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The Pakistan fast bowler took a risk by giving up his education early and focusing on cricket, but the move is already paying off
Interview by Umar Farooq
December 10, 2011
Junaid Khan arrived on the scene when he was called up to Pakistan's 2011 World Cup squad as a late replacement for Sohail Tanvir. He didn't get a game during the tournament, but made his international debut not long afterwards. In only his second Test, he took five wickets against Sri Lanka on a flat surface in Abu Dhabi. Junaid talks to ESPNcricinfo about coming from a cricketing backwater, giving up his education to play the game and wanting to emulate Wasim Akram and Imran Khan.
How did you get into cricket and did you ever believe you would reach the top level?
I started playing cricket casually, like most of our youth do, but never thought I could reach the top. My start was haphazard but Wasim Akram and Imran Khan always fascinated me. I used to watch them playing and that's what motivated me. Maybe it was their success and popularity that attracted me [to the game] but they really inspired me to be serious about my cricketing career, because I wanted to be like them.
I spend most of my time in Swabi [in the North-West Frontier Province] where [looking back] I had comparatively few opportunities - but I didn't realise this and never thought about it. Instead, I was heading in a direction with belief and hope and the rest was down to luck. I started playing at the age of 15 and gave up my education after completing my matriculation.
I know there is a long list of bowlers at the domestic level waiting for an opportunity [to play for Pakistan] and you have to be exceptionally good to be considered for international cricket. And I feel extremely lucky that I was able to fulfil my desire to represent Pakistan. I know the value of being a Pakistani national cricketer and to have the opportunity to represent Pakistan, and so far I have justified my selection.
Why did you choose cricket over your education? Wasn't that a risk?
Cricket is very popular in Pakistan and every boy wants to be a cricketer because of its popularity and the money involved. Very few people could carry on making it a career but I did because my passion for the game, watching Wasim and Imran, was so immense and remained alive. There is a time when you start losing interest but I didn't and my passion for the game only increased the more I played.
I do regret not completing my education but it was something beyond my control because in Pakistan if you really want to be a cricketer, you have to give all your time to the game because of the competition. I did my matriculation but with the travelling involved for first-class cricket and Under-19s tour, I had to quit my education.
How do you see your prospects and durability as a fast bowler?
I have a high regard for myself. I think I am a frontline bowler, not a supporting bowler. I have my own standing in the cricketing world and have not been promoted to fill the Mohammad Amir vacuum. We both have been playing in the Under-19 team and each of us has our own standing. I don't want to be linked with anyone. I wanted to make my own reputation.
You recently picked up an injury that requires six weeks' rest. How are you coping?
It's a part of the game but I have never suffered an injury until this one. I know Mohammad Khalil has been picked as a replacement for the Bangladesh tour. Luck plays a vital part in your career. I am not in a hurry and never was, as success has no shortcut. What I have to do is ensure my best performance whenever I get the chance. This injury is a minor hindrance and I have already recovered from it. My latest MRI scans are all clear but I am asking the doctor for advice and will return to the ground accordingly. I should be able to start practice from December 13.
You have played all three formats of the game in a very short span. What are the differences between them and do you think you do have the capacity to cope with all the formats?
I do think about shaping my career to make it a significant one like Wasim Akram and Imran Khan did. So far I have coped well in every form of the game, but I know I have to maintain my fitness to strengthen my prospects of playing every format. I had a useful Lancashire stint and that gave my career momentum. I think it justifies me playing in every form of the game. I have the ability to play Test, ODI and Twenty20. You can't just label me a limited-overs bowler.
|"Sometimes interaction with the batsman does help, but this could distract you also, and there is an equal chance that you could lose your own line and length."|
As you said, you were inspired by Wasim Akram and Imran Khan, but do you lack aggression as a fast bowler?
Cricket is a modern game these days and bowlers have to bowl with the present state of mind instead of the aggressive mindset. I know most of our bowlers now lack the attacking approach that Shoaib Akhtar had, and I admit he had a powerful impact, but that was his ability. And abilities vary from player to player. I too bowl fast but my emphasis is to seam with my natural speed rather than be distracted just trying to bowl fast. When you try to bowl faster than you are capable of, the chances of injury increase, so it is better for me to stick to my natural speed, which is nearly 141kph.
Showing attitude and interacting with the batsman and tempting him to play an odd shot to lose his wicket is now an old-fashioned technique. Twenty20 cricket has encouraged the batsmen to play big shots even in Test cricket, but bowlers have shifted their approach too. Sometimes interaction with the batsman does help, but it could distract you also, and there is an equal chance that you could lose your line and length.
Did you ever think you were called up to the national team too early and that you needed more time to develop?
I don't know if it was the right time when I was first selected or not, but I was confident and never felt nervous. I think I had played ample cricket at the domestic level and had much-needed exposure with the Under-19 team before getting into the national side. I am enjoying playing cricket at the top level and have a desperate desire to thrive.
You were called up for the World Cup this year. What did that feel like?
I was so excited to be in the World Cup squad. I can't express my feelings in words. I didn't know then that I wouldn't play a match in it, but it was a time when I learned a lot. I played a practice match against England, taking three wickets, and hoped that I would get an opening match but Viki bhai [then coach Waqar Younis] told me not to get disappointed but to learn as this is the best ever time for learning. The atmosphere was electrifying and the competition level was so high and I was feeling lucky to experience such a huge event very closely.
What are your targets for your career?
I have kept it simple. Obviously the foremost desire is to be a frontline bowler for Pakistan and play 100 Test and 300 one-day internationals. Since I am the first ever player picked from my region, Abbottabad, I would like to set up cricket academies for the development of players and give them an opportunity to play cricket. I have already launched two cricket academies in Swabi.
How do you handle the prospect of becoming rich playing cricket?
My father is a farmer by profession, and yes, I wasn't born in a rich family, but I was never deprived of any necessities. Money obviously is important and you have to earn it for your livelihood. Some people earn less, some a lot, but money never got priority. I didn't start playing cricket due to the lure of money. The passion was to play for Pakistan and that reason has remained intact.
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