DateLine: 7th April 2010
In an exclusive and extensive interview with PakPassion.net, Basit Ali, the former Pakistan Test cricketer and former national selector talks about his cricket - the joy of the early days, the subsequent controversies, the players, the revolts, the successes and the failures.
PakPassion.Net: Thank you for your time, Basit. We would like to start this interview by asking about your early years as a cricketer. Who were you most influenced and coached by, when you started playing the game?
Basit Ali: I had two great influences. The first was my elder brother, Wajid Ali, who always supported me and ensured I had whatever I needed "whether it was ensuring I had the right equipment, bat, cricket ball, pads, etc, or in picking and dropping me from cricket matches and practice. His support was invaluable.
The second influence was my coach Majeed bhai. He was the one who taught me the intricacies of the game. He wasnít even a first-class cricketer, was a club cricketer; but he taught me things at Under-19 that even test players were not aware of.
PakPassion.Net: You played against the West Indies, batted against an attack that comprised Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop - three fearsome quicks. Which West Indian bowler was the toughest to face up to?
Basit Ali: When I was growing up, my one dream was to play with Javed bhai, and I was fortunate that this was achieved.
When I first toured the West Indies, Javed bhai gave me a 40 minutes practice session before the matches started, in Jamaica. As a result of that one practice session, I never felt difficulty when later batting against the West Indian fast bowlers - in fact, Ambrose was the easiest of the lot for me!
PakPassion.Net: What did this remarkable practice session entail?
Basit Ali: We used to practice batting to fast bouncers - so our normal practice would consist of Wasim and Waqar bowling bouncers at us. However, Javed bhai really changed the dynamic of this practice. He had bouncers bowl at me from just 8 yards on a concrete surface - with a wet cork ball. I wasnít allowed to wear a helmet - could only wear gloves and pads. I was then instructed by Javed bhai to play each delivery in that practice session with my bat, in front of my ribs.
After facing up to that barrage of bouncers at extreme pace in practice, the match pace of the West Indian quicks looked tame in comparison!
Its because of things like this that I believe Miandad is the greatest cricketing tactician in the world, the greatest coaching brain around. Its a pity that Pakistan didnít benefit from his acumen.
PakPassion.Net: We would like to ask you about the match fixing saga during the 1990s. What prompted you and Rashid Latif to take the extreme steps you took?
Basit Ali: We took the steps we took for the betterment of Pakistan cricket. We felt that perhaps we could drag our team and our players away from this addiction to match fixing. Unfortunately, we didnít succeed.
PakPassion.Net: Did anyone attempt to dissuade you from your actions?
Basit Ali: The Board officials did try, but we did not accept their advice as we believed match-fixing to be harmful for the country.
PakPassion.Net: So there was no use, no benefit, of you taking the actions you took?
Basit Ali: The only benefit was that Saleem Malik was made a scapegoat and all others were let off scot-free.
PakPassion.Net: The whole team successfully revolted against Wasim Akramís leadership in January 1994. However, Wasim was subsequently reinstated. What was his attitude to the players who had revolted against him once he was reappointed as captain in 1995?
Basit Ali: During the playersí revolt against Wasim Akram, I was his most vocal critic. So after he was reinstated as captain, he told me that he would forgive all the other players, but would never forgive me. My response was that I was in the team on merit, and as long as I had the capability, I would play in the team - I had never been a Ďsifarshií player anyway.
PakPassion.Net: So Wasimís attitude towards the other players who had revolted against him was fine?
Basit Ali: Yes, eventually it was. To be fair, his attitude towards me was fine after some time too. You see, when someone is made the national captain, their main objective is to win matches, and in order to win matches, they need players who can fight for the team, players who are match-winners.
I was one such player, and Wasim needed such players. So as far as I know, he did let bygones be bygones between us, both on and off the field, and things are fine between the two of us. That is a good thing.
PakPassion.Net: You were made a national selector in 2009, and Pakistan performed well under that selection committee. So why did your tenure end?
