Interview by Rvel Zahid
Mark Coles, who hails from New Zealand, coached Pakistan Women's National Cricket Team from 2017 to October 2019. Coles resigned just a few weeks ago citing family concerns. Under his coaching, Pakistan won nine out of 28 ODIs and bagged 12 wins in 30 T20Is.
He has worked in a similar capacity in the domestic circuit of Australia and New Zealand before joining Pakistan team upon recommendation of the former Pakistan Men's Cricket Team coach, Mickey Arthur.
Coles talked exclusively with Cricingif about his recommendations to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), his camaraderie with Mickey Arthur, Sana Mir's invaluable contribution to the promotion of female cricket in the country and his advice to the upcoming women's team coach. Also, in this interview, he explained the structural problems that he observed during his stay, his coaching manual, his analysis regarding where the team currently stands, and also about the security situation in Pakistan from his outlook. Moreover, he shared his optimism with Wasim Khan (CEO PCB) at the helm of all cricketing affairs and a lot more.
How does it feel returning back to your home after the end of a two-year coaching assignment with Pakistan women’s team?
I have mixed feelings, I will certainly miss the players and seeing them improve but the time was right to be back with the family and they [Pakistan team] are now in a position to build on the foundations and success they have had.
"Sana Mir has been the pioneer of female cricket in Pakistan, it's unfortunate a few are jealous of her efforts and achievements which I find all a little bit churlish, the country should celebrate her success"
Did you face any problems while working with the PCB management and generally, is it easy to get things done in the system?
I think with Wasim Khan on board, things have changed a lot and players are better looked after. We had some really great chats and I have the utmost respect for Wasim. It will only improve with him on board and driving female cricket in Pakistan.
How did the first meeting go with the players when you assumed the office? (keeping in view that you were the first foreign coach)
I think they were all a little bit worried about this Kiwi guy so it was important to build trust with the group so they felt comfortable with me as a coach, being foreign didn’t matter to me; it was about giving them belief and a plan to be able to succeed as individuals and as a team.
"I had a good chat before I left, it’s important to get good structures in place that are sustainable, it’s a big job for Urooj Mumtaz Khan (Head of Female Cricket). It needs to be aligned with how the National side is trying to play its cricket. They need more A tours and a full U19 program"
Did you get a culture shock when you first came to Pakistan?
I did a little bit of background work, I think it was about understanding the religion and I was very conscious that players kept up with prayers and family life and not spend all their time thinking about cricket.
The Pakistan team was in shambles when you joined as they didn't win a single match in World Cup 2017; how big was the challenge to bring the girls out of that phase?
We just needed to get the players to believe, they are all good cricketers, giving them clear plans both individually and as a team, ensuring that they have the coaching staffs full support to execute those plans.
"We had a group of us Grant Ludon, Bradburn and Flower, Mickey myself and Clifee (Physio) we always had our coffee chats and shared coaching experiences, it was great fun and some great learning"
Do you think Pakistan team banks too heavily on Nida Dar for power hitting?
No, you have other players, Aliya Riaz and Iram Javed are very capable of hitting the ball hard and clearing the boundaries in both T20 and ODI cricket.
What was your pep talk like before the clash against arch-rivals India in the ICCT20 World Cup in 2018?
I thought we played really well against them; the running on the pitch cost us 10 runs. 'Enjoy the occasion and have belief!'
"I wouldn’t underestimate Thailand - it’s a T20 World Cup and it’s unpredictable, people who think that far ahead don’t see what’s in front of them first. Dreams are free but make sure you are prepared for the unexpected, that’s why they call it a World Cup because all the teams going are deserving of being there!"
How proud were you of Sana Mir's individual milestone of becoming the number one ranked bowler? Also, please tell us a bit about her work ethic and your experience of working with her.
Sana works very hard, she has a great work ethic, that’s why she became number one in the world. The whole team was happy for her and Pakistan should be very proud of her efforts. She has been the pioneer of female cricket in Pakistan, it's unfortunate that a few are jealous of her efforts and achievements which I find all a little bit churlish; the country should celebrate her success.
Mark Coles along with Sana Mir and other Pakistan players on an outing
What is your core coaching philosophy?
To create a fun, learning environment and allow the players to express their natural abilities without fear of failure.
Out of all the achievements during your coaching stint, which ones are the major highlights in retrospect?
I have so many, just the great times we had together, the progress we made, the team being a happy team again and being in a position that we can challenge the top sides.
"We get far too carried away with that notion, coaching is tough, being a great player offers you an insight into the struggles of being a professional athlete which is great but you also have to be good in so many areas off the field"
Given the confines in Pakistan society, was it difficult for you to find replacements and unearth new talent?
It’s getting better, we have some really good talent coming through and the PCB has a really good chance with the U19 World Cup in 2021 coming up to find some more talent and build strong pathways that align from the grassroots to the top.
"I would love to get back into another coaching gig and be a better coach. I feel I have a lot to offer another organisation in the near future, I am open to offers!"
