Awais Zia ready for Pakistan chance
The route from Chakwal in northern Pakistan to the UAE will mark the start of Awais Zia's journey into international cricket. Called into Pakistan's Twenty20 squad to play England, Zia is expected to bring some flair and power hitting to the top of the order - and the nerves are already mixing with excitement.
"A new journey has started and I am a bit nervous," Zia, who was travelling between Multan and his home village of Bhown, told ESPNcricinfo. "I used to believe that it's not easy to be selected for the international team in Pakistan. It's a long journey but ultimately all the hard work has paid off and now another chapter of my career has started. I am excited and privileged to hold his opportunity because I am the one who is selected from millions playing cricket in the country. "
Although he made his first-class debut in 2007, it was only last season that Zia caught the Pakistan selectors' attention, with a series of impressive, televised performances for Rawalpindi Rams in the Faysal Bank T20. Zia, 25, served further notice of his promise by scoring 353 runs - with two hundreds, off 44 and 52 balls respectively - at an average of more than 70 for Pakistan in the SAARC Twenty20 Cup, an Under-25s competition in the Maldives, towards the end of 2011. He was the Man of the Tournament.
"I knew that the only way to catch the selectors' attention was to make a big impact and T20 cricket served my purpose, mainly because matches are broadcast on television," Zia said. "Obviously they are calling me a Twenty20 specialist, maybe because most of my T20 games I played in Pakistan were televised but not the first-class games. But that isn't in my focus - I've been given a big platform to establish myself."
Zia said he had not talked with the selectors about his prospects but that the Rawalpindi coach Sabhi Azhar and team-mate Sohail Tanvir had been pushing him to take his chance.
"I know what exactly I have to do now," Zia said. "What I wanted was a single chance and I am terribly lucky to get a chance to play against a team like England. I am positive about it as I am young, energetic and have plenty of time to serve the country."
Zia, marked down as an explosive opener, hopes to "cross" Shahid Afridi in the field and combine fast scoring with the temperament to play longer innings. "I am not comparing myself to Afridi in powerful hitting as he is so good at it," Zia said. "But my focus always is to play powerful and longer innings. I love to spend time on pitch and hit runs off every ball. I am fortunate to get a chance on pitches like in the UAE, and England are a top side to play against."
The Pakistan selectors have been searching for a long-term opener in the T20 side and they may have found their man in Zia.
"This guy is confident with the bat," selector Azhar Khan told ESPNcricinfo. "I am labelling him a T20 specialist. I know he's got temperament for the big cricket as well but now he has to prove himself to see how far he can go. Selecting a young player is always tough and a risk, but we took a lot of time to select him. He was sent to Maldives for a tryout and he came up as the best batsman of the tournament so we had to pick him up."
"The transition process in the team never stops, it's an ongoing process but we don't want to disturb the consistency of the team as well. We always look for a space to test players, as we are deprived from hosting international teams, and bilateral series, both at the top and the domestic level, are on hold. So most of our players remained untested."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent