Pakistan cricket team has a busy schedule starting with the Asia Cup from September 15 in the UAE. The opening match will be played between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The match of the tournament between Pakistan and India will be played on September 19. After the Asia Cup, Pakistan team will contest with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
For the preparation of Asia Cup, Pakistan’s training camp will start from September 3. The players will undergo physical training in the morning session. In the afternoon session, they will work on their batting, bowling and fielding skills at the Gaddafi Stadium.
According to media reports, head coach Mickey Arthur wants a training camp in a mountainous area like Abbottabad for two to three days to test players’ fitness in tough conditions.
For the England tour in July 2016, the PCB set up such a camp in coordination with the Pakistan Army in Abbottabad.
The object of the camp was to improve players’ fitness level, which was the lowest in the international circuit.
In June 2007, a two-week physical training camp of Pakistan cricket team was held at the Army School of Physical Training in Abbottabad where players availed themselves of the state-of-the-art facilities.
Army’s physical training experts had assured the team management that the players would gain a lot from the training camp and most players achieved the required level of fitness.
But they didn’t maintain the fitness level after the camp and went back to their old-fashioned training style.
A temporary camp may be helpful for the players to improve their fitness, but it’s not a permanent solution as only a limited number of players can be invited to the camp for a limited time to train under army instructors.
The management should have a plan for the whole year and for all domestic players as injuries to leading cricketers are common. The youngsters want to gain fame overnight but are not ready to work hard. They don’t concentrate on their fitness during off season.
Former PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan in May 2015 admitted that the Pakistan team had the “worst fitness levels” in the world, and that only Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan met the minimum standard.
During the series against England in 2015 in Dubai, the then T20 captain Shahid Afridi also showed his concern over players’ fitness and said: “We have to improve our fitness and fielding before the World Twenty20.”
Pakistan’s then bowling Coach Mushtaq Ahmed also blamed poor fielding and lack of fitness for the T20 series loss against England.
After poor performance in the field, on the recommendations of head coach Mickey Arthur, PCB appointed Australia’s Steve Rixon as fielding coach. Under his supervision players’ fielding improved a lot. Pakistan won the ICC Champions Trophy last year and also played a drawn Test series against England 1-1 this year.
But Rixon has now quit and the PCB is in search of a new fielding coach.
There have been talks with former Australian player Darren Berry, who is a well-known fielding coach, but after month-long negotiations, Berry declined the PCB offer.
It means if a new fielding coach is not appointed in the next few days, Pakistan will travel to the UAE for Asia Cup without a fielding coach.
Fielding standards generally have gone up from the 1990s. “Catches win matches” holds true wherever and at whatever level you play. But it’s not just catches. If the players cannot field well at all, they give away easy runs.
The board is paying the players handsome salary and other benefits. The board spends huge money for their treatment when they are injured. But when the team needs a 100 percent fit player he is found injured and not available for the national side.
The domestic cricket infrastructure is outdated, pitches are a paradise for batsmen and scores of over 400 are common. Most matches end in draw and fans are not interested in watching these matches, neither in grounds nor on TV.
Current Pakistan team is a balanced combination of talented young and experienced players. After a very long time, the top order looks solid and openers are performing consistently. Fast and spin bowlers are giving their best. But fielding remains worrisome. And that’s the one area the team’s coaches should really work on ahead of next year’s ICC World Cup in England.