, and only once they had accepted it could they move on.
“Modern-day cricket is not a pill that you swallow and you suddenly start playing it,” he said. “It is an intent, a way of thinking, that you want to play in a dominating position, to stay ahead of the game at all times, and to bring in impactful performances. Everyone at this level performs but it’s no point unless it is impactful. We need to come out of our comfort zones and work towards achieving team goals and being impactful. You will hopefully see Pakistan cricket take the first step towards playing modern-day cricket.”