'I just want to keep performing as well as I can'
Shoaib Malik has been a proven matchwinner for Pakistan. By batting at No. 3 and picking up crucial wickets, he has not only revealed a rare versatility but a calm temperament. He has been reported twice for his bowling action, but he continues to maintain his focus. He talked to Osman Samiuddin about his early years as a bowler, his batting, Bob Woolmer and his Test ambitions ...
When did you start playing cricket seriously?
I started seriously in 1993-94, when I attended one of Imran Khan's Pepsi coaching clinics in Sialkot. Before that I used to play a lot of tape-ball cricket on the streets.
Were you a bowler or a batsman when you started?
I started off initially as a batsman, and only started taking my bowling seriously some time later.
So what happened after the Pepsi clinic? How did you progress after that?
I was finished after that, no cricket at all. I used to get into trouble with my family for playing cricket as they wanted me to take my education seriously so I didn't play much for some time, although I wanted to. But in 1996, they had trials for the Under-15 World Cup in Lahore, which I attended. It was basically my last chance to convince the family that I could do something about my cricket. My father always supported me, though - when I had matches at school he would quietly put my cricket gear into my bag instead of my books and send me off. Now, however, I think my family are quite happy with what I am doing!
And after that ...
I did well at the World Cup - I was picked actually for my bowling, and it was a bit of luck I guess. I was at the trials and one of the coaches Noman Shabbir asked for some part-time bowlers for net practice for the batsmen. I wanted to get involved so I volunteered, and they were impressed with my offspin and picked me. After coming back, I got picked for the series against England Under-19s [who included the late Ben Hollioake and Andrew Flintoff] and got seven wickets against them in an under-19 Test at Faisalabad.
You made an impact immediately at the domestic level as well ...
That's right. I made my debut for Gujranwala in 1996, against Karachi and got five wickets in the first innings. I dismissed Basit Ali and Asif Mujtaba who were pretty decent players. It was on that performance that Mujtaba recommended his employers PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] to hire me as an offspinning option.
And three years later you were in the international team ...
Actually Wasim Akram and Moin Khan were impressed during a Wills Cup semi-final PIA played against Allied Bank. Saqlain [Mushtaq] was injured for the game so I played and I picked up a couple of wickets very cheaply. I was the leading wicket-taker that year in the Wills Cup, and both Moin and Wasim were impressed. I got onto a flight from Karachi to Sialkot that evening and by the time I got back to my home, my family broke the news that I had been selected to the national squad. I was genuinely shocked.
Did you know what your role was in the team at the time?
Well I couldn't bat, so I assumed it was bowling! I was going in at No. 10 in those days for PIA.
|I used to be a little hasty and maybe excitable|
When did you start taking batting more seriously?
I had always taken it quite seriously myself. But I started playing for a local club in Sialkot - Saga - and started opening for them, or going in one-down around the time of my international debut and it sort of grew from there.
You have actually batted in every position for Pakistan, and you are now fairly settled in at one-down. Do you feel comfortable there?
I would play in whatever position the team wants me to play in. I have played in the one-down position before [against Australia in the triangular tournament in Kenya in August 2002] but the captain suggested it this time round to the coach, they both agreed, and I have been fairly successful since. But I am satisfied with it because I have been successful.
You have played some explosive innings lower down the order, as well as when you are opening. If you were given the freedom to pick whichever position you wanted to bat in, which one would you choose?
I haven't really thought about it that much. Like I have said before, I am comfortable with whatever position benefits the team the most.
What has been your most memorable innings so far?
Definitely the 82 (off 40 balls) I scored against South Africa at Lahore last year. It was from No. 6 and I just got into the zone straight away.
When you took up the one-down spot this time round you had been batting No. 6 for some time with success. What sort of mental and technical adjustments did you have to make to change your game?
I think the major thing was sorting out this problem I had with shuffling my back foot too far across the crease at the moment of delivery. My head was moving too much as well. Bob Woolmer pointed it out, and he just said to concentrate on keeping your head completely still. It was a simple thing and it has worked.
