Players must take ownership as this is not club level cricket: Younis Khan

Younis Khan, who is the only batsman from Pakistan to amass 10,000 Test runs, was appointed as the team's batting coach last year and his first assignment was on England's tour. Thereon, he was roped in till the 2022 T20 World Cup. At the end of a successful South Africa tour, Younis Khan shed light on various aspects at a press conference two hours prior to departing for Zimbabwe. 

Players must take ownership as this is not club level cricket Younis Khan

"We have won with a young team after almost seven years. It's a great sign for the Pakistan team to win away from home. There are many positives out of this series and a lot of learning for us. Many things need to be addressed as well," said Younis Khan.

Pakistan's top order was in sublime form and the top three Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, and Mohammad Rizwan were the main architects in scripting victories. Fakhar's massive 193-run knock in the second ODI pleased Younis Khan a lot as he wishes for every player to score big runs. However, Pakistan's middle-order collapsed on quite a few occasions and in the T20I series, Haider Ali had a torrid time and wasn't able to carry his PSL heroics. 

"It's a very pleasing thing for me to see that there have been some big innings. It's always my desire to see players score a ton. A few innings from Fakhar Zaman were great how he singlehandedly took the game till the end. Babar Azam's hundred and knocks were amazing and our shot selection has improved a lot. I always wish for players to play with full face (of the bat). I always try to remind players to play according to the situation.

"We did a lot of shuffling in the middle order. In the previous series, Haider Ali was opening and in the PSL for his franchise (league) he was amazing while playing down the order and did well. In this tour, we tried him down the order too and to merge him there but these are the areas that we need to work on. It's a young team, players are still getting settled. We are going to Zimbabwe now and players have a good chance to know their roles because a lot of tough cricket is coming up this year," added Younis.

Mohammad Hafeez wasn't at his belligerent best and the highest score was 32 in the second T20I a Johannesburg. Moreover, Younis expects his players to develop the habit of finishing a game once they get set on the crease.  

"Mohammad Hafeez looked a bit off-colour and especially when the top order was performing too well, he didn't get much time to play down the order and sometimes you are unable to play well in a crunch situation. I always tell my batsmen, not to leave anything behind and finish the game and as we saw yesterday, we weren't able to manage a run-a-ball score," opined Younis. 

The erstwhle Pakistan captain wants players to take ownership and prepare impeccably to thrive in international cricket. He believes two to three series for any capable player are enough for him to prove his mettle. He also talked about the limitations of his role and that he doesn't have the final say on selection. 

"We have selectors, chief selectors, head coach and it's their call to decide how much time and chance they give to a player. My personal opinion is that if you give a player two to three series, then if they have the calibre, they will perform. I can give my suggestion and I am working under others, not the other way round and you know the final decision is of head coach but I try to give my feedback.

"We are trying to find the right combination. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to tell players not to play the national game and then we hear the news that coaches don't allow players to play national games so during a match it becomes difficult to make these decisions. Players must understand and take ownership for them and do the right preparation as this is not club level cricket and we can't always (be strict) and the onus is on the player to step up and the players do understand and the roles are emerging," said Younis. 

Younis shared his own example of how he used to take initiative and be proactive in weeding out issues in his batting so as not to let coaches intervene much.

"When I played Tests, One-days and T20 cricket, I used to try that coaches rarely come to me because I was motivated to take initiative myself and I used to work on my weaknesses. There are many players in the world who are not that extraordinary, but they get the job done according to the situation and they contribute to the team's success."

There has been criticism that the selection committee has been too quick in integrating some domestic players who hog the limelight in Pakistan Super League and sometimes they don't have many List A matches under their belt and Younis concurs with the common notion but said sometimes selectors concede to popular opinions and succumb to the media pressure. 

"I have always been a believer that a player must have plenty of first-class cricket experience. We used to learn a lot from grade two cricket. A player must have a lot of List A matches. However, sometimes the pressure is built on coaches by media, commentators to pick players and then players like us talk on Youtube that (give a chance to a certain) player and then selectors get influenced by that. I would always see how much cricket a player has played. Playing for the country is very important like you see many players from South Africa are playing the leagues of other countries but not playing for (their own) country. So before picking any cricketer, we must see how much cricket is under his belt. The players who play for your country should be the best ones. If they require 10 runs average then they should not maintain five runs average and they should play according to the match situation," said Younis. 

