Friday, February 26, 2016

How We Won the Pakistan Super League

Written By: Dean Jones.

Last Tuesday, the Pakistan Super League final was on the line. It was 9pm and I felt we were in trouble.

Quetta had set us a tough total of 174 and our team was quiet. Too quiet for my liking. As head coach of Islamabad United, I could feel the doubt within the team. I hate huge dressing rooms as players can hide when under pressure and I felt some were hiding.

The players had heard my voice too much. I wanted our captain Misbah-ul-Haq to make the sort of speech great AFL coaches like Ron Barassi or Allan Jeans would be proud of. I summoned the whole team to the middle of the room.

What a speech it was! I could really see the passion and emotion in Misbah's face and his voice. He reminded the team that we wanted a fight and we got one. He reminded them that the pitch was ready for us to play quality but smart cricket. He wanted our senior players to stand up and be counted. He reminded us that Quetta's death bowlers were questionable under pressure. Rotation of the strike was mandatory and more importantly, it was a time to believe.

Only hours before, Our West Indian leg-spinner Sam Badree addressed the group on how important "belief" was to him and the team. It made a huge impression on Misbah and the team. Brad Haddin also spoke, saying that no matter what the situation, this team had the players and tools to win. It was time for us to believe.

To get the message across to a team and speak English and Urdu is a very difficult job and Misbah nailed it. Our openers got off to a flyer, with Dwayne Smith and Haddin smashing the ball to all parts with some thrilling and powerful T20 batting to help us chase down a very demanding target.

Our beloved skipper hit the winning runs. I thought at that time that fairytales do come true. It felt like we had won the World Cup! Players showing huge emotion and love to each other. As fireworks went off at a screaming full house in Dubai, this was one of the greatest moments in my cricketing life. A mixture of Pakistanis, West Indians and Australians hugging in jubilation will never be forgotten. Sport does wear on your emotions, as only two weeks before, we were almost done as a team.

We had injuries all over the place. International players were leaving to play for their countries and our form, confidence and belief was in the gutter. It was time for our coaching and leadership group to stand up.

Shane Watson was injured and went home, Sam Billings left to play for England and Misbah had a calf injury. We had numerous injuries to other players and we were almost cooked. This is when my staff stood up to be counted. Anyone can coach a team that is doing well, but when you are in trouble, that's when you need quality people around you.

I had the great Pakistani legend, Wasim Akram, as mentor, quality assistant coaches in Darren Berry and Tauseef Ahmed. Dean Woodford was my strength and conditioning coach and I had the greatest physio of all in Errol Alcott by my side. We needed to lead and be accounted for and they were brilliant under enormous pressure. I needed Tauseef to keep a good handle on the Pakistani players, while Berry sourced proper overseas replacements.

I just needed some confidence in my death bowlers Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Sami, Rumman Raes and Andre Russell. That's where Wasim Akram showed why he was the greatest. He worked on their confidence, ball-release points and bowling strategies. Wasim is so beloved in Pakistan and I really know why. His attention to detail and the manner in which he spoke to the boys was educational and inspiring. Once I had my bowlers back, we were back in business.

Now I needed my top three batsmen to fire. The work Berry did with upcoming opening batsman Sharjeel Khan was brilliant. Only a week before the final the kid had lost all confidence. "Chuck" worked on his technique and his confidence. The kid smashed an unforgettable century in the semi-final and bowlers were petrified of him. Past great Ramiz Raja always said that Pakistani batsmen were always a bit timid when it came to crunch situations and they didn't have that inner belief.
Well Darren Berry got Sharjeel's belief and game strategy right and he was scary.

Our senior players like Haddin, Russell, Badree, Dwayne Smith and Mohammad Sami stood up to be counted. Quality men with super skills, not frightened to push our youngsters into winning positions.

My philosophy on winning Twenty20 games always comes down to my four pillars of strength:

1. Pick two players who bowl well at the death.
2. Have three quality batsmen at the top.
3. A "banger" who can smash it in the death overs.
4. A world-class spinner who can hold the pressure in the middle.

It's all very well to have these philosophies, but ultimately you need the players to buy into your belief in your game plan. That's the major key for success. I had to select players from the PSL draft who had the skills to make this game plan work. Above all the players needed to have the discipline and skills to execute the game plan under pressure. Islamabad proved that and played a brand and style of cricket they can be proud of.

At the start of the tournament I needed as much intel as I could get on the opposition. The good news was that all the teams were staying in the same hotel. I wanted players and staff to find out anything on other teams and their weaknesses. I wanted to know all about the opposition selection, their batsmen's "go to" or release shots and whatever else they could find. My boys didn't disappoint me with a flood of information. I know from experience that some cricketers can't keep their mouths shut, particularly the ones who are not playing.

We struggled early. Add a little confidence, get Errol to improve our injury list and I had no doubt we would win.
After the final, the media declared that "Islamabad just got the 'momentum' right at the end of the tournament", which I found a bit insulting, to be honest.

Momentum comes from proper game strategy, correct selection and belief within the team. People say it's all about having momentum at the right time. I find it quite astonishing that many people use lack of "momentum" as an excuse for failing in finals. Like all Melbourne Cups and in all tournaments, surely it is all about what your horse does at the finish and not what it does at the start of the race.

The Pakistan Super League was a huge success. TV ratings in Pakistan were ridiculously good. One match between Lahore and Karachi was the second highest-rated event in the history of Pakistani TV. Many franchise owners are already getting offers of up to four to five times on what they paid. The PSL is here to stay with every likelihood that some matches will be played in Pakistan next year.

Winning any premiership is always a great achievement. But when you have a Pakistani boy hugging you, with tears streaming down his face saying that we have changed his life forever, it is the greatest joy for any coach. That boy doesn't know that he, along with this team, has done the same for me.

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