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Behind the Scenes with Team Pakistan

Adding spring to the step
Team Pakistan trains hard and long

SYDNEY – February 6, 2015: Two days. Two full practice sessions. The intensity and focus sharp. Team Pakistan arrived here late in the evening on Wednesday and head coach Waqar Younis, perhaps wanting everyone to atone for, or maybe leave behind, what transpired on the other side of the Tasman Sea over the previous fortnight, wasted no time in putting it through the exacting drill the very next day.

At the end of day two, such is the lead-from-the-front resolve of the skipper that despite being oldest of the lot and coming out of a hamstring injury that would have floored a younger athlete, Misbah ul Haq was found asking for more.

At 40-plus you do not play cricket at this level with boys half your age and surpass them every which way unless you have the passion and the hunger to achieve – to leave your own indelible imprint, not just for the sake of your own pride but for the crest adorning your forehead and your chest.

But a third day on the go with a clutch of six high pedigree coaches running them hard in specialized training in several groups non-stop, with breaks bare enough to catch one’s breath, would have been a trifle too hard to endure – for body and soul alike.

So, having been there and done that spanning over well above a generation’s cycle, Waqar thought it was prudent to let the suggestion pass.

The boys now rest and recoup Saturday, then go into a plethora of ICC’s all-important media and other commitments Sunday from early morning till early afternoon nonstop and then go into another long training session prior to the first warmup encounter against Bangladesh on Monday.

The quite palpable feel emanating from the boys and support staff alike is, now that they have stepped in to the ICC World Cup 2015 proper, putting their best foot forward would only make them competitive.

So, it would need topping it up with something more, something extra, something special.

Hence, this endeavour to hone skills and cultivate zest.

In Team Pakistan’s training regimen these days there is no respite for anyone – indeed no place to hide for the work shirker.

The design is such that Waqar gathers everyone around in the beginning and post a sharp warmup session led by Grant Luden and others, the squad is scattered in groups for focused training. The regimen is creative and flexible in the sense that it changes and adapts day to day, session by session. And instead of being bound in a routine, everyone keeps doing something different in every session – adding on to or perfecting multiple skillsets at the same time.

Today, Waqar, Mushtaq, the two Grants, Flower and Luden (to keep the identity issue arising from similar first names at bay, they call the former Grant and the latter Ludes), Brad Robinson and Shahid Aslam (his title maybe assistant manager, but he doubles up as assistant coach too) were rather unsparing, constantly keeping everyone on the move. When work in one group finished, you joined another, for a different set of drills. Waqar paired off various batting duos (Misbah with Ahmed Shehzad and so on), making them bat in tandem in the ground and not just nets, unleashing first Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz and then Ehsan Adil and Bilawal Bhatti on them while Grant Flower ran the nets with the rest.

One had joined the Team Pakistan after a long-haul flight in the wee hours, so the ears were ringing apart from jetlag with rumours fanned back home about Wahab’s fitness. He laid them to rest with his aggressive spell.

Wahab was not even rested in ‘hitting the stumps session’ for fast bowlers, which then was followed with Mushie not just standing watch but imparting tips and instructions to Shahid Afridi and Haris Sohail bowling their own varieties of spin. Both looked sharpish, Afridi in particular seemed really buoyant.

All in all a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of a day for Team Pakistan, but it perhaps was necessary, if for nothing else then to firmly drill in the sense of occasion across the rank and file.

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).