'For fast bowling you need an environment that helps you go wild'

Former Pakistan international Aaqib Javed talks about his growth as a fast bowler, the influence of Imran, and coaching UAE

Interview by Alagappan Muthu  |  

"Bowling is an easy art. You run in and land that ball in that particular area" © Getty Images

Back when I was young, I knew nothing. My overs went on for 16 balls. Wide, wide, wide. At one stage my school captain said to me, "Please, just bowl offspin, bowl something else, please just get the over done with", and I said, "No, I will only bowl fast." (laughs)

There was an U-19 camp at the Gaddafi Stadium, and at the other end, the national team was practising for the West Indies tour. Imran saw me and said I had something. He said, if I didn't get picked for the U-19 World Cup, I could come and practise with the Pakistan team.

As a coach, I look at three things in a fast bowler. One is pace, second is height, and third is the unusual stuff. Uniqueness. This is the modern-day requirement. If somebody has a little bit of those qualities, I would say, yes, he is talented.

I still remember, my father used to listen to commentary early in the morning when Pakistan played in New Zealand or Australia. So when I wanted to play, the support was always there.

"The school team used to practise on a concrete pitch, and there was a wall there. I picked up a chalk and wrote on the wall: 'Until I learn how to bowl straight, I won't come here ever.'"

My life was always tough playing in a team with Waqar, Wasim, and Imran. I always knew that I was the only one who could get replaced (laughs). If anyone good came from the domestic scene, I'd be replaced. So I told myself, "Run. Keep running, do well. Find your role in this team. Tell them, 'Look, I want this role. Give me the responsibility. Or if not, what do you want from me? And I'll do it.'"

I took the UAE coaching job not exactly for cricketing reasons. My daughter and wife wanted to move to Dubai. Only after I signed the contract did I see the kind of challenges there. There were three World Cup opportunities: the Under-19, the 50-overs and the 20-overs, and then you could attain ODI status, become an international team and play in the Asia Cup. We actually targeted them one by one to see how we could achieve it.

When the West Indies team came to Pakistan, we used to watch Malcolm Marshall and the others and then try to copy their actions, and that's how you ended up wanting to be a fast bowler.

I have good memories of my playing days. Beautiful memories. The World Cup win in 1992, before that there was the Nehru Cup in 1989 in India - that was kind of like the World Cup and we won that too. Seven wickets against India, hat-trick and all. I cherish them all.

"UAE is my team, my creation, and I am proud of my creation" © ICC/Getty Images

Bowling is an easy art. You don't know how people learn circus tricks. Juggling nine balls, seven balls, have you noticed how much time they put into it? You have a simple target. You run in and land that ball in that particular area. It's not rocket science.

I played the first ever U-19 World Cup in Australia in 1988, and a few months after I came back, someone told me that Imran [Khan] was looking for me. I said, "What for?" and they said, "He's taking a team to India to play a few charity matches [Imran XI v Gavaskar XI]."

I've always been there when Pakistan have achieved something big. Winning the Under-19 World Cup as Pakistan's coach in Bangladesh in 2004, then I was assistant coach when Pakistan won the World T20 in 2009.

For fast bowling you need to find an environment that helps you go wild. You need fields and parks where you can run around and do different things. I still remember I spent a good amount of time in my village where we used to chop things, cut trees, jump into canals. All this wildness, just for fun.

"Everyone was looking at us with critical eyes. What the hell is UAE doing here? Why would we watch their games? They are shit"

The team had already been announced for the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1989. Imran went up to the selectors and told them, "I want him and if you're not going to listen to me, I'm not going." He was so firm that they changed the squad.

The school team used to practise on a concrete pitch, and there was a wall there. I picked up a chalk and wrote on the wall: "Until I learn how to bowl straight, I won't come here ever." So I would get up at 5am every day, take 20 cricket balls and go to school and draw a circle on the ground - a radius of about a foot. I decided I would bowl 100 balls every day and I would check how many landed in that circle. I had a paper and pencil with me to take notes. It took me only 15 days. Two weeks, 1500 deliveries. My accuracy had improved massively.

The Asia Cup is also one of UAE's biggest achievements. Every team, everyone was looking at us with critical eyes. What the hell is UAE doing here? Why would we watch their games? They are shit. And broadcasters will be expecting something from us too. People put things on TV which are watchable, and it was our responsibility to put on something which people would enjoy, and I think so far it's been good. I think we've been pushing teams, say out of three hours, we've pushed teams for at least two hours on the back foot.

That series in Australia and New Zealand in 1989, Imran used to say, "You are so talented. Look at you, you can destroy any team." He always motivates people, makes them a hero from nothing.

"Imran always motivates people, makes them a hero from nothing" © PA Photos

From amateur to professional cricket there was a huge gap. It starts from your mentality, your work ethic, the time you spend, your sleep, your diet, practice routines, there are so many things.

I think it's really hard to produce fast bowlers in metropolitan cities, where you live in an apartment, take the bus to school, and go to the academy for two hours. No, that is not a fast-bowling environment. That's why it's really important for everyone to go beyond the cities, go to the villages and other environments that are completely open, to look for fast bowlers and groom them.

There are a few things that turn your life around completely. Before the first Imran XI v Gavaskar XI game, Imran asked me, "Do you bowl with the new ball?" and I said, "Yes I do", so he gave me the ball and said, "Bowl the first over" and he set a normal one-day field for me. One slip and a gully, a square leg. Then he said, "Are you okay with the field?" and I said, "No. Take this square-leg fielder to second slip because I move the ball away, so I need two slips and a gully, and fine leg should be a bit wider." Those two comments were enough for Imran to understand who he had brought in and what kind of understanding this 17-year-old kid had.

If there was a UAE-Pakistan final? There is no doubt that I will support UAE. This is my team, my creation and I am proud of my creation, so why shouldn't I support UAE in a final against Pakistan?

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo