Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq has said they “realistically considered pulling our of the New Zealand tour” during the time they spent in quarantine, before opting to stay to keep the game alive for fans. He did say the two-week strict quarantine took both a mental and physical toll on the players, but promised he would not use it as an excuse in the event of an unfavourable result.
Pakistan’s quarantine period in New Zealand was notably more eventful than West Indies’, who were also made to quarantine before their series against New Zealand. The Pakistan players were strongly reprimanded by the New Zealand government for breaches of policy in the first 12 hours in isolation while half a dozen players tested positive putting the tour in jeopardy. There were several emails exchanged between the two boards on the treatment of players in isolation while New Zealand’s director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield refused to allow players to train while in quarantine. The PCB CEO Wasim Khan sent the players a message directly addressing them, warning they would be sent back to Pakistan if any further breaches of the Covid-19 protocols occurred, saying it would be “hugely embarrassing for the country”.
“You try and analyse things and think realistically about every possible angle,” Misbah said while interacting with the media for the first time in New Zealand. “You think about how many days we need to prepare, how we are going to prepare, how to lift your team. Obviously these aren’t normal circumstances; what happens here isn’t ideal. But then for the sake of international cricket you want cricket to go on, and being a big stakeholder, we will give our full effort to help cricket overall. We did discuss [about pulling out of the tour] but then finally decided to say no to this option because when you invest this much time on this, then you have got to give it a shot.
“Coping in the situation isn’t easy for anyone. But if we want to keep the game alive and keep it going we have to make this sacrifice for fans sitting at home who want to watch the game and get entertained in this difficult time. We, as players and coaches, are the biggest stakeholders and we have to keep on trying to give our every effort. Let’s see how long it can go like this and for how long players can sustain it. But I think as professionals we somehow have to manage ourself in the bubble or in quarantine.”
While ruing the lack of training and the impact on players of strict isolation in Christchurch, Misbah said they were trying hard to catch up on lost time, squeezing 14 days of work into a week. Pakistan originally had to get exemptions that allowed them to train in groups but with the initial positive cases, the New Zealand Ministry refused permission to train amid concerns about the risk of cross-infections within the squad. The refusal to their earlier exception deprived the side of their expected preparation to the series and Misbah said this will have affected the players.
“It’s not about blaming anyone. In fact it won’t make any difference what I say, facts remain facts. As professionals we are not looking for excuses because at the end of the day, no matter whatever excuse you make people consider end results. So, our thought process is to forget about uncontrollable. Whatever happened, we can’t do much about it. What we can control is catching up with every minute and every moment we couldn’t get in those 14 days.
“After all it’s not easy to catch up with the lost time and squeeze two weeks of work in one week but the players are responding well, getting to regain their focus back in the field. We are trying our best to work out how to get back into the zone, retain our best skills and regain our fitness levels. We are here with a mission and the main thing what we play any sports is to win and we are confident that we can do well.”
Talking about the importance of fast bowlers in New Zealand, Misbah said the tour will serve as a learning curve for young fast bowlers. “When you go at a new place it offers you a learning experience,” Misbah said. “Shaheen [Afridi] and Wahab [Riaz] are quite experienced now. Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain are growing with every series so they all are getting into the groove. They have the skills, potential, pace and swing – this package can surprise anyone.
“If New Zealand have [Lockie] Ferguson as their main pacer who clocked around 150 kph, then we have three to four fast bowlers with a similar knack. If they think they can challenge us with pace then they also have to face the same challenge as well. New Zealand are a tough side at home and playing well against West Indies, but they will be challenged and you will get to see good cricket.”