After a drastic revamp of the domestic cricket structure last season, the PCB has now turned the National Cricket Academy into a High Performance Centre (HPC). The restructuring will see a new framework in place for the development of age-group players all the way to the national team. Nadeem Khan, the former cricketer and successful local coach (and Moin Khan's brother), is the new director, while Grant Bradburn, who was Pakistan's fielding coach until last month, has come in as head of high-performance coaching. Saqlain Mushtaq has been appointed head of international player development.
Khan spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the problems in the previous structure, his vision, plans and priorities. He began work earlier this week, relocating from Karachi to Lahore, and said his performance shouldn't be judged after six months but after two years, with the next Under-19 World Cup in mind.
Why merge domestic cricket and the old NCA into this new HPC?
Basically, the two are related departments. You develop players at one place and test them in terms of performance at domestic cricket, which becomes a feeder to the international team. There have long been chronic problems of the system missing out on many players, which have been the subject of extensive debate. There was a system in place but it was a disjointed one. A number of Under-19 players have disappeared without getting a proper chance in first-class cricket and that's a worry. There has been no coordination between the NCA and domestic operations; they were working in different directions. So the idea is to merge both departments so that we can properly regulate players and make sure they do no slip out of the system.
Then why not improve that coordination rather than bring in this new centre?
With the restructuring of domestic cricket last year, all teams are regulated by the PCB and by themselves. There are no private teams - like departments - anymore with their own parallel production line. So with everybody on one page now, this was the best time to merge it all under one umbrella. We want this model to be more relevant than before and better connected. When you identify and develop a player, the HPC will now make sure he will play in first-class cricket and doesn't wait and disappear. The HPC will keep a thorough eye on the progress of a player in the system. It's easier to manage a pipeline and ultimately we need better performers and players to represent the country. That is the main purpose.
What are your major plans?
The long-term plan is to form a national framework starting from the Under-13 circuit. Picking players on the basis of technical, tactical, mental, physical attributes and profiling them better. Their progress at the local level will be recorded and a detailed plan will be created for their development.
The mid-term plan is to pick a set of players for the next Under-19 World Cup and get them ready for the next World Cup. During the recent Under-19 World Cup, our team wasn't prepared enough as compared to the other better teams. We need to start preparing at least one-and-a-half years in advance with one dedicated set up and one direction. There is a gap and it's not just at the age-group cricket, but it is there between our first-class and the international team as well. The whole lot moves on to the next level with that same gap and those limitations. The problem is at the developmental level. So first we need to toughen up that process.
We will prepare the players so that at the senior level, there is proper competition and they feel it. That competition will test their ability and enhance them. So going forward, players won't feel a sudden steep rise at the next stage. Players who are not reaching benchmarks will be washed out of the system and those passing through with distinction will make their way ahead. This HPC won't allow mediocrity. Fitness, discipline, lifestyle, performance, it has to be there in a player. Nobody is going to go up to the next level until all boxes are ticked.
We will have a close relationship with the national chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. We are not going to influence the selection but make sure we have a readymade production line available all the time. For instance, if Misbah comes to us and asks for a batsman for South African conditions who plays well square of the wicket or asks for a seam bowler, that's our job to have an answer with the best option.
From where will the players come into the HPC?
From the [provincial] associations as I am not in favour of open trials. So many players get in the system - not very talented - and then become a part of the production line. When you have open trials at Under-13 level, you get tons of kids selected and many are undeserving. That is an unfair system, to be honest. There are other good players you miss out on. So that is the basic problem, where the pipeline is leaking. The kids picked up are not competitive and, unfortunately, they go on to play Under-13, Under-16 and Under-19 and even first-class cricket. So this area needs to be carefully protected. It's tough but at some stage we have to stop undeserving players making their way into the system. Due to Covid-19, this is probably is not going to happen this year, but the HPC will make sure that kids entering in the system are on the basis of merit and competition.
For all this, you need coaches with strong credentials. Do you think you have enough of them at your disposal?
We do have good coaches but there is a need to work on changing the thought process of coaches. In Pakistan, it's more coach-centric and not really about the player. Professional players have a dependent mindset and this is why we lack consistency. There are times when you have to take a decision in seconds, but there is a mental block because players don't really understand the game… they are just playing it. Their mental growth is at some stage tested because the coaching style has made players just hit 100 balls in nets without understanding the perspective of the player. Instead, they need to ask the player what they want. It is not always about weaknesses, it's about enhancing a strength as well. You can never fully eradicate your weakness but you negotiate it and see how you can work it out.
If a player is naturally talented, coaches should help him enhancing [his skills] rather than dictating their terms to make it unnatural. So the growth of a player should be on the terms of his natural ability, and not changing it. A player's thought process needs to be encouraged; make them aware about the game; they need to speak up how they feel about the game. So coaching attitude and manuals will also be revised and we are changing it to make it more player-centric. It's very much needed for a players' mental growth and allowing them to think independently when they are on their own. Players are the bosses and coaches are the helpers.