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June 27, 2019

We are putting top teams under pressure: Pakistan batting coach Grant Flower


Thu, Jun 27, 2019

BIRMINGHAM: More often than not, batting has been Pakistan’s Achilles heals over the years. During the last five years a batting collapse is almost always followed by the question, what is Grant Flower doing?

In fact, after back-to-back defeats against Australia and India left Pakistan facing an embarrassing exit from the World Cup, there was a whispering campaign suggesting that among the team officials who were certain to lose their jobs was Flower, the team’s batting coach.

But things have changed for Flower and the Pakistan team.

And one of the men responsible for a change in the team’s fortunes is Babar Azam.

The 24-year-old’s master class in Pakistan’s six-wicket triumph in a must-win game against New Zealand at Edgbaston on Wednesday allowed Flower to compare him with Indian numero uno – Virat Kohli.

“He’s got Virat’s hunger,” Flower commented after Wednesday’s game. “I think he could be (at Virat’s level) sometime in the future. He’s definitely got the skill level. So if you practice as hard as he does, and he’s got that hunger and the skills, then I can’t see why not.”

Flower, who played 67 Tests and 221 ODIs for Zimbabwe, believes Babar has the talent and skill level to join the pantheon of Pakistani greats.

“He is very special. I believe he’s going to be one of the best batsmen Pakistan have produced. And he’s still very young. As long as he keeps his feet on the ground I think he will.”

He hailed Babar’s unbeaten 101 against New Zealand on a tricky Edgbaston wicket as his best knock yet.

“Confidence-wise, this was definitely his best one. I’ve seen him get some hundreds on some very flat wickets. Taking nothing away from those hundreds, but this was a tough wicket, the ball was turning and [Lockie] Ferguson was bowling fast. And there was a lot of pressure because of the context of the tournament,” he said.

Flower revealed that Babar played the match-winning innings despite suffering from flu.

“To be honest he’d had flu over the last couple of days, so yesterday was the first time that I’ve ever seen him not hit any balls before a match. He came to the nets, but he didn’t practice. He usually has two hours in the nets hitting balls.

“I took him to the indoor nets this morning. He asked specifically as he hadn’t hit any the day before.”

Flower has no idea why Pakistan aren’t producing more batsmen like Babar.

“I’m surprised there are not more quality batsmen. When I played against Pakistan there were bucket loads coming through. I think it’s the domestic structure. From what they tell me there isn’t too much coaching done domestically. They have to think on their feet at international level,” he said.

Flower defended batsmen like Fakhar Zaman, the hero of Pakistan’s victory in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, who is yet to really fire at the World Cup.

“Fakhar is a bit different to everyone else, he’s got a different role to play. His technique is a bit different to everyone else's. We want him to go out and express himself, but we also want him to learn from his mistakes. But you also want that freedom. So you have to find a balance. We have some fairly frank conversations, but you never want to take away the natural flair of Pakistan batsmen. You want to make little strides,” he said.

Following wins against South Africa and New Zealand, Pakistan can qualify for the last four if they beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh in their remaining two games.

"It's quite exciting, I think. For the first part of the tournament, it didn't seem like it was going to be, but now there's pressure on some of the top teams. It's good,” Flower said.

"After today, it definitely puts us in a good position. It's just our net run-rate, and obviously, those first few games didn't help us."