Basit Ali: Very simply, because I am a straight-forward guy and would never allow any boy to be mistreated because of the whims of the Board. Nor am I a Ďyes-maní, the sort of guy whoíd select anyone who is suggested by the Board Chairman or other Board official. Instead of listening to the Chairman, I would select players I had seen, players I knew, based on my own observation.
This was why I was sacked. In fact, when Pakistan won the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009, I was a batting consultant for the team for a week. This is not very well known.
PakPassion.Net: What was your experience as a selector like? Were you able to freely select players you wanted?
Basit Ali: Most people didnít speak out in front of me, as they all know Iím a straight-forward guy. They might be able to do it in front of other guys, but not me.
Iíve always been like this - forthright and straight-forward, since my Under-19 days, all the way through my playing years in Tests and first-class, till now. The way I talk and express my opinions freely and honestly has not changed one bit. What hasnít changed is that I will always speak out against injustice - doesnít matter if the one committing the injustice is my own father, I will still speak out against it.
PakPassion.Net: As a selector, did you go to domestic matches to see the players in person?
Basit Ali: Yes, definitely. I would attend every match, in fact sometimes would be monitoring three matches at the same time!
PakPassion.Net: Did any other selectors do this as well?
Basit Ali: Saleem Jaffer is one selector who does go to the ground to see domestic cricket in person.
PakPassion.Net: So given your background and experience as a selector, who do you see as the upcoming stars of Pakistan cricket?
Basit Ali: I am a big fan of three players: Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Nazir and Shoaib Malik. These three guys have so many qualities that even they donít realise it themselves. If only I had been given the opportunity to work with these three boys, with Allahís help, I would have taken them to great cricketing heights.
PakPassion.Net: But all three of them have been given many chances and found wanting. Hafeez is a decent ODI bowler and fielder, but has a batting average of 18!
Basit Ali: Hafeezís average of 18 would have been 58 if I had been coaching and managing his career to date. Whatever captains he had, they never allowed him to play the way he wanted to play, the captains always forced Hafeez and these other guys to play a certain way, never giving them a free rein, never allowing them to express themselves.
These players should be allowed to play the way they wanted to. The example I like to give is Sehwag - he plays the way he wants to and succeeds. If you tell Sehwag not to play any shots ever and just block, his average will become 18 too, like Hafeez.
Imran Nazir is not a player for 50 overs, heís a player for 15 overs. It is exceedingly silly to use him to bat for 50 overs. He should be told to bat for 15 overs only. If he just bats for the first 15 overs, he can easily score 80 odd runs, and thus get the team to 150 in those 15 overs Ė job done.
PakPassion.Net: Imran Nazir has played cricket under many captains. He might be as talented as Sehwag but his achievements are quite poor - he takes risks on every ball he faces, and gets out.
Basit Ali: Sure, but itís the captain who makes or breaks a player. In Cricket, itís the captain who plays a key role in making a Ďhero playerí into a Ďzero playerí. The example I like to give is Imran Khan - he took Saleem Yousuf from obscurity and made him into an opener. Saleem was a number 7 or 8 batsman, but the captain gave him the confidence and the backing to contribute at the top of the order.
These three guys are all talented but other than Younis, they never had a captain who could get the best out of them. It is their bad luck that they didnít play most of their careers under Younis.
PakPassion.Net: Speaking of Younis, how do you see his role in Pakistan cricket going forward? Will he captain Pakistan ever again?
Basit Ali: Younis was the only true patriot amongst all these players. Heís not in it for the money alone - he plays for the glory of the country, to make the people of the country happy.
He fears and has hope in Allah, so what other people do cannot affect him. He doesnít ask the people, he asks Allah. In my view, Younis Khan will definitely play for Pakistan again and mark my words, he will be captaining the Pakistan team against England this summer. The Board will be forced to make him the captain for that series - there is no other option. In particular, if the Twenty20 World Cup doesnít go well, the Board will go through further huge upheavals.
PakPassion.Net: If you are offered by the PCB to become a batting coach, would you accept?
Basit Ali: With the current Board set-up, no way. This guy takes u-turns on every thing he says, he lies a lot - I cannot work with such people.
