Pakistan has talent, but Needs Improvement, Says Gillespie

Mon Jul 08 2024
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Shahid Akhtar Hashmi

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Pakistan now has a new red-ball head coach in former fast bowler Jason Gillespie. The first aboriginal to play cricket for Australia the 49-year-old Gillespie has a wealth of experience as coach, having lifted Yorkshire county from the depths of despair of division two in 2013 to back-t-back titles in Division one in 2014 and 2015. He also helped Adelaide Strikers to BigBash titles in the 2017-18 season.

Gillespie arrived in Karachi early Sunday and took charge of Pakistan Shaheens camp at the National Stadium. He was in high spirits and is looking forward to the challenge of coaching a talented but inconsistent Pakistan team. The country is in a cricketing snafu after crashing out of the Twenty20 World Cup in the first round. That team was coached by South African Gary Kirsten. But even the health of the Pakistan team in Test cricket is not good. They have not won a home series since beating South Africa 2-0 in January 2021. They lost 1-0 to Australia in 2022 before being whitewashed 3-0 by a rampaging England. That was Pakistan’s first-ever white-wash at home. New Zealand also played a drawn two-match Test series early last year while Pakistan’s fate in Australia was the same, a 3-0 rout in December 2023-January 2024.

So can Gillespie lift the overall gloom with nine Tests in the next six months. The first of the challenge is against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi from August 21.

Gillespie said he was excited to be Pakistan;s new red-ball head coach. “Yeah, this is very exciting for me to be in Pakistan after a long time. I am very much looking forward to coaching Pakistan and going on that trip to Australia with the Pakistan ‘A’ side.”

Did he watch Pakistan thrashed in his home country?  “Yes, I did. Obviously Pakistan lost that series 3-0 but I thought, as an outsider observing it, there were some moments in games where Pakistan were on top and competing hard particularly in that Melbourne Test where Pakistan were driving those games forward. ”

While admitting weakness in Pakistan’s fielding, Gillespie refused to say Pakistan was a bad fielding side. “People talk about fielding. There is a perception that Pakistan, at times, are not a strong fielding side as it can be. I am a big believer in working hard in fielding to improve that. I don’t think Pakistan are anywhere near as bad a fielding side as people say. I think they are a good fielding side but how can we get better. How can we improve each facet of the fielding? It is not one thing, it is in the critical phases of the game. For me those things are important .”

So what are the goals for him? “I think it’s always been said that Pakistan are a talented team but how can they be more consistent. I suppose that is one thing that I am hoping that I can find some solution for, with the players and supporting staff. A lot of people talk about ways to improve physical fitness. That’s a given, if you are a professional cricketer and once you reach the national level and play at international cricket fitness shouldn’t really be questioned. You should be robust and strong to represent your country. That is personal pride and professional discipline so I expect players to be fit, robust and strong and be able to represent Pakistan.”

In a major upheaval, Pakistan brought Shan Masood as Test captain, replacing Babar Azam. Shan led Pakistan admirably well and despite the 0-3 result he has been tipped to keep his position in the coming Test series against Bangladesh. Gillespie said he had spoken with Shan and the conversation was healthy.  “I have spoken a couple of times with Shan, and we had some really good conservation.”

So what style Gillespie wants Pakistan to play?  “I want Pakistan to be authentic to Pakistan cricket and how we can go about that. I will have that discussion with the captain, players and the coaching staff. How we want to be seen by other teams, by the public and what is the perception and if there are any perspectives that aren’t positive what we can do to change them.

“I love positive play but the question is what is positive look like, sometimes positive play can be getting through tough periods of a Test match when the opposition are bowling really good spells or finding a way to minimise the damage when two batsmen of opposition are playing well. It is problem solving, for me in the moment on the field and for me that is the important part of how you go about playing Test cricket.”

Gillespie revealed he has spoken with Pakistan’s white-ball head coach Gary Kirsten, the former South African opener. Kirsten oversaw Pakistan’s abject first round exit of the T20 World Cup last month. “I had spoken with Gary, we had a good conversation. The international schedule is so busy so it’s about managing players who are playing multiple formats. How can we best utilise those players so that they are very best for Pakistan in all the formats. That will form the basis of our conversation. Tactically, Test cricket is different.

“Our job is to work together for the betterment of Pakistan cricket and that’s what we are energised about and that’s what we are excited about.”

Gillespie acknowledged the disappointment of local fans after Pakistan’s failure in the T20 World Cup. “Obviously the white ball team is different. There are a lot of speculations on that (Babar Azam captaincy and various other changes). I understand Pakistan didn’t have a great Twenty20 World Cup and people are disappointed but I am sure that Gary must have learnt a lot from that as much as players but that’s not my part.”

So the first task is to improve Pakistan’s standing in the third cycle of the World Test Championship, currently placed fifth. Pakistan finished sixth in the first cycle (2019-2021) and seventh in the second (2021-2023). The WTC is competed by nine teams, excluding Afghanistan and Ireland.

“Ultimately we want to win games of Test cricket. There is a World Test championship and it’s obviously a challenge and that’s a goal. There is nothing wrong in reaching for the stars and saying you want to win trophies and we know there is a process involved in achieving that. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, a lot of discipline and patience but I believe that we have got the players to be able to do it. We just need to go out there and play as consistently, hanging in games for as long as possible, strike and win the moments to really drive those games forward and I will be big on that. There are skilful cricketers here, how can we play as a team and perform well against good quality international oppositions and that’s going to be the key for us.”

“We have got nine Test matches and if we play well in those Test series we give ourselves a good chance in progressing in the World Test Championship. ”

The first assignment is a two-match series against Bangladesh, starting in Rawalpindi from August 21. Gillespie has fond memories against Bangladesh, registering the highest score by a nightwatchman in his last Test with 201 not out some 18 years ago.

But he is not dwelling on his record. “It will be on how Pakistan plays against Bangladesh. My focus and energy on how Pakistan can play well against Bangladesh. They are a good team so we need to make sure we play well and do our research against them and identify. That is my first Test in charge.”

How will Pakistan fare against a rampant England who have changed the style of play with an aggressive approach. Their style is famous as “Bazball” named after their coach Brendon McCullum. Gillespie believes Pakistan can give a good fight to England.

“There is no reason we can’t be very proactive. England play their style of cricket and we respect that and that’s the way they play. I want us to play how Pakistan plays and that is going to be with the input from the players because if the players have a say in how we are going to go about it there will be a lot of buying and we can go all together which is important. England will be a challenge, no doubt about that. But I think we are certainly up to it and we have to make sure we are disciplined and patient. England do come out and play a very aggressive style of cricket and that’s fine. We are going to play very smart and if we need to take the game deep to day five for a win then we will do it. ”

The results of nine Tests will define not only change in Pakistan’s fate but can also allude to how well Gillespie has done.

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