August 17, 2013

''Hitting sixes is never a problem for me'

Canada captain Rizwan Cheema talks about his side's recent performances, his role in the team, and plans for the near future

You must be disappointed that Canada couldn't win either the 50-over matches or the T20s against the UAE?
Definitely. I'm very disappointed. They won three of the four games easily. We had control of one match, but in the end couldn't hold on. That's what's really disappointing - when there are things within your grasp and they slip away. Even against Kenya and Namibia (in World Cricket League matches) this happened to us. In both games against Namibia we had them out cheaply, but won one and lost one. Against Kenya in a match we had six wickets in hand at the 40th over and we couldn't capitalise on that. These are the types of things that really hurt. At the end of the day you're not winning, so the morale of the team suffers and the confidence level drops too.

What was the difference between Canada and the UAE?
The difference is experience. They have mature players, many of whom also play in Pakistan. They always knew what they were doing, especially their batsmen, who were taking singles and doubles and then picking boundaries when it was needed. Experienced players can do that more easily, and we were lacking that because we have a young team and we're in a rebuilding process. When you are in a position to win a game and still you don't, that means the problem is mental and a lack of experience. But having said that, I think our players have been around long enough now to pick themselves up.

What do you see as your role in this team now? You started out as an opening batsman and front-line bowler, but in the one-day matches against UAE you were coming low in the order and were taking the ball late in the innings too.
I'm still always most comfortable when I'm opening. This period we were going through was really about checking out players and having back-up plans. It's for that reason that I've been batting lower in the order. I think in one game we only had three overs left when I went in. But I feel I have a very important role in this team. I know I have to do well and score runs if the team is going to post a big total. I have to take wickets too, to help us win games.

If I'm in the side, I want to play the way I always did. I want to lead from the front. I don't want to hold myself back and then tell another player to go and do something I won't do. I like to be up front, whether it's batting or bowling. I know my abilities and what I can do, but we've also been trying to give other players a chance.

Do you have the same confidence that you had when you first started to play for Canada?
Definitely. I even feel I am a better player today. At that time maybe there was a different mindset. At that time when batting you only thought of the ball coming to you. Now when you have a young team around you, there's a lot to think about. When maturity comes there's sometimes too much information in your mind, which can be good for you but sometimes bad for you too.

Is the captaincy a burden?
I wouldn't say that. Captaincy is never a burden. When you're a batsman, you just worry about your own batting. Captaincy really only comes into it out there on the field and I've always enjoyed that. I've been a captain on the local scene since I've been around, and my team won the championship three out of four years.

In our young team the issue is that the batsmen have to score. The day our batsmen score runs, we'll do well and it doesn't matter who the captain is.

"When you are in a position to win a game and still you don't, that means the problem is mental and a lack of experience. But having said that, I think our players have been around long enough now to pick themselves up"

In your first interview with ESPNcricinfo you said that you could score ten runs an over whenever you wanted. Do you still feel you can do that?
When I'm batting, hitting sixes is never a problem. Before, there was a different mindset; now you don't want to look ugly trying to hit something you're not supposed to hit. I know I have hit Test bowlers from England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies. It's not like I've only hit one big-name bowler for a six. Muralitharan was only hit for two sixes in the World Cup, and I hit them both. So hitting a six or scoring ten runs in an over is no issue.

In a World Cup warm-up match, it was special to score runs against England because they were hot, having just won the Ashes, and their bowlers were right on top. Whenever there's a Test team around, for some reason my power and everything else comes back. The focus is different. I have a history of playing good cricket against the Test nations. Some people score big against weaker opposition, but it's the opposite for me.

How do you feel about your bowling right now?
My bowling is coming good. The last three games, the ball was coming out well, right on top [of off stump]. I never think I'm not a good-enough bowler. If I don't bowl in a match, or bowl fewer overs, it's only because I'm giving someone else a chance. As a captain sometimes you do these things.

With the World Cup qualifiers around the corner, shouldn't the time for experimenting be over?
Yes. Now is the time to start focusing. The series against Netherlands is an opportunity to stick to one thing and bring the team back to a winning streak - quit trying out different things. No team likes to lose. I know people expect better from us, but I would like them to be patient and support us. It was nice to have people coming out to watch these recent games. I'm hoping they'll come to the Netherlands matches too.

How was the Bangladesh Premier League experience?
It was the best experience. You learn a lot sharing a dressing room with some of the top players in the world.

I didn't play much in the BPL because I arrived late and they were already winning. There was no reason to change a winning side. But even though I didn't play much, it was still a great experience. The chance to be in the dressing room and see how those players approach the game, prepare for matches, do things around their cricket - I definitely learned a lot.

You did however have a side match during the BPL where you hit a barrage of sixes.
It was a 35-over game and we scored 370-odd. I think I made 160-something and hit 20 sixes in that match. That's the story of my life. Whenever I hit all these sixes there are no cameras around! I better start doing this in proper games.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures