‘Too good to turn down’: Franks bucks the trend with Central Punjab switch

Pakistan appears the place to be this winter but away from the bright lights and packed stadiums of England’s security-heavy tour, two aspirational coaches from the county system are about to embark on an intriguing assignment of their own.

Paul Franks, assistant to Peter Moores at Nottinghamshire after two decades as the club’s uncompromising all-rounder, has been appointed head coach of Central Punjab for Pakistan’s domestic season, with the 43-year-old overseeing their campaigns in the four-day Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the 50-over Pakistan Cup.

Joining Franks as his No 2 will be Bilal Shafayat, 38, who since his own playing career has coached the Notts’ age-group levels and second XI. Their four-month deal goes against the tide of seeking winter work on the Twenty20 circuit and at a time when the national set-up keeps looking to overseas coaches, it shows impressive ambition.

“This was too good to turn down,” Franks tells the Guardian. “It came about through a little bit of word of mouth and possibly Trent Rockets winning the Hundred when I was assistant to Andy Flower. He and Peter [Moores] are two incredible coaches who have trusted me to do my job as I see it and that’s probably helped.

“I’ve worked in the T10 league in Abu Dhabi and the temptation would be to find more gigs in franchise cricket. But I wanted to get out of my comfort zone a little, really experience a different culture and hopefully grow as a coach.

“Four-day and 50-over cricket may not be as fashionable right now but I want to work across all formats. And I’ve got ambitions to go as far as I can in my career. I want to help this team be the best they can be but also learn from the players too.”

Franks describes the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that starts next week as “unforgiving – even by county standards”, with six regional sides playing each other twice over a two-month period before a five-day final. Rather than home and away, the teams tour the country together, with Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan and Lahore the host venues.

Central Punjab is an amalgamation of Faisalabad, Sialkot and Lahore under the slimmed-down domestic structure introduced in 2019, winning the first two titles before last year’s mid-table finish. Babar Azam is their star, in theory, but Franks does not expect the Pakistan captain to be around much due to international commitments.

Pakistan's Azhar Ali bats during the first day of the first Test cricket match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Galle in 16 July
Pakistan’s Azhar Ali will be among Franks charges this winter. Photograph: AP

Players such as Azhar Ali and Faheem Ashraf will be working towards the Tests against England in December, however, and Franks hopes he and Shafayat help others push for selection. “My style is very much for them,” says Franks. “We will put in structures and some non-negotiables but whether in form or out of form, we will have their back.

“Bilal speaks Urdu – I have picked up a bit working with the UAE national team in the past – but he’s way more than a translator, he’s an excellent coach in his own right and reads the game superbly. He will be an important link with the squad.”

Needless to say the job will not take place in the same ring of steel surrounding the England T20 and Test tours this winter but Franks is comfortable with what will be his first visit to Pakistan since an under-19s tour in 1997.

“I’m someone who just wants to get on with it,” says Franks, in the matter-of-fact way that earned him the nickname of “The General” at Trent Bridge. And should the current England set-up require any intel, a coach with international ambitions is keen to help.

“England have a lot of well-researched people on their support staff but if there are local players they want some more info on, or, say, conditions at the Test venues, I’ll be at the end of the phone,” he adds. “I am aspirational and make no bones about it.

“I hope this role furthers that. I want to learn about myself, cricket in Pakistan and hopefully bring those experiences back to Notts next season.”

The Guardian