PakPassion.Net: Does Pakistan need a full-time batting coach, in your view?
Basit Ali: Absolutely! I have been asking for one for a full year! The Board doesnít understand this - all they understand is how to help their own friends, giving cushy jobs as managers and coaches to their own, thatís it. So they have banned the four players just now - why just the players? Why not the team management too? Aaqib Javed, Intikhab Alam, etc were there too, but are not banned! In fact, Intikhab was made Director of the NCA, so he has been given another good job - why?
The PCB Chairman is in his place only because of his brother-in-law, Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, the Defence Minister. No other reason - I am sure President Zardari doesnít even know the Board Chairman!
PCB needs people like Mustafa Kamal - City Nazim, Karachi. In just four years, Mustafa Kamal achieved for Karachi what hadnít been achieved in the previous 50 years.
PakPassion.Net: Talking of the bans on the players - why were Younis and Yousuf banned?
Basit Ali: These bans were an act of revenge by Yawar Saeed, former manager of the Pakistan cricket team. When Younis became captain, he wanted a management/coaching team of young people with him. Unfortunately, Ijaz Butt gave him elderly people, such as Yawar Saeed, and a rift started, leading to the bans now.
PakPassion.Net: Is it true that Younis and Yousuf argued and fought when Yousuf was dropped from one of the UAE ODIs in 2009?
Basit Ali: Thatís absolutely untrue. Had there been any differences, any arguments, any fights, why would Yousuf have specifically called for Younis Khanís inclusion in the team in Australia? Despite Yousufís requests, the PCB refused to select Younis for the Test series, and instead, wrongly sent him for the ODIs. Shows how much the PCB knows about cricket! They have no appreciation for the game - they make their decisions in their offices, donít spend time in the grounds.
PakPassion.Net: Continuing with Younis - heís a great Test player, averages 50 in that format. But hasnít delivered to that extent in ODIs. Whyís that?
Basit Ali: Younis would have played better at ODIs had he come lower down the order. His position in ODIs isnít one down, its at number 6. He doesnít hit aerial shots, he cannot take advantage of the field restrictions, so shouldnít be batting at 3, should be coming in lower down the order.
PakPassion.Net: Absolutely - we agree. So have you ever made this suggestion to Younis?
Basit Ali: No, I havenít. This topic has never come up. In any case, how can I suggest this to him? He has played more Tests than I have, has played more ODIs than I have. I only had a brief international career, I am no major player - I cannot just go to him and suggest this to him as that wouldnít be polite, but of course if he asks for my specific opinion, I will gladly tell him.
PakPassion.Net: But you were a big player in your days!
Basit Ali: Yaar, I am just 5' 10" - definitely not a "big" player! Had a relatively short career.
PakPassion.Net: You were compared to Javed Miandad when you first came on the scene.
Basit Ali: That was all politics - done in order to get rid of Miandad. I am not comparable to him.
PakPassion.Net: How do you see Waqarís appointment as coach?
Basit Ali: Great decision to make Waqar the coach. Of course, wins and losses are in Allahís hands so we shouldnít be afraid of losing. But Waqar has the qualities that can really help our bowling. Theyíve made Ijaz the batting coach, thatís another good move - I pray it works out and he delivers.
In fact, I would like to offer a suggestion to the PCB through PakPassion. There are two PCB employees at the NCA, two coaches, Shahid Aslam and Ali Zia, who are both very capable individuals. If the PCB utilises them more effectively, it will help our cricket. This is my free suggestion to Chairman Ijaz Butt - though to be honest, the PCB generally doesnít listen to my suggestions!
PakPassion.Net: Why did Younis Khan leave the captaincy in 2009? Did the players revolt?
Basit Ali: The main reason was player politics. During and after that tour, a few players who did not even deserve to be in the team, guys like Salman Butt, were involved in team politics. Other guys involved were Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik.
People say this is "player power". Thatís not true - this is no player power, as these are average players. The real player power was in 1993, when we revolted against Wasim - that was when some very big names revolted.
