Cricket has come to an indefinite halt, globally, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and no one knows when the game will resume. What is a player to do in this unfamiliar and frankly scary situation? Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s coach and chief selector, has one bit of advice for his players: think of this break as a “chance to to reinvigorate yourself.”
The break, Misbah feels, will help players recharge their batteries away from the otherwise ceaseless workload of the game, and make them hungrier than ever when cricket eventually resumes.
“Going forward, I feel mentally what players are thinking is the most important aspect,” Misbah told ESPNcricinfo. “I will be emphasising that you’ve got to believe in yourself and stay positive. Yes, it’s a tough situation but at the same time consider this break a chance to reinvigorate yourself. Several players have been playing consistently and we all need a break from the load of cricket.
“We will be speaking with players and instilling this in their mind that you are not going to forget your basics, and your game and skillsets will remain with you. All you have to do is analyse yourself, and we will help them with feedback from watching their videos. This break will basically spark more hunger in them, and they will want to play with heart when they return to action. Intrinsically a passionate sportsperson doesn’t want to sit idle, that’s natural, and once you’ve held him back for some time he will come back with more intensity than ever.”
While the current situation lasts, most of Pakistan’s players will have no way to practise their cricketing skills. In order that they don’t lose their rhythm completely, Misbah said it was important for them to know their own game inside-out.
“Obviously you need practice, that is integral,” he said. “But when you thoroughly know your basics – your feet movements, point of release, your stance, understanding the bowlers – all this is imprinted in your mind, and it’s not really hard to return to the game. You don’t need a lot of time to get back in your groove, it’s just the basics in your mind that will drive you.
“So knowing in your mind about the mechanics of your game makes it easy to come back. Obviously you need practice to shake off the rustiness but it becomes easier if you have a full knowledge of your game. So this is the time to know your own game, and if you are clueless about yourself and how you do things then it’s very difficult for you to pick up the game and start where you left off. This is the time to understand yourself and break it down in your mind, and life will be easier going forward.”
At the same time, Misbah stressed the importance of players keeping themselves fit. This, he said, was within their control, and ESPNcricinfo has learned that some of them – Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq, for instance – have set up gyms in their homes.
“Problem is that at this time nobody has the facilities to practise, so for now the one thing I am talking to players is about fitness,” Misbah said. “We are in touch with players on an individual basis, both with the batters and bowlers, and we are talking and keeping them in track. But we are not really sure for how long we will be stuck this way. We are doing our homework and doing all we can to plan and prepare ourselves in the present circumstances. Nobody expected this stoppage so it’s a completely new situation for us and we are thinking how we can keep players in the game virtually. We need to keep on talking to them.
“Along with my assistant coach Shahid Aslam, I’m getting players’ videos from the PSL and the recent series we played, and breaking them down in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and getting back to the players with our feedback. It’s tough to get them on board collectively and make them practise, but with some clarity in the situation we can at least be ready to execute with a clear mind [when cricket resumes].”
As much as the situation is an unfamiliar one for the players, it’s equally so for Misbah, but he has found ways to keep himself busy.
“I don’t think I have sat around facing such uncertainty in my entire career. I once sat at home recovering from jaundice. But this time, I’m lucky that I have taken the timely decision to have a fully equipped gym and nets facility at home. It’s good to have time to yourself, not doing anything, because I have been very busy recently and couldn’t manage my fitness routine.
“I’m spending my full time with family and even my kids are working out with me. I’m spending around 120 to 150 minutes in a day on my training routines, and I think I’m ready again to undergo fitness test along with the national players.”
Misbah is quite a cricket nerd, and it isn’t surprising that he’s spent a lot of time watching videos as well.
“Yes, that’s a part of my routine,” he said. “In fact, recently I was watching the 92 World Cup, and it was interesting to see how Pakistan came back out of nowhere. On YouTube you just go deep, watching old classic games, and overall it’s a mixture, nothing in particular. But I’ve also been watching some games I played, like the 2012 England series, the Sri Lanka chase [in Sharjah], and PSL games on TV.
“This time off, you’ve got to utilise it very smartly and reflect on your game. It’s not just me but for other players as well, they have time to look back – what good and bad they have done and where they can improve themselves. This is probably the off time when you have no obligation and all you have to do is sit and relax. Otherwise, when you are playing, you do not have much time to think. You’re just going with the flow.
“There are things you won’t be able to understand while playing or even practising. But now, when you are mentally free and not occupied, this is the best available time for your learning curve. In terms of planning, you reflect back on things that went wrong and think of what needs to be done to improve, and players should be doing this, individually.”
As hard as it is for cricketers to stay away from the game, Misbah feels it’s important for them to put their issues in perspective, given the scale of the issue the world is fighting.
“Breaks are never good and it’s a problem for us as cricketers,” Misbah said. “Things were going very smoothly, and we were going to play a Test and ODI against Bangladesh, the now whole sequence and continuity has broken down.
“But nobody can do anything because the situation we all are in is bigger than cricket. It’s important for us to not think about anything other than how to save humanity from this virus. This is the time when you shouldn’t be thinking like a cricketer but as a man, how you can help and how to get out of this situation, and that is the biggest fight for any profession in the world. Cricket will eventually come back, but the focus is mainly about how you can sort this out and restore normalcy.”