DTG Interviews Sikandar Bakht
DTG: Let's start with your own personal career. What inspired you to consider commentary as a career pathway and where did you begin? What were some of the challenges you faced?
SB: I started doing commentary for radio when I was in school. It's an interesting thing that I used to get special permission at school to come in a little late as I was doing commentary for some game that used to happen early in the morning.
I come from a family of broadcasters, my parents have been a part of Radio Pakistan. I always had this around in the family so I had the opportunity of going to a couple of games as a child where I used to watch the likes of Chishti Mujahid, Iftikhar Ahmed and other stalwarts of the game doing commentary. It fascinated me because I loved the game. I never thought of it as a profession. I still wouldn't say I'm a commentator by profession. I'm basically a freelancer, I do various things related to the sport.
DTG: We saw you on Straight Drive recently on Ten Sports.
SB: I did the Pakistan-South Africa T20I series for them. I've been on Straight Drive before as well. From radio, I came to television commentary. I've done it for Star, for Ten Sports, Channel 9, etc.
DTG: On your journey, did you face any difficulties or challenges? When you're a commentator, you have to come across as being unbiased. If there's a South Africa vs Pakistan match, being a Pakistani, you'll support Pakistan. But you have to hide that and present yourself as an unbiased individual. How do you mask the fan inside you?
SB: Interestingly, that wasn't the main challenge for me. It was a different thing. Back in the day, commentary used to be a profession on its own. Now, it's become something for the ex-cricketers only. The main thing for me with the former Test cricketers and Test captains was that, you know, you're not really welcome. You're commenting on the game that you haven't played at the highest level, so people start judging how good or bad your comment is. But then things started easing out, people appreciate your knowledge of the game. You reciprocate and don't get into their zone, you become an analyst.
Regarding how you stop yourself from being biased, after a certain time in the business, you treat it as a job which is to bring the game to the people in the most entertaining form possible and you're not siding with anybody there.
Of course, if you've had the opportunity to listen to wrestling commentary, two commentators take opposite sides, they make it more interesting. They do expect, that if I am Sikandar or Ramiz Raja, with Ian Botham on the side, to be talking more about your own country. That in turn makes it more interesting. But of course, everything is on the screen so you can't create something that's not happening. If someone's playing shit, he's playing shit.
DTG: Well said. We know you've worked in many leagues such as BPL, T10 and other leagues, and also on the international scene. Which was your most enjoyable series or tournament?
SB: Enjoying commentary is more with Test match cricket because you get more time. You can take a storyline and talk on it for more than 2-3 overs. You get an opportunity to discuss the game. The Test develops over a number of days so it becomes exciting and interesting as a commentator.
T20 commentary is more about the action and there's not much time to talk on things otherwise. I enjoy Test match cricket commentary-wise and watching it as well. I think the Pakistan-England Test series in 2015 is one of my most memorable Tests as a commentator. Adil Rashid almost took the game away in Dubai. In terms of doing commentary, it was a memorable game. I would call it exciting because I had people next to me who I enjoyed doing work with such as Bumble, Michael Atherton and Ian Botham. They bring a different level to the whole concept of Test match cricket.
DTG: I want to talk about your role as the media manager of KK. What does this role entail and what are your responsibilities?
SB: My job or any media manager's job is to firstly safeguard the franchise and make sure it looks good in front of people, the press and the media. The message that the franchise is trying to give should reach all loud and clear. That includes anything that happens before or during the league related to players, injuries and stuff that's happened in PSL 2 such as match-fixing etc.
Your job is to make sure that your players are saying what they're supposed to say in front of the media. This is not national cricket, it's franchise cricket so this is more about business and what the franchise wants people to know. My job is also to have a friendly environment with the press and media of the cricketing nations, making sure I have a good rapport with them. If I have a good rapport then my franchise and team have a good rapport. If I'll be on the offence with them, automatically everything will look the same for the franchise.
I basically accompany the players for any sort of interview, press or media interaction. If I feel I need to interfere or stop something, or let something go, that's my call. Apart from that, during the game while the broadcast is on, my job is to have a relation with the broadcast director to make sure our team, ambassadors or anybody who's coming to support the team is shown well, on TV, and shown enough. We have a relation with the broadcaster during the games in terms of who's playing and who's not playing and why XYZ is not playing. My job in a nutshell would be the relation between the players and the media - I am the mediator.
DTG: About this PSL - In the past few seasons KK has done well but they haven't won PSL yet. Where did you go wrong in the past and how far do you think you can make it in this PSL?
SB: KK in the past seasons has always been the strongest team on paper. We've had big names but in this particular format, what we've learned is that it's such a short format, that individual performances by anybody can win a team the game. Islamabad United in the first season on paper looked like a team who would never win the final, but they did.
This year, we have a different mix. You won't call it a star-studded squad like we've had before with Pollard, Sangakkara, Afridi, and Gayle. We've banked more on fresh legs and taken more youngsters and the usual suspects who have performed for us amongst the foreign players like Colin Ingram and Ravi Bopara.
