Surrey’s new Assistant Coach opens up about his coaching philosophy and the potential he sees at the club he loves.
When Alec Stewart made the call, Azhar Mahmood didn’t have to think twice. Mahmood had always hoped that one day he might return to the place he still calls home, to “give something back” to the club that took a chance on him back in 2003.
The offer came at the perfect time. A fruitful coaching stint with the Pakistan national team had come to an end, and with a break in his ongoing work as Head Coach of Islamabad United in the PSL, he jumped at the chance to join Stewart’s coaching staff.
Surrey is Mahmood’s spiritual home. He was at a crossroads in his career when the first approach came. “My Test career was finished. I was 24. They gave me the second chance to recognise myself as a player. The first year I came on, I was the next player in to take Ben Hollioake’s place. I was here to fill the gap he’d left. It was very emotional for me and for all of us, but I always got a lot of respect in the dressing room.
“Even when I couldn’t speak a word of English, I was still being encouraged by the senior players. So this is now my time to give back to my club.”
He brings local knowledge, impeccable credentials and a body of work built up over 192 games for the club. As a player, Mahmood was sufficiently versatile to make a hundred on his Test debut and claim 606 white-ball wickets. He was a key component of Surrey’s victorious 2003 T20 side and played his final professional match for the club 13 years later.
He is here primarily, he says, to work with the bowlers. “We have great potential here. We have players here who can become good bowlers not just for Surrey but for England as well.”
The acquisition of Dan Worrall from Gloucestershire and retention of the great West Indian Kemar Roach – whom Mahmood expects to be available for the first Championship game against Warwickshire on April 7 – will provide the nous and experience. “You need a couple of senior guys to look after the younger guys when things get tough in the middle. Unfortunately coaches aren’t sitting out on the field, so we need the senior guys to help us!”
He is thrilled by the prospect of working with the younger bowlers. “James Taylor has all the ability, he just needs to get a few things right and he’ll be a phenomenal bowler for us. Conor McKerr is one with a lot of potential. Jamie O [Overton] has been around for a while and knows his game, Jordan Clark, Reece Topley – there is quality here.
“Everyone needs to work hard and do some tinkering here and there and be more consistent with our disciplines in Championship cricket. I say to them, ‘Work hard, make a plan, always take the positive option’. That’s my mantra.”
Bringing Mahmood back could yet be seen as a masterstroke. He knows and loves the club and understands what it means to wear the shirt. “Whatever you’ve achieved as a cricketer, it’s gone, and now as a coach it’s all about empowering your players, giving them a freedom to go out and play.”