Saleem backs National T20 format, urges Pakistan to look forward

KARACHI: Former Pak­istan wicket-keeper and ex-national selector Saleem Yousuf has backed the cricket board’s initiative of trimming down the number of regional teams that compete in the National T20 Cup, while emphasising on the need for quality over quantity.

Talking exclusively to Dawn on Sunday, Saleem observed that there is unnecessary fuss being raised over restricting the T20 Cup to just eight teams instead of the previous format in which 18 sides participated in two phases, held in Rawalpindi last year.

“I think we should all stand behind the PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] in making a move that would ultimately make a lot of sense. Rather than going for quantity, the PCB has done the right thing in ensuring there is quality cricket this time,” Saleem, who played in 32 Tests and 86 One-day Internationals between 1982 and 1990, said. “Moreover, the change in format altogether with the introduction of player draft is a great idea to provide right blend in the makeup of all eight teams.”

He called on former cricketers, who are staunch critics of the PCB policies, to wait and see how the upcoming event, to be organised in two phases at Rawalpindi and Multan, pans out.

“In a free society, everyone is entitled to form their own opinion over various topics. Pakistan cricket should be the main beneficiary in the end. We shouldn’t get overcritical if there is an opportunity of improving the existing system on the anvil,” Saleem, who was regarded as one of the bravest cricketers to represent the country, stressed.

“Those who think the revised format [of National T20 Cup] is detrimental for our cricket shouldn’t jump the gun at this point in time just because 10 [other regional] teams have been deprived of competing at the top national level.

“On the other hand, the PCB must think of planning a separate tournament for those 10 teams in such a way that it should serve as the qualifying round for the main event. I think it won’t be a bad idea of making the National T20 a two-tier competition with a promotion and relegation system in place.

“This, in turn, would make more competitive in the sense that the teams will be striving to compete in the top tier by maintaining a better standard. This is how the game will improve in general,” he added.

The 56-year-old Saleem, nicknamed ‘Tiger’ recalled that in his playing days, the emphasis was much more on teamwork rather than individual play and club cricket played a big part in creating an environment of tough competition.

“In those days, it was extremely difficult to get into the teams at the domestic level because the competition was so intense among the players. The reason was that club cricket was very strong. We had to work extremely hard even to make it to the club sides since they were at least two to four individuals vying for just one spot,” he recollected.

“There was no such thing as an individual game beca­use clubs focused more on collective teamwork. That invariably was transferred to first-class cricket as well as the national team. When Imran [Khan] became Pakistan captain in 1982, his forte always was backing players who were team players rather than individual stars.

“Wasim Akram was an out-and-out bowler who first played for Pakistan but under Imran he developed into a decent all-rounder. Imran inculcated a fighting spirit in the ranks and backed his players to the hilt. One great example was the tour of the West Indies in 1988 when we played them on an equal footing and were extremely unlucky not to come home victorious in the Test series [that was drawn 1-1].

“Imran’s inspirational leadership was one element of Pakistan dominating the series against a side that had the likes of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Malcolm Marshall who were considered better than us. But we played with courage and determination to make it very tough for the West Indies in all three Tests,” Saleem remarked.

Commenting on the ongoing series in England, Saleem declared that Pakistan can regroup and bounce back despite the 339-run drubbing in the second Test at Old Trafford last week.

“Look at it this way: the series is very much alive at 1-1 with two to play. So both teams have the chance to win it. Pakistan should just focus on the next Test. The wicket at Edgbaston is generally sporting one. We must not worry about past history [four losses and three draws in seven Edgbaston Tests] because once you start looking at what has happened in the past, you get more and more anxious,” he advised. “At this point in time all of us should be standing behind Misbah and his team rather than heaping criticism for the defeat at Old Trafford. Eng­land lost at Lord’s but there was no backlash in general towards them from their own media and former players.

“Pakistan did make some errors in the second Test. Yasir [Shah] was simply exhausted since he over-bowled in my view and Azhar [Ali] was not utilised more as a bowler when the conditions were in his favour. But other than that, the scoreboard pressure forced Pakistan to crumble once England had almost posted a huge first-innings total. ‘The only a team bounces back by learning from past mistakes,” Saleem concluded.

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