May 20, 2013

'We've got a good bowling attack for English conditions'

Interview by Jo Harman
Mohammad Hafeez's resurgence, after three years in international wilderness, symbolises that of his team

The last time Pakistan were competing for an ICC trophy on these shores they were written off after losing two of their opening three fixtures in the 2009 World Twenty20, before sparking into life and going on to win the thing, with the mercurial Shahid Afridi leading from the front with bat and ball.

In the four tumultuous years that have passed since, Pakistan have become a very different beast, but they are no less dangerous. Afridi is a fading force and the team is now characterised by the canny leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, and his cerebral right-hand man, Mohammad Hafeez. It's no longer a case of Boom Boom or bust. This new rejuvenated Pakistan is much more street-smart than that.

Misbah will lead his country in the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy but as he approaches his 39th birthday it won't be too long before his heir apparent succeeds him. It's a remarkable rise considering Hafeez spent three years in the international wilderness between 2007 and 2010, and his resurgence symbolises that of his team, who remain unable to play in front of their home fans but have nonetheless emerged from the chaos as a force to be reckoned with.

Pakistan have been steady in ODI cricket over the last couple of years, winning eight of their last 12 series. How do you rate your chances in the ICC Champions Trophy? Can you prosper in English conditions?
Some of our players are new to the side but most of the team have already been to England quite often. When we last came to England, in 2010, we had a good ODI series, and we always get good support from the crowd. So yes, there is no doubt that at the moment we have a good balance in the side and we have a really good chance to do well in this tournament. We've got a good bowling attack for the conditions.

Left-arm quick Junaid Khan has been getting rave reviews, from Wasim Akram no less. Is he a bowler you're expecting big things from?
With the new ball Junaid Khan and the new sensation Mohammad Irfan - with his great height - are something very special in our side and they are the impact bowlers. The new rule change means that there is a new ball from each end, and we're really looking forward to them putting in some good performances in England, like they have done in the last two series against India and South Africa.

Then we are blessed with some very great spinners in our side, like Saeed Ajmal - one of the very, very best in the world. So we really think we have a very good bowling attack that can give a tough time to any opposition in the world.

In the batting department your opening partner Nasir Jamshed looks an exciting prospect. Just how big a talent is he?
He is absolutely fantastic to watch. The key thing about him is that he always tries to play good cricket shots, so I rate him as an opener very well and he is really doing a great job for Pakistan over the last year or so. I think he will have a very good chance to prove himself in English conditions too. I personally feel that he can do well in any condition because he's a very good technical player and he's got all the range of shots. I'm looking forward to his big performances in England.

Are you confident he can translate his ODI form into Test cricket?
He has definitely got the technique and you can't judge anyone's future on one or two opportunities. He didn't do well in South Africa earlier this year, but I personally feel that he can develop himself and become one of the very best in the world.

Pakistan's match against India at Edgbaston is a standout fixture in the ICC Champions Trophy group stage. Is there always an extra determination to do well against India?
Yeah, it is always special to have India as the opposition. We are looking forward to that match but we will play every match in the tournament with passion. There is no doubt that the crowd against India will be electric. I love that. I can already hear the sound; I can picture the electrifying moments…

Having not had the opportunity to play international cricket in Pakistan since 2009, it must be an exciting prospect to play in front of such a partisan and enthusiastic crowd in England...
To be very honest, for the last three and a half years we have been struggling. We are facing this very difficult situation. I always praise my team-mates for the fact that under lots of difficult situations they are performing well around the world. We have not had home territory for three and a half years; we have not been in home conditions, but still the team has been working hard, as a team, as a unit, and the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, is doing a great job. We really want cricket to come back to Pakistan as soon as possible - the chairman and the board are really working hard on it and the team and the nation know that their mission is to get cricket in Pakistan. I'm sure very soon teams will visit Pakistan again.

"There is no doubt that the crowd against India will be electric. I love that. I can already hear the sound"

What would winning the ICC Champions Trophy mean to fans back in Pakistan?
Pakistan is a great nation, a great cricketing nation. The people love their cricket. They are looking forward to this tournament and they want Pakistan to do well. We have been trying to do well in the 50-over format in order to go on and win this tournament.

It's been a turbulent few years for Pakistan cricket, on and off the field, but things appear to be more settled now. Is that the feeling in the dressing room? Is there a renewed sense of unity?
As I mentioned earlier, over the last three years we'd had some very difficult situations, on and off the ground. We had to fix our image. Pakistan is a great nation, Pakistan is a great cricketing nation as well. So for the last couple of years we have been working with each other very well. We have been supporting each other very well. From a difficult situation we have gelled very well as a team. We knew that we had to do something very special to bring the right image to Pakistan cricket, and the whole team and the management is working hard on that.

How good can this current Pakistan side go on to become?
I think you can see there is experience. We always have some of the very best bowlers and we have a tremendous unit. Wherever we go, we don't have the home territory, we don't have the home conditions, but we still get good results for Pakistan. I think this team can emerge into a very good team. There are some newcomers in the side - like Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Nasir Jamshed - and this team can gel very, very well in the future.

You're now ranked the fourth-best ODI bowler in the world, according to the ICC rankings. Do you see yourself as a genuine allrounder, or is your responsibility still primarily as a batsman?
To be very honest I always see my responsibility as a batsman but whenever I'm in the field I always behave like a proper bowler. I never try to do too much with my bowling, I have some limitations and I know that, so I always stick to the basics, and it's been working for me for the last two or three years. I feel that I've found good consistency. I try to stay economical for my team and pick up the odd wicket.