PakPassion.Net: Could you please name a few young or upcoming players who are the future of Pakistan cricket?
Basit Ali: Number 1 is Umar Akmal. Umar Akmal is not just the future of Pakistan cricket, he is a future captain too.
Other players for the future are Babar Azam, Shehryar Ghani and finally, Faraz Ahmed - heís a kid from Karachi, plays at the Under-15 level at the moment, but he will go on to be a leading player from Karachi one day.
PakPassion.Net: You mention Shehryar Ghani - he has a good domestic record, played well with the A team in Australia, but still overlooked by the national selectors.
Basit Ali: The problem is mindset. He thinks heís already a Test cricketer - he feels he will automatically play for Pakistan. He hasnít played yet, but he still acts like he has i.e. he has become complacent and is taking it easy. This attitude is holding him back, plus thereís no one around to guide him.
PakPassion.Net: Any bowlers? Guys who havenít been selected for Pakistan yet?
Basit Ali: Abdul Qadirís son, Usman Qadir. He will play for Pakistan. Hammad Azam is a good all-rounder too.
PakPassion.Net: Any fast bowlers?
Basit Ali: I have not come across any.
PakPassion.Net: What do you think of Aizaz Cheema?
Basit Ali: Heís an average bowler.
PakPassion.Net: Whatís your opinion of Sami? He has the pace but has never produced the goods.
Basit Ali: Samiís bowling really well these days - in fact, he has never bowled as well as this for the Pakistan team.
PakPassion.Net: Heís still inconsistent though, was good but also a bit wayward during this yearís domestic matches?
Basit Ali: Heís bowling better than he ever has. He should have played in the ODIs in Australia.
PakPassion.Net: How do you rate Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Talha?
Basit Ali: Both are average bowlers.
PakPassion.Net: Do you see any good upcoming fast bowlers?
Basit Ali: None at the moment - letís see if someone comes up in the future. Talha and Wahab have never played for Pakistan, but they both believe they will play for Pakistan, they have become complacent, and thatís adversely affected their performance.
PakPassion.Net: Letís talk about young batsmen - there are two guys who are promising, Umar Amin and Naveed Yasin. Would you agree?
Basit Ali: Naveed Yasin is a good player. If Umar Amin remains focused on cricket, he can develop into a good player too. Our problem is that youngsters lose focus and their performance deteriorates.
PakPassion.Net: Looking forward to the Twenty20 World Cup this year, what are your views on the team selected?
Basit Ali: Salman Buttís selection for this yearís tournament is bizarre, given that heís not a Twenty20 player.
PakPassion.Net: What about Khalid Latif? Another poor selection?
Basit Ali: Khalid Latif might turn out to be a good selection in this format only, as he might click on the slow paced wickets of the West Indies.
This tournament in the West Indies is not going to see too many scores of 200+, and would be a relatively low-scoring tournament.
PakPassion.Net: Our last question is about your record as a cricketer. You did well in ODIs, but your Test record, relative to our high expectations from you as fans, is not that impressive. Why was that?
Basit Ali: I was sent lower down the order in Tests. Ijaz Ahmed was selected for the Test team, and as a result, I was pushed down. My average would have been much higher had I batted at 4 or 5, but they pushed me down to 6.
In order to get rid of Miandad, I was called the next Miandad - so that the real Miandad could be axed. It was said Iíd bat at Miandadís spot, i.e. at 4.
But this was all politics - I wasnít even a fraction of the player that Miandad was. I barely reach his feet as a batsman! I was compared to him so they could axe him, and once that was done, I was made to bat at 6.
PakPassion.Net: Rashid Latif is doing some good work through his academy. What are your thoughts on him?
Basit Ali: Rashid Latif is a true, selfless servant of Pakistan cricket. We are the two people who want to selflessly work for Pakistan cricket. This is what we have learnt, that we should work for the country, work for a cause and not just for our own selves.
In my view, Rashid should be made the Chairman of the PCB.
PakPassion.Net: Thank you for your time.
Basit Ali: Thank you.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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