Tariq Aziz offers guidance to a young Cambridge St Giles side
Head coach is having an impact
Creating an environment of self-belief has been a decisive factor in Cambridge St Giles’ rise into contention for promotion to the Cambs and Hunts Premier League, Division One, according to Tariq Aziz.
They have been one of the surprise packages of the season, having struggled on their return to this level of cricket from the CCA Leagues during 2017 and Aziz has been at the forefront of that change in fortunes, both on and off the pitch.
The 43-year-old arrived at St Giles as head coach during the winter, and while his instruction is clearly having an impact, so is his play; he is ranked second best batsman in the division.
It should not come as a shock though as Aziz is no stranger to cricket in Cambridgeshire, having been one of the top performers for the past decade.
He first came to these shores as a pro for Peterborough Town in 2007, but that was having already played first-class cricket for Pakistan, and for their under-19s.
Aziz then had three years in the Hoofdklasse in Holland, alongside the likes of Shane Thomson, Derek Pringle and Meyrick Pringle, at a time when they were improving cricket in the country.
After leaving Peterborough, he went on to play for Nassington, Khalsa, Castor & Ailsworth and then Godmanchester, with whom he won the Cambs and Hunts Premier League, Division One in 2015.
But he is now relishing the challenge of working with St Giles, and sees no reason why they cannot achieve promotion.
“They were looking at development for the juniors to come through to join the senior team,” said Aziz, who is also overseeing the under-15s, many of whom make up the county squad for the age group.
“The boys are doing well this year, and we’re looking at next year for the boys to take ownership to play for the senior team, this is my aim and motive in working with the boys.
“The club is very friendly, they are very keen to challenge themselves to go forward to Division One.
“There’s still a lot of work to do. We’re doing well and there are good people there.
“We’re working hard on mental toughness with them and motivation. Technically they are good, but there is a lot of technical work and mental work that we’re doing with the senior boys, and the same with the juniors.
“They have not had a coach for the last few years, so I’m doing warm-ups, motivation and how do we achieve our targets – what’s our aim for the next few years – before and during the game.
“It’s the same with the senior team to make them mentally strong, and make them believe we can win the game and the league.
“They believe now they can play for Division One and Premier cricket.”
Aziz, who opens the batting and bowls right arm off-spin, is also heavily involved with international cricket, with Portugal.
He is the lead coach and plays as well, having represented them at the ICC ECC Championship qualifying in 2005, 2007 and 2012.
This summer, Portugal have the qualifying rounds of the ICC T20 World Cup in Holland, where they will take on Austria, Germany, France, Denmark and Cyprus.
Many of the players have dual nationality, qualifying to play for Portugal through their parents who are often from cricketing-playing nations.
“What the ICC developed in the last 10 to 15 years is mostly through parents,” he said. “You have Portuguese teams who have South Africans, English, dual internationals.
“Mostly these boys are playing in minor counties or premier league cricket in England and some of them are playing in South Africa.
“All over Europe, they are developing cricket – it is the same with Indians and Pakistanis.
“That’s what cricket is developing and challenging in Europe. I think the standard is almost like premier league cricket, it’s not bad.
“When I was in Portugal last winter working with the boys, they are very talented.
“They know we’re talented, they know we’re good in tactical areas but they don’t have belief so this is the work I do with them to tell them believe in yourself, you can do it, you can achieve your target.
“I give them ownership.”
International cricket runs in the family for Aziz, whose father was a first-class player and national coach with Pakistan – “all his service and all his life he gave to cricket as a professional”.
And with such experience running through his veins, he is hoping to pass it on to his current charges, with both Portugal and St Giles.
“This is what I’m doing, motivating them and trying to tell them they are ready to go for Division One,” said Aziz, who also works with the Huntingdonshire Cricket Board.
“I’m a very strong believer in myself when I’m playing and even when I’m coaching. This is my gift to the players.
“I never think negative, I always think positive. Your strength is your strength but I go for super strength.”