As far as KK's performance is concerned, we're making sluggish, slow progress. We were 2nd last, then we finished 3rd, and then 2nd... so we're hoping if that law applies, then we should win this year! It's such a short format, once you reach the playoffs, which we've always done, all we need to do is to perform when it matters.
When we went to Lahore for the knockout game in the last PSL, we lost 3 key players. Imad Wasim, the captain, and Afridi were injured. Mohammad Irfan jr. was unwell and we had Mohammad Amir leading us in a rain hit game. Everything went against us. This year, with Wasim Akram coming in, he has a great say and input in this format of the game and that shows in the squad that's been selected. Him and Mickey Arthur are pretty sorted out in how they want to go about with a mix of fresh new talent along with the experienced lot.
Our job as a franchise is also to provide PCB with options for the future. There was talk about Imad leading Pakistan in T20Is in future. So, unless these guys get a chance in the international arena to lead a side, it's a big responsibility as there's a lot of money in it, so you get yourself ready for it. That was a clear-cut thing for Salman Iqbal. He wanted his side to be led by a Pakistani youngster who understands Pakistan cricket. Foreign captains have a lot of experience, but somewhere you need to be a Pakistani to understand the dynamics of Pakistan cricket.
DTG: About Aaron Summers, he's a very young quick from Australia who's played for Hobart in the BBL a little bit. What would you say about him? From videos, he's express quick?
SB: That's a tough one for me as I didn't find him, Wasim Akram and Mickey Arthur did. It was his performances, in UAE we've noticed in the past few years in PSL that either you're express quick or you're someone military medium like Ravi Bopara. Medium pacers with no variations will go for runs. Last year we had Tymal Mills from England was express fast. Someone like Aaron Summers, or him, I'm saying it from what I've heard when Mickey Arthur talks - he gives them a licence. No problem if you go for runs, you're here to take wickets so bowl as fast as you can. We hope Summers gets his bearings on subcontinental type of wickets and he can be an integral part of the team.
DTG: KK will play two matches in Karachi and possibly more if they qualify for the playoffs, it's good for the team to play in front of the fans. How important is this for KK and for PSL as a whole?
SB: It's extremely important. We missed out on that opportunity by one game last year. If we would have beaten Peshawar and Lahore, we were going to the final. We had everything prepared because that's what we want, to bring KK to Karachi. It's the biggest city of the country and they love the game. People who watch PSL on the TV will never get the feel. Just a few games in Pakistan and you'll see it's like an extravaganza and like a party. You can wear jerseys and see your stars. Karachi playing in Karachi is going to be huge. It's good for the franchise and for the sponsors. The sponsors who sponsor the franchises would like some ground presence. They are from Pakistan, so they want the teams to be present physically so that they can get a return on what they've spent. It's also important for PSL's growth. In the first year we couldn't (host games in Pakistan), then we have more and more and this year it's 8 games in Pakistan. Probably next year there might by 8 also but at more venues. Logistically, hosting the full PSL in Pakistan is a huge cost because of security concerns. Thanks to Punjab police, the Rangers and the Army who put that kind of infrastructure in trying to make this happen. When we arrived in Lahore, I've never seen anything like this. You don't see a normal person around, it's just uniforms. To have the whole PSL here will be possible but it will come at a huge cost. The city has to be closed.
DTG: Azhar Mahmood and Mickey Arthur are part of the Pakistan setup and KK as well. Is this a conflict of interest and should they stick to either role?
SB: It's Pakistan Super League so why not have them? They are part of PCB, why shouldn't they be considered? Why should you have Mickey Arthur sitting at home? When Mickey Arthur sits in the dressing room, he isn't just watching KK. He's watching someone like Hussain Talat or someone like Asif Ali. He's looking at youngsters for Pakistan cricket as well. Isn't it better to have him as part of the setup?
So, to speak, KK's first squad was almost the Pakistan team. Sohail Khan etc. were in the team. Mickey Arthur now is almost a Pakistani, he understands the setup. To make him sit at home doesn't make sense. It's like asking Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram to sit at home. When Waqar Younis was Head Coach of Pakistan, PSL started just after that and he wasn't a part of any setup. Why not, why make him sit at home? By the way, Azhar Mahmood isn't part of the team this year. Since Wasim Akram is here, you don't need a bowling coach.
DTG: Do you have any final message for KK fans or fans of PSL in general?
SB: This is the second biggest league after IPL. It's grown very quickly in no time and it's only going to grow bigger. I'm very happy to see the kind of support we get. We always wish as a franchise that we get more people coming to the ground but we understand the dynamics in UAE. People are working in the day time and they finish by the evening. Having games in Pakistan is very important and I'll only talk about these games - I'm sure that the crowds will be in big numbers, they've been very supportive, standing in long queues ahead of the game and they're not allowed to leave during the game, so they're very co-operative. I would say to PSL fans to treat PSL as their own property. We don't have anything in the form of entertainment other than cricket so it's a product that we need to protect. How do we do that - it's by going out there in big numbers and supporting the teams.