Pakistan’s cricketers set to train with army in March-April

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Pakistan’s cricketers are set to team up with another iconic institution of the country, the Pakistan Army, from March 25 to April 8 in a ten-day training camp. The announcement was made by PCB chairman Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday at a hotel in Islamabad while addressing several players. The camp will start roughly one week after the PSL ends, and Naqvi hopes it will help players get their fitness “up to speed.”

“When I was watching the matches in Lahore, I don’t think a single one of you hit a six that went into the stands,” Naqvi said. “Whenever a six like that was hit, I used to think a foreign player must have hit that. I have asked the board to make a plan that gets every player’s fitness up to speed. You’ll have to make a proper effort for that.

“We have New Zealand coming up, then Ireland, England and the T20 World Cup. I wondered, ‘When will we train?’ but there was no time. However, we’ve found a window, where we’ve organised a camp in Kakul (military academy) from March 25 to April 8. The Pakistan Army will be involved in your training, and hopefully, they’ll help you out.”

An intensive training camp in one of the few windows the players would otherwise have rested is likely to be unpopular, especially as it is preceded by six months of virtually non-stop cricket, and followed by several bilateral series leading up to the T20 World Cup.

Moreover, the camp coincides with the second half of the holy month of Ramzan, a time when most Pakistanis culturally tend to prioritise family or religious activities over work. The effectiveness of the camp is likelier made tricky by the fact most of the squad players will be fasting, with no food or water from sunrise to sunset unconducive to a rigorous boot camp.

There is, though, precedent for Pakistan cricket getting the military involved with training. Misbah-ul-Haq‘s Pakistan famously organised a training camp with the military at Kakul academy before a Test series to England.

When Misbah scored a hundred in the first Test, he celebrated by doing ten push-ups, followed by a military salute. The series was drawn 2-2, with Pakistan rising to the top of the Test rankings for the only time in their history.

‘Make Pakistan your first priority’

Naqvi also took aim at one of the thornier issues the board is grappling with, telling the players they needed to prioritise national commitments over the lure of T20 leagues. The matter was thrown into the spotlight when Haris Rauf declined to be part of Pakistan’s tour of Australia. Chief selector Wahab Riaz had publicly criticised Rauf, and two months later, the PCB terminated his central contract.

To illustrate the point, Naqvi invoked his own time as caretaker chief minister of Punjab, a role he held for over a year, and briefly alongside the PCB chairmanship. He said it was a sacrifice he made because of a desire to serve Pakistan.

“I’m not going to say you mustn’t earn money, or ask you to make sacrifices we are also not ready to make. But let me give you one example. One year ago, I was asked to become the chief minister of Punjab, and it caused me a financial loss in my business. I had to leave that aside and incur several extra costs. But I had a desire to represent Pakistan, and so I had to make that sacrifice.

“I will support you 100%, but I’ll just ask you to make Pakistan your first priority, and T20 leagues your second priority. It’s unfortunate when money becomes first priority and the country second. If you do that, then we might have a problem. We can even look at central contracts and bolster them further if you desire, but you must be available for Pakistan first and foremost.”

Pakistan are currently without a coaching set-up at the national level, and Naqvi briefly mentioned the PCB was in touch with potential options, saying no expense would be spared.

“We’ll try to make the best available for you,” Naqvi said. “I have told the PCB our job is not to save money or keep it hoarded away, but to spend it on cricket, from grassroots right through to the national team. The money will be spent on your fitness, training and coaches rather than keeping it locked away.”

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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