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Mahmood all praise for Pak pace battery

Newly appointed interim bowling coach speaks about his new role and side’s mouth watering pace attack

It is a lip smacking Pakistan bowling line-up. You’ve got pace, you’ve got variety and you have a seven-footer snaring down the batsman’s throat sending canons on to the pitch from a great height. All of them were on display under a cloudy haze at the practice pitches at Fatullah as the team began its preparations for its first game against India in the Asia Cup. Keeping a close watch on the proceedings was coach Waqar Younis who had the company of newly appointed interim bowling coach Azhar Mahmood. Mahmood has been appointed for the tenure of the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup replacing regular bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed who has been rested for the two tournaments citing fatigue.

Mahmood was in his cheerful self; chit chatting with the bowlers, giving them a few advices, giving that odd smile and getting into intense discussion with Waqar at times. The former Pakistan all-rounder was soaking in every moment of his first day at office. “Today it is my first day and it is a different kind of challenge for me,” Mahmood said speaking to
BCCI.TV. “I am enjoying each moment of mine with the Pakistan team and hopefully I can pass on my experience to the younger lot in the line-up. I have played around the world and have enough experience under my belt to help them with little things. I would be more than happy to help them get better in their skill not just from the bowling perspective but batting and fielding as well.”

For Mahmood a phone call was enough motivation for him to take up the assignment. “I got a call from Waqar Younis a week ago when I was playing Pakistan’s domestic T20 league. He asked me if I was interested in this role and I said yes in the blink of an eye. I had other commitments after the T20 World Cup so this role suited me perfectly,” he said. 
An experienced campaigner himself having played for Pakistan before and in major T20 leagues across the globe, Mahmood reckoned his major role was to feed the side with all the right advices in Waqar Younis’ company. “These guys have been working hard for the last two years with Waqar Younis. My job is to only pass on my knowledge and skills and give them more confidence when it comes to executing bowling plans.

“They bowl well but there might be times when they miss the right lines and lengths. That is where I come in to help them especially in the T20 format. When you play T20 cricket, you have to cope under a lot of pressure and that is where my role becomes really important. I am working with Shahid Afridi and the rest of the side very closely. I have played with Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Irfan and a few others in the past. These guys are world class bowlers and all I need to do is pass on a bit of knowledge to them.”

Harping more on the Pakistan bowling line-up, Mahmood viewed the pace attack as among the best in the business at the moment that was eager to go one up against India’s batting might on Saturday. “We have one of the best bowling sides in the world and there is no doubt about that. We all know that Mohammad Amir is a proven match-winner and then you add a seven-footer in Mohammad Irfan who has an advantage of height, the pace battery of the side looks really exciting. Not to forget we have Wahab Riaz as well. So, we have Amir’s variety, Irfan’s height and Riaz’s pace which makes for a threatening pace attack. We have all our bases covered in the pace department. We have a line of left-arm quicks and the inclusion of Mohammad Sami only adds to the variety of the attack who can bowl at 145kmph.

They are confident and very much excited to play against a power packed Indian team. There is never a dull moment when India and Pakistan play and the boys are really pumped up and looking forward to the game against India.”

Anand Subramaniam

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Switching gears like Rohit Sharma

India opener dwells on how he paces his innings to perfection

Over number 11 and Shakib Al Hasan, who is fielding at point, drops a Rohit Sharma slash that comes whizzing towards him at shoulder height. There is dejection on Shakib’s face and Rohit realises he has survived a chance. Sharma was batting on 21 off 28 balls at the stage and he hardly gave Bangladesh another chance in the 27 balls thereafter. But what he did was hit the ball to all parts of the ground to add 60 more runs after that drop at a strike rate of over 200.

For Rohit though, it was just another day out in the field displaying all facets of his game - laying a platform for the team, piercing the gaps with precision and accelerating at will as though he had a gearbox that could shift gears upon demand. Not just did he accelerate the scoring rate till the end, in fact, he motored his way to get the team to a par score.

“My key is always assessing the conditions and playing according to the requirements of the team at a given point. I try and play according to that and it is really helping me of late,” reasoned Rohit to BCCI.TV when asked about his ability to push the pedal. “Everything boils down to the basics. You cannot forget your basics even when you are playing T20 cricket. Sometimes you come across a pitch which is not suited for going and playing your shots and you have to bide your time and see what is happening.

“It is not always that easy to go about playing shots. You have to create a foundation behind you and pace your innings accordingly. That was my idea - to lay a foundation for my innings and the team. I know, once I have that foundation going, I can play my shots and switch gears. The moment I walked in to bat, I saw the pitch and realised that it wasn’t a 160 kind of a pitch. The idea initially was to get to 140-150, and we knew that we will end up getting more than that if we were thinking about that target.”

Sharma shared two half-century stands - one with Yuvraj Singh and the other with Hardik Pandya. Rohit credited Yuvraj and Pandya for their individual efforts. “Those were two crucial partnerships. We lost three wickets in a hurry and it was important for us to get going and keep the game moving forward. The half-century stand that me and Yuvraj Singh got was also important at that stage. A wicket at that stage would have pushed us down in the game and it would have been really difficult to get back after that. Credit to Yuvraj Singh as well, to come and bat the way he did. Hardik too changed the momentum of the game completely when he walked into bat.”

Rohit’s batting display and India’s disciplined bowling efforts helped the team cruise to a 45-run victory and start the tour on a winning note. The opening batsman believed the win was an important one. “It is always important to start the tournament on a fresh and positive note. I am glad that I was able to put up that performance for the team and we could achieve that win. It was an important win because Bangladesh can be dangerous. The way they have played in the past, you never know what is coming from them.”

On a personal front, Rohit is going through a rich vein in form. He was the toast of the Australia tour along with teammate Virat Kohli and Rohit has gone from strength to strength since then. Rohit believed he was getting better with each passing tournament and his game is certainly developing in the right direction.

“Experiences play a huge part in this game,” he said. “The more cricket you play, the more experience you get as to how you need to build your innings, what is required by the team and identifying your game etc. These things have helped me a lot in the past. Batting at the top of the order has put up added responsibility on my shoulders. Being a top order batsman, it is a responsibility to get the team to a good score and make winning matches a habit.

“I don’t want to look back too much on my form. I just want to carry it to every tournament I play,” continued Rohit. “I am not harping on what has happened in the past, I want to look forward. We did pretty well in the T20Is against Australia and Sri Lanka, but for me, it is important that I look forward and not think too much about what has happened before. I am a very positive person and someone who looks as to what is coming next. Pakistan is next and I am looking forward to it.” 

Anand Subramaniam

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