T20 creating 'smarter and knowledgeable cricketers'

Criticised and labelled as death of cricket, T20s are helping players think and perform better, says Azhar Mahmood.

    T20 creating 'smarter and knowledgeable cricketers'
    Former Pakistan captain Younis Khan compared Twenty20 cricket to WWE in 2009 [Getty Images]

    The spread of Twenty20 cricket has not only increased scoring rates but also brought new shots and techniques into the game as well. 

    The increase in its popularity is evident from the fact that the former IPL chief, while planning a rival body to the ICC, wanted to do away with ODI cricket and give T20s a bigger podium to showcase itself.

    T20 cricket, however, has its fair share of critics with Michael Holding, the former West Indies captain, saying that T20 will kill Test cricket within 20 years.

    Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood, with over 200 T20s under his belt, held a T20 coaching camp in Dubai. Al Jazeera caught up with him to see what good has come from this shortest form of cricket.

    Al Jazeera: There have been claims that Twenty20 cricket will kill Test cricket? What is so special about Twenty20 cricket?

    Azhar Mahmood: I'm not against Test cricket. It's right there at the top. But you need to look at what T20 offers Test cricket. Ten years ago, did you think you'd be able to chase down 400 to win a Test? I don't think so.

    It's not just the aggression T20 has brought to cricket. It's also the belief that you can do it.

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    You can see how many different shots a batsman can play, how many different skills a bowler now needs to develop in order to be top of his game. You can't just bowl medium pace and target one spot on the pitch any more.

    But the authorities need to encourage Test cricket too. If you're paying similar amounts - for Test matches and T20s - you'll have people preferring T20 of course.

    Al Jazeera: You also held a T20 camp in Dubai. What were the things you taught the youngsters? 

    Mahmood: Being a T20 specialist, I asked the youngsters to come down and get their skills polished. Your basic technique has to be there. We're not teaching them to come and do a reverse sweep or start hitting straight away. We teach them how to stay fit, your mind-set and how to keep calm in tough situations. This is all part of training.

    Sometimes a bowler is bowling well, you need to show him respect. T20 cricket is not just about hitting sixes, it's very calculated. We train them to prize their wicket, to believe in themselves. It doesn't matter if you block four balls. You stay there and not get under pressure.

    Al Jazeera: So there's a lot of thinking and planning going into it.

    Mahmood: Our aim is to make better and knowledgeable cricketers. In T20 cricket, your mind gets really sharp as a cricketer. Unlike Test cricket, you have to think on the spot. People say T20 is a waste of time. I disagree. As a bowler, you might need to avoid a last-ball boundary to win the game.

    As a batsman, you'll need to hit one. It's fast-paced, you don't have time to stop and think.

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    I've played so much T20 cricket but even I've made lots of mistakes. I didn't really get time to focus on what I wanted to do. And that's something I'm teaching the kids in advance.

    Al Jazeera: Are you happy with the direction cricket is taking?

    Mahmood: Cricket is going in the right direction. Unfortunately, there's nothing in it for the bowlers. I'm glad they made the recent rule changes. You saw 400 scored with ease in ODIs and that had nothing to do with bowlers. It wasn't their fault. It's the rules.

    Three Powerplays were killing the bowlers. It became so bad that it was easier to bowl in T20s than ODIs. You had good pitches, two new balls. All you had to do was stand there and swing the bat.

    The two new balls are OK. But the pitches aren't sporting any more. And there's a bouncer limit in place. And that doesn't help the bowlers.

    Al Jazeera: You made your first-class debut over 20 years ago. What's the secret to a long career? Is Twenty20 helping that?

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    Mahmood: The game has changed a lot. You have to stay very fit and focused now. My motivation comes from looking at my team-mates who are 18 and 20. When I started my career, they weren't even born. You look at them and you realise you need to be fit. If I'm playing with them, I have to be fit, I have to train hard and maintain the same level of fitness.

    But now I do 25 percent of the training that I used to when I played for Pakistan. Your body ages and you need to be selective and focused on what you want to achieve. That's the key.

    Al Jazeera: On a personal note, how long will you be playing cricket for?

    Mahmood: I just want to play as long as I can. I've not been playing Test cricket since 2001. I was messed about by the Pakistan Cricket Board. I started playing county cricket to get some experience and they didn't choose me for Tests after that. After 2007, I was out of the ODI team as well. Good thing that T20 came along.

    I just want to play competitive cricket. Playing T20 around the world means I'm still with the international players. I'm happy, I'm satisfied. I'm not moaning but I have to prove a point: I'm still good enough and you guys [the PCB] made a mess out of me.


    Follow Faras Ghani on Twitter: @farasG

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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