What major changes did you see in the team in your coaching tenure?
The team has more of a belief in themselves and all the players in the squad. It was a shift from having a lack of self-belief to being competitive and believing they could win. Players now understand the roles they have and get on and be the best in that given role (which they have input into) instead of worrying about things they don’t have control over. Another area was we raised the fitness standards, through Gemaal Hussain (Strength& Conditioning Coach), he did a wonderful job, too many times in Pakistan I heard but 'they have good skills' but if you are not fit and you can’t be at good in at least two areas of the game then you will be found out - I only hope that continues as Gemaal has done a wonderful job.
Is Pakistan safe to tour? Tell us about the security situation from your vantage point.
Yes, as safe as anywhere. We had the West Indies women tour, the Sri Lanka men have just been there and the Bangladesh women are on the way. Yes, security is an issue but it is in every country now, including New Zealand.
Does the current team have enough skill and firepower to give the top teams a run for their money in the next ICC World Cup 2021?
Yes of course, but they have to have very clear individual plans and the team plans to be able to have this success. It's about the process, not the end result. A few people get carried away with the end results. I wouldn’t underestimate Thailand - it’s a T20 World Cup and it’s unpredictable, people who think that far ahead don’t see what’s in front of them first. Dreams are free but make sure you are prepared for the unexpected, that’s why they call it a WorldCup because all the teams going are deserving of being there!
"Mike Hesson, Alex Fergusson, Wayne Bennett, Steve Hanson, John Wooden, Mickey, all good players but not International players, but all have one thing in common they understand people and have empathy"
In what ways can high-performance conditioning camps, just like the one organized a couple of months ago, beneficial to the pool of players?
It gets young players in the system and understanding what it takes to play at the International level. Giving them match scenarios and seeing how they act under pressure. We always use to be on the field so we could ask questions, that’s how players learn. Too many times I have seen Nets, Nets Nets, and still, some of our players are happy to have a “knock up” without a purpose, that doesn’t get you better! Thankfully it's improving. Nets are for off-season skill work. You find true character in the middle under pressure as you do in a game.
Did you often catch up with your friend Mickey Arthur during your stay in Pakistan and exchange coaching ideas?
Yes, when they were back in town, we had a group of us Grant Ludon, Bradburn and Flower, Mickey myself and Clifee (Physio) we always had our coffee chats and shared coaching experiences, it was great fun and some great learning.
Is power-hitting an area of concern for Pakistan team?
No, we use to practice this in the off season, as I said those are where you practice it in nets, set up the bowling machine and hit from a stable base, we are getting better at it. We had a couple of sessions with Grant Flower (Men’s batting coach) and used a lot of hitting off a baseball tee, it was fun and the players enjoyed it because it had a purpose to it.
Do you think it is important for a coach to have a high profile before coaching an international side?
No, but others will disagree, what you do have to have is a huge amount of empathy and be able to give players the confidence to succeed. It may help to have a high profile but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Mike Hesson, Alex Fergusson, Wayne Bennett, Steve Hanson, John Wooden, Mickey, all good players but not International players, but all have one thing in common they understand people and have empathy.
For instance, if you spot a technical flaw in a batter, would you interfere and help that player to iron it out or leave it for the specialist?
Yes, but I would always involve the batting or bowling coach. It’s still important to coach but also to give your staff the freedom to do the job that they are therefor.
It is a common notion in media and public that great players should be appointed as coaches, what are your thoughts on this matter?
We get far too carried away with that notion, coaching is tough, being a great player offers you an insight into the struggles of being a professional athlete which is great but you also have to be good in so many areas off the field. Being organised, communicate, understanding people (both support staff and players) creating a team environment of belief and trust. Some organisations get carried away and have stars in their eyes when CVs come across their desks from big names. That’s not to say big-name players can't coach at all.
What will be your recommendations to the PCB for improving women's cricket in Pakistan?
I had a good chat before I left, it's important to get good structures in place that are sustainable. It’s a big job for Urooj Mumtaz Khan (Head of Female Cricket). It needs to be aligned with how the National side is trying to play its cricket, they need more A tours and a full U19 program. It’s in its infancy at the moment so it needs to move a bit quicker as other nations are charging ahead but I am sure she will get it up to speed in the next 3-6 months so full programs and structures are in place before the U19 2021 World Cup.
What will be your message to the upcoming women's team coach?
Enjoy the role, you have a great squad of players who want to be the best they can be, allow them to express themselves and make mistakes at practice so they feel they can play with freedom in a game situation. It’s all part of the game and learning how to be better under pressure.
Should we expect to see you back with the coaching hat in the near future?
I am officially unemployed. I am going to take a couple of weeks out to be with the family (Mel, Maddie and Amelia). I have been home for three months in total over the last two years so I want to enjoy my time with them. However, I would love to get back into another coaching gig and be a better coach. I feel I have a lot to offer another organisation in the near future, I am open to offers!