What do you mean when you say you have limitations in your bowling?
Saeed Ajmal has his doosra and many different varieties. I don't have those, to be honest. So I know my limitations, I don't try to do something special, because I know I'm a very different type of bowler. I use my skills to do the basics right.

As an opening batsman, is your role primarily to set a platform or is there an onus on you to make the most of the Powerplays?
There is not too much pressure on me to make the most of the Powerplays. For the last three years I've had to give a solid start to my team. It is key as an opener to see off the new ball and my role is to play long innings for my country.

In recent times you've gone from being a bit-part player who was in and out of the side to becoming one of Pakistan's most influential cricketers. How have you developed as a player over the last few years?
You never know about your future, but when I was out of the team in 2007 to 2010, those three years were very crucial for me. I had to work hard at domestic level, and I realised that at the top level you require good technique and if you've got a good technique then you can survive. So I really worked on my technique in those three years. I'm still working on it but for the last three years since I came back into the side, it's been working for me.

Your team-mates know you as "The Professor". Where did that nickname come from?
It's funny. I always stick with logic, I always try to get the details of the thing and I always try to go about my business in a positive way. So this is just the name that's come from that and I really love that. I'm happy with it!

The growth of T20 has led some to say that 50-over cricket is living on borrowed time. Does 50-over cricket still have a role to play in the modern era?
I'm more concerned about Test cricket. T20 has grown quickly and is an exciting format but I think Test cricket should always be looked after really well. In only a couple of countries people come and watch Test cricket, in the rest they don't, and this is something that must be looked after.

Is 50-over cricket a format the players still enjoy?
There is no doubt that the 50-over format allows you to equip yourself with a good technique and take your time, but T20 is all about just getting on with it. So I think 50 overs is a good format for cricket, but too many rule changes is a concern for me. Whatever changes are made, it should be for a certain period of time, not changed every six months. Too many things have been changed, and I think this is the major concern for me in ODIs. Whatever the changes the ICC want to make, they should remain for two years or five years and not quickly be changed.

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of All Out Cricket magazine. Click here for All Out Cricket's latest subscription offers

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • raorizwan on May 23, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    Yes Fantastic Bowling attack, We saw a trailer today :) outstanding Defense against Ireland . Love it

  • crazycricketfan4life on May 23, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    My pick for the last Champions Trophy is Pakistan. They have one of the best bowling attacks in the world up there with England and South Africa and if their batting can not fall apart like they do in Test Matches they can give everyone a run for their money. I picked WI to win the WorldT20 before the tournament began and a lot of people found it ridiculous, hope I am not left to look ridiculous this time.

  • Haleos on May 23, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    How about your batting Mr hafeez? Your batsman are clueless in all conditions. Your bowlers may win you matches but one day for them and you loose.

  • dummy4fb on May 22, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    his very place in team is questionble......scoring once in 0 innings dosent help his attitute.... while he defnitly talks like a proffesor, but he dosent bat like proffesor.....scoring less than 40 runs in 6 test innings and failing misreably aganist styne n cos moving ball is no more a secret.....batting in one dayers wass also a complete flop show.....just one t 20 innigs cudnt justify his place.....but alas it is pakistan were taleted people like yousaf cant find place n mediocre n inconssitent players get forgranted place

  • Desihungama on May 21, 2013, 19:52 GMT

    @Stark62 - May be you didn't read my comments carefully. I wished for Yousaf/Younis inclusion for England Tour only. You and I know well how ball swings in England. I play league cricket in USA and it;s in no way equivalent to first class cricket but there are plenty of good players and trust me no one can play swing bowling here either. These Hafeez's, Umar Amin's, Asad's, Nasir's will all be found wanting in English conditions. Sure Yousaf may be old but trust not me but your own self that he knows how to play a swing ball.

  • itismenithin on May 21, 2013, 8:15 GMT

    I think Pakistan is the team to watch out for in this Champions trophy even though they are not the favourites to win it. The players are relatively fresh since they are not involved in IPL and wouldn't have picked any of the bad habits that you get playing T20. They always had a good bowling attack and if they can put up a decent batting performance they will be a force to reckon with. Perhaps they could take a leaf out of their 99 wc performance in england.

  • dummy4fb on May 21, 2013, 5:41 GMT

    In the Champions Trophy, Indian national team will show its solidarity with Delhi Daredevils. By occupying the same position, as DD at the end of the IPL league phase!

  • mzm149 on May 20, 2013, 20:39 GMT

    @gsingh7: With worst bowling attack of all and batsmen who perform once in a while and that too on flat tracks, India is the favorite for the tournament? WOW!! Junaid Khan, Irfan and Saeed Ajmal are ready for action replay of December 2012.

  • cricfan40065127 on May 20, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    Hafeez was out of the team from 2007-10 for a reason. Although he is a somewhat improved player, he is still weak and his place in the side can be questioned, especially in test cricket. Until he can show some performance with the bat, it may be better for him to not talk too much.

  • Stark62 on May 20, 2013, 19:06 GMT

    @Desihungama What planet are you living on?!?!

    Yousuf and Younis are history, along with Razzaq!!

    Younis is a fine Test player and I hope he continues in Test cricket for another 5-8 years minimum and retiring from ODI cricket will help.

    Yousuf and Razzaq have been complete failures since their return to the side and we have better quality players to replace them too but the selectors have been making HUGE blunders.

    Harris Sohail, Fawad Alam, Usman Salahuddin and Naved Yasin are more than capable of taking Yousuf and Younis' spot in the ODI line up but none of them are anywhere near the squad for some odd reason.

    Razzaq is also easily replaceable with the likes of Hammad Azam (almost perfect replacement), Mohammed Rameez or even, Anwar Ali.