How do you view your bowling role in the team?
Initially I try and keep the runs in check - that is always my first aim. If it goes well for the first three or four overs then I try and mix things up a little. I become more attacking, experiment a little, and try and take wickets basically.
You had some problems with your bowling action in 2001 ...
It was basically when I was bowling the straighter one that people said my arm was bending, but I underwent corrective action in Pakistan and the problem was resolved fairly quickly and without too much fuss.
You had a bit of a lean time with the bat in the ICC Trophy recently. Did you find the pitches and the seaming conditions a problem?
It wasn't the conditions - I am used to them because I have probably played more in England, with Gloucestershire and in the leagues, than I have here. I think it was just a question of not spending enough time at the crease. I know now that I have to construct my innings and at the ICC I was in a hurry. I was trying to play shots early on, when I should just be patient and play myself in.
How has your experience been with Bob Woolmer as a coach so far?
Absolutely brilliant. He has instilled a lot of confidence into the players, especially the junior players, and in my opinion he should stay for some time. He is just so innovative in what he does, and you see straight away why he is considered one of the game's leading coaches. It's in everything he does - the way he talks to players, the way he works with each individual. If you're having trouble as a batsman, then he'll spend an hour with you just getting you to hit balls and get a feel for it. Just before the Paktel Cup, he saw I struggled a bit in England and he called me to the camp a day before. He just made me knock the ball around for about an hour and spoke to me about what had happened in England.
You seem to have benefited most out of all the young players from his arrival ...
He's just told me a couple of simple but crucial things. With my batting it was about the shuffle, and with my bowling he just got me to make a couple of minor adjustments to my pivot at the moment of delivery which has allowed me to get my line right. It's simple stuff but it has worked really well. I have played under excellent coaches and they've all brought different things to the game. With Bob, I think the confidence he has invested in each player and the way he handles each player really stands out, and has contributed to our recent improvement.
Are you disappointed that maybe your Test career hasn't taken off as well as your one-day career? You have become a bit of a one-day specialist ...
I am a little disappointed. The last Tests I played were against South Africa last year, and I performed pretty well. I picked up some wickets and scored useful runs and felt comfortable. We haven't really played that many Test matches since, but I am hoping I will get the chance now.
Do you think your bowling needs to become more penetrative for you to be considered a Test-class allrounder?
To be honest, I think all aspects of my game - batting, bowling and fielding - need to improve before I can become a Test regular. I think in cricket there is always room for improvement, and the day you stop thinking that will probably be your last day in the game.
How has your time with Gloucestershire been?
Tremendous. I think county cricket is essential for cricketers, if only because it instils in them a sense of professionalism and it has done so for me. Additionally, as an overseas professional you learn to deal with responsibility because you find the team relies on you to keep performing. The experience will help in the long run with my Test career as well, I am sure. I haven't signed a contract for next year yet, but given the hectic international schedule, it's doubtful I will find time to play for them. As it is I feel county cricket is useful for two or three years, before it becomes too much of a burden to balance with an international career.
You seem to possess a very calm temperament on the field. Have you always been like this or is this something you have developed over time?
I used to be a little hasty and maybe excitable in my early days. I have always been fairly stable and level-headed - but I have learnt, with a lot of help from Inzamam and Youhana, about how to keep composed, especially while batting. It's basically about eliminating negative thoughts from your game. They talk a lot about being able to handle pressure and how it is half the battle at the international level, and it is true.
As an allrounder, do you feel that if you have failed initially in one discipline then it becomes vitally important to go out and perform in your second?
Look, in cricket, as in anything else, you will have bad days. That much is inevitable. If you start thinking like that - that you need to perform with the ball because you failed with the bat and vice versa - then you're putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and you leave yourself open to making mistakes. It's better just to take failure in as normal, and go out and perform as normal.
You have a tour of Australia coming up at the end of the year. Have you set yourself any goals for that?
We haven't thought about that yet, because there are a few matches to be played before that. I need to perform in these to make sure I get selected for that tour. I just want to keep performing as well as I can for my country for as long as I can.