Playing the Pakistan Way, with Grant Bradburn
In May 2023, Pakistan men’s team revealed the new brand of cricket that they are going to play – The Pakistan Way. Popularly, it was believed to be an aggressive brand of cricket that the team had vouched to play under Mickey Arthur and Grant Bradburn.
However, in this interview with Cricbuzz, the Pakistan head coach explains that The Pakistan Way was in the works since 2018, how it has developed, how it is way more than just the aggressive style of play and why they haven’t been able to successfully implement it in limited overs cricket as yet.
Pakistan have gone back to announcing their XI a day ahead of the game. What’s the logic behind it, especially since it gives the opposition an edge in drafting their plans? Isn’t this machismo counter-productive in a way?
During the home series, the Afghanistan series and the Asia Cup, we felt – which is the most important reason – that it gives clarity to our players. And confidence. They can go to sleep knowing they’re batting 1 or where they are going to be bowling. That’s the most important purpose – to give clarity and show confidence in our team. Every (opposition) team has their analysts and intelligent coaches who know what the line-up is going to be anyway.
Can’t that clarity be internal communication?
Yes, definitely. But by putting it out there, it reinforces the confidence that we have in them. It’s not something we’re completely set on. We were comfortable doing it in the Afghanistan series and the Asia Cup. We haven’t discussed whether we’re going to be doing it here (at the World Cup). But one thing is certain, we’re going to be very clear with our own team.
We wanted honesty and also trust and respect. We wanted our players to be earning their place and our selectors selecting on merit.
What does the ‘Pakistan Way’ mean?
The Pakistan Way was something I was fortunate to be involved with in developing and implementing during my previous role of High Performance coaching. Together with Saqlain Mushtaq, who was the head of development at that point, we worked very closely together to pull together a performance review for Wasim Khan then, and to be brave enough to put a stake in the ground for Pakistan. Everyone wants to be on top of the world. We all agree on one thing – we want to win a major event, we want to be living in the top three rankings in the world. Test cricket is really important to us as well. We put a priority together that no one disagreed with. But the big opportunity was to ask: to achieve that, what are the skills we need to actually be able to achieve that? For individuals, what does the team need to display, what do our coaches need to operate by to help that outcome, and what do our selectors need to do to select on merit?
We’ve put a set of values together. We wanted honesty and also trust and respect. We wanted our players to be earning their place and our selectors selecting on merit. We wanted to give opportunity to everyone in Pakistan to put a stake in the ground. That was an important value for us. And the final one was courage. We wanted to bring out the strong character that is within the Pakistan people. Those values under-pinned a simple philosophy – Country. Team. Me.
It’s been a wonderful thing to share with the nation, with the domestic coaches from First Team coaches to Under-13 coaches to national coaches, to give them guiding light and say, ‘You’re wonderful coaches, with different skillsets. You do it your way but when you’re coaching remember that we want to be number one in the world. So these are the skillsets, these are the performances that our team needs to display for this to happen. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.’ It’s a very simple philosophy – it’s a one pager.
Everyone thinks that Pakistan Way is now all of a sudden a new aggressive brand. That’s something Mickey and I picked up in April when I arrived. That’s something we are very keen to carry forward. There is a lot of short-termism in Pakistan cricket, there’s a lot of turnover of personnel and players. One of the things that we were adamant about was that we wanted to carry forward some of the work that had gone on before. Particularly, having worked very close with Saqlain Mushtaq, I was very keen to carry forward the foundation of the Pakistan Way that we had worked so hard to implement in the previous regime as well. And there were clear signs that it was working because Saqlain took the team to two World Cup finals. It was fantastic to see something so simple was having an immediate effect.
When Mickey and I came on board in April, it was very important for us to take it in another direction, to give it a turbo boost. The game is forever changing, the game is becoming much more dynamic and aggressive in all three aspects. We wanted to carry forward the foundation of the Pakistan Way. It’s not just valuable for us as a team, but also for everyone within Pakistan to use as a guideline.
So it’s not just about aggressive play and scoring benchmarks, as it’s popularly believed to be?
