PAkistan seems to be the place to be this winter, but away from the bright lights and packed stadiums of a security-heavy tour of England, two ambitious coaches from the county system are about to embark on an intriguing task of their own.
Paul Franks, assistant to Peter Moores at Nottinghamshire after two decades as the club’s uncompromising all-rounder, was appointed head coach of Central Punjab for the Pakistan domestic season, with the 43-year-old overseeing their campaigns in the four-day Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the Pakistan 50-over Cup.
Joining Franks as his No.2 will be 38-year-old Bilal Shafayat, who coached Notts through the age groups and second XI after his playing career. Their four-month deal goes against the grain of winter job searches on the Twenty20 circuit, and at a time when the national outfit continues to look for foreign coaches, it shows impressive ambition.
“It was too good to turn down,” Franks tells the Guardian. “It was word of mouth and maybe Trent Rockets won a hundred when I was Andy Flower’s assistant. He and Peter [Moores] two incredible coaches who trusted me to do my job as I see it, and that must have helped.
“I was working in the T10 league in Abu Dhabi and would have been tempted to find more gigs in franchise cricket. But I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a little bit, really experience a different culture and hopefully grow as a coach.
“Four-day and 50-over cricket may not be so fashionable now, but I want to work in all formats. And I have ambitions to go as far as possible in my career. I want to help this team get better, but I also want to learn from the players.”
Franks describes the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, which starts next week, as “unforgiving – even by county standards”, in which six regional teams play each other twice over two months before the five-day final. Instead of home and away, the teams travel together across the country, with Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan and Lahore serving as host venues.
Central Punjab is an amalgamation of Faisalabad, Sialkot and Lahore in a reduced domestic structure introduced in 2019, having won the first two titles before finishing in mid-table last year. Babar Azam is theoretically their star man, but Franks doesn’t expect the Pakistan captain to be around much due to international commitments.
However, the likes of Azhar Ali and Faheem Ashraf will be working towards the Tests against England in December, and Franks hopes he and Shafayat will help others with selection. “They really like my style,” says Franks. “We’ll introduce structures and some non-negotiables, but whether it’s in or out of shape, we’ll keep them.
“Bilal speaks Urdu – I’ve spoken a little while working with the UAE national team in the past – but he’s more than a translator, he’s a great coach in his own right and reads the game superbly. He will be an important link in the team.”
Needless to say, the job won’t be held in the same circle of steel that surrounds England’s T20 and Test tours this winter, but Franks feels comfortable that this will be his first visit to Pakistan since the under-19 tour in 1997. year.
“I’m someone who just wants to get on with it,” says Franks in the blunt manner that earned him the nickname “The General” at Trent Bridge. And if England’s current set-up is anything to go by, the manager with international ambitions is on hand to help.
“There are a lot of knowledgeable people in England’s support staff, but if there are local players they want more information on, or say conditions at Test venues, I’ll be at the end of the phone,” he said. adds. “I strive and have no doubt about it.
“I hope this role contributes to that. I want to learn about myself, about cricket in Pakistan and hopefully bring that experience back to Notts next season.”