Younis gave his own example of how he struggled in the first four years of his international career but then didn't look back and was able to work on his issues. He is sanguine about Haider Ali's future and ascribed his patchy performances to shuffling of his batting number.

"Haider Ali is going to become a star player of the future. I have written everything in my diary and I don't draw cartoons over it. I keep note of everything and work on every little thing. At this level, we are not working a lot on the technique. We want Haider to play his natural game but at the same time, we want him to improve his tactics. He had been playing as an opener but when he thrived at the middle order for the franchise, he wasn't able to do the same at the national level. I struggled for four years in international cricket but I kept working and improved. 

"In international cricket, it's a huge responsibility on the player as we are representing 22-23 crore people so I didn't wait for the coach to come up to me, I used to work as much as possible to improve my game so players need to learn from their mistakes. Haider is trying to learn and overcome his weaknesses," remarked Younis. 

Younis walked how ard it was in his heyday to break into the team as the competition was fierce and the players went through great ordeal and hardships to stake a claim in the national and city sides. 

"In our time, the team was very tough and landing a place in the side was extremely tough. I wasn't able to play for Karachi for a long time despite being a top player in the city. So we often had to play from Sialkot Peshawar and other cities and the competition was fierce. It's my desire that there should be a benchmark and players shouldn't just have one odd season behind them. If we talk about Haider Ali, he played one season for PSL and so many people hyped him up on Youtube and media and they said to give him chance and he was lucky to perform right away. It's hard to find players like Javed Miandad who would come at 17-18 and play well in these tough conditions. 

"We have to make quick decisions at this level but at the same time give proper chance to players. For instance, we should give time to Danish Aziz and not suddenly say that he is not good at backfoot. We must give time and indeed they have to perform and when you are unable to perform people ask questions. Even Saeed Anwar got a pair when he started his career but later on became a world-class batsman so we don't want any talented player to go to waste and put unnecessary pressure on a player so we need to give some time as well. We need to decrease players' shuffling so players don't get double-minded. These are not the kind of players who have come from kilns, they have mostly played T20 leagues and the expectations are high on them when they get the spotlight so we need to give time to them to (adjust)," said Younis.

Younis Khan is glad about Babar's Azam progression and improvement in his captaincy. He notes an improvement in his shot selection and is happy with his fitness regime. His ability to play against spin and power-hitting saw a marked improvement against South Africa. 

"Babar Azam's learning process is fantastic. When Babar came into this team back in 2014-15, he saw Younis Khan, Misbah ul Haq, Mohammad Yousaf play and learned from them. His quality is the hunger to score runs. His captaincy is improving and his shot selection has improved and I don't want to take credit for his progress but he wants to fulfil everyone's expectations. His fitness has improved a lot and his tactics are very clear. His technique has improved and he used to struggle a bit against spin but he has overcome that as we saw on this tour. He has worked on his power hitting and we saw that he didn't use to plays sweep shots and I am not saying that I taught him, but the expectations from him compelled him to play cut shot, pull shot, sweep shot," said Younis.

The covid-19 situation has changed the way bilateral tours are arranged and sometimes the scheduling is not ideal for players. Younis shared his views on how a player must e willing to make sacrifices as the sense of fulfilment that one gets from performing at the highest level is worth the effort. On a question regarding Asif Ali's inability to shine, Younis pointed how he wants to do justice with every player and give them proper chance and sometimes personal hardships can make it onerous for a player to perform. 

"It was a tough series as we played four T20s in eight days and 10 years ago if we used to play three matches, we had like 15 days but these days due to covid and a lot of training it's very tough and some players are fasting too. Even if a player is not part of the team, he has to do rigorous training and some players are fasting as we saw how Mohammad Rizwan played a long inning, did wicket keeping so you have to very tough to make a name for yourself in the world and climb up the rankings. There are sacrifices to be done and one should be willing to make them because the happiness one gets after performing for the country, for the family; is absolutely unparalleled and makes it all worth it.

"Asif Ali is in a phase that requires our support and he has had a tough time off late in his personal life so I think we should give these players full chance so we do justice with them. Players should also try to use the support and perform for their country first. When your intention and thinking is better, you can achieve a lot even if your technique and tactics are not superb," said Younis Khan.

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