It’s definitely a part of the modern game. Mickey and I have come in and exposed the fact that in April we were 3, 5 and 6 in the world rankings. We’re pleased to say that we’ve moved forward now. We were very honest with the team around the style of cricket that we were playing, and the style of cricket that we were playing was not going to get us the outcomes that we wanted. So we’ve pushed and that’s not always comfortable for the players to be challenged. But Mickey and I were adamant that our philosophy is that we’re not here to take the job for a period of time, we’re here to make a difference to Pakistan cricket, and we want to keep pushing that philosophy and the Pakistan Way forward to its outcome.
We knew that we were not going to be able to achieve that without some significant change with the way we were playing. Our brand of cricket was stale. Particularly in Test cricket, we were surviving rather than looking for ways to win. We changed significantly immediately in April, and we wanted to take a new direction, actually being offensive with our approach in Test cricket. We were struggling against spin, we weren’t showing the skills that we had. We had a number of camps, we had a number of discussions and we highlighted the particular areas we wanted to make gains in. That was really pleasing to see in Sri Lanka that on difficult pitches, our boys played an aggressive brand of Test cricket which ultimately put the pressure on the opposition.
Change is uncomfortable and we want the players to be uncomfortable. We’re at the cutting edge.
Ironically, we haven’t been able to implement that philosophy as quickly in one-day cricket, which may sound bizarre. There are different personnel, different pressures and different comforts of how people have played in the past. But we have raised the bar. We sat down in Islamabad and collectively decided that the batting targets that we had generally accepted as a team were no longer relevant. We put it to our bowling attack where they felt their bowling targets should be or where they felt they should restrict the opposition on their best day. We lowered those as well. We put some lofty targets in front of this group to travel in a new, aggressive direction so that we are at the sharp edge or the leading edge of where cricket wants to go. We’re well aware that we were number 1 recently, we have a number of players that rank very highly in the world but we’re also not naive to to understand that the real number one would be looking to lift the cup in November, and we want that to be us. We are working hard on all parts of our game to be breaking out of our comfort zones.
How easy is it to get the players to buy into that philosophy, since it is prone to high risks – a bit like Bazball – and there will be days it won’t go the way you want it to? The criticism can get quite harsh, and many times even nasty, in Pakistan – from fans, media and former cricketers.
Sure. Change is uncomfortable and we want the players to be uncomfortable. We’re at the cutting edge. If this (World Cup) is the collection of the best players on the planet, no game is going to be gifted to us. The best part is the support that we’re giving players and the challenge of the new levels that they can go to. Within the skill sets, we’re having no issues in finding the skills. The challenge for us is to bring those skills out in different phases of the game. It’s going to have a greater impact for them personally and for us as a team.
We’ve worked very hard in identifying our team game plan. We know exactly what we want to do. We know within each six phases of play – powerplay, middle overs and the close – we know what needs to happen to us to play really well. Now that we’ve clarified that for the players, we are also working on getting buy-in on their individual roles within that. It’s exciting. The players are inspired by that.
We are changing our language a little bit around our individual performers, who are very proud of their records and are among the best in the world. But more important to us is the impact on the game. Particularly with the white-ball we’ve been bringing to light the understanding of what impact performance looks like. It’s not always easily seen on the scoreboard. It might not be a big performance, but for example Shadab [Khan] and Iftikhar [Ahmed] were commended for the impact they made in the short period of time to give us a nice total.
Is there now a need to define and brand team cultures and playing style in cricket?
We’re very meticulous, we define it in our own way. There is a particular branding that I won’t share, but it’s within the team and we know what we’re trying to do. We’re becoming more comfortable with meticulous review of our own performances. We know our position, we study our opposition, but probably more so we are more meticulous around critiquing our own performances and we’re becoming more comfortable with critiquing performances that are not matching with where we want to be, which is not matching where our outcome is.
That’s not that we’re not very open about our culture, but how we are valuing the person is something different. We value people for who they are, their backgrounds, their families, we are very much a family-oriented team, and we love that. The boys are very proud of where they come from, and within our unit they are allowed to be themselves. We try to break down the hierarchy in the team and make sure that everyone is valued in that way. But when it comes to cricket, we are critiquing the performances, not the person.