'I want to be like Afridi'
There may be millions of fans who idolise Shahid Afridi for his flamboyant batting, but few can play like him. Twenty-six-year-old Awais Zia, from the village of Chak Bhown, in Punjab's Chakwal district, has impressed with his attacking skills and is keen to emulate the Pakistan star. Zia, who is opening for Rawalpindi Rams in the ongoing Faysal Bank T-20 Cup, and has been labelled a T20 specialist by selector Azhar Khan, showed a glimpse of what he is capable of in Pakistan's T20 series against England in Dubai earlier this year.
What does cricket mean to you?
I left my home and studies for cricket, and I have been playing since I was 15, so cricket is a livelihood for me. In those ten years I could have studied or chosen another profession, but I chose cricket and now this is my only professional. Playing for the national team is the ultimate goal.
For a while we thought Pakistan had a new Afridi. What went wrong?
It was a good chance, but unfortunately I didn't justify the opportunity. Otherwise, I am better than that. I was facing the world's best bowling attack. I knew I had to do something exceptional to keep my place, since winning a national spot is always tough. The opportunity to play against a team like England could have changed my fortune, but I admit I was overconfident and played my shots in haste. But, overall, I think I did fairly well, didn't I? (smiles)
Where do you see yourself headed now?
It's all about one good season and tournament, and I'll be back in contention. I have had a setback but I don't need to start from scratch. I am playing the Twenty20 Cup, followed by the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, for Rawalpindi and I'm more focused than ever. I have plenty of cricket ahead of me. I never shy away from working hard.
Do you agree that your encounter with Steven Finn exposed your technique?
I learnt that most commentators doubt my ability to play on the off side. But I recovered well and played my shots all over the ground. My task was to give my team a brisk start and I think I did that well, but I then lost my nerve and threw my bat at everything. I was picked for Pakistan. This means my technique isn't flawed. What I was missing was the international exposure.
What has your international experience taught you?
The gravity of international cricket is far different from our domestic cricket. The standard of everything - pitches, bowling and fielding - when compared to domestic cricket, is obviously high. You have to be on your toes every second of the game. However, the basics are the same. Fitness and confidence play an important role in keeping you in international cricket.
Like many other players, you seem to hold cricket responsible for your not being able to complete your studies. Were you a good student?
(Laughs) My brother and my father are well qualified and work in the banking sector. My father is a bank manager. I did my matriculation, but cricket did take me away from further education. But I have confidence that I won't end up in the wilderness and will justify the choice I had to make of picking cricket over education.
Do you think beyond T20 cricket?
For a cricketer, T20 is a shortcut to gain attention, but Test cricket is the format that I really want to play. T20 has become a serious format of the game and it also requires skills. I made 232 against State Bank of Pakistan in the 2010-11 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, so it's not like I can't play the longer format of the game. I know good performances in T20 will win me a place in the ODI side and then Tests.
You have only played 36 first-class matches since your first-class debut in 2007. How come?
I missed a complete season before 2010 due to typhoid. In 2011, I went Maldives to play the SAARC Twenty20 tournament for the Pakistan Under-25 team, where I won the best batsman award.
You come from a town that isn't known for producing cricketers. How did you get into cricket?
I started playing for Islamiya High School in my town and later joined the Khawar Cricket Club in Chakwal. But till my district was connected to Rawalpindi, I didn't get enough exposure and attention. In Rawalpindi, I saw Sohail Tanvir, Yasir Arafat, Mohammad Wasim, and my coach Sabhi Azhar, who supported me a lot. So my real journey started only after my town was associated with the Rawalpindi region.
Who is your inspiration in cricket?
Shahid Afridi is my idol. I want to be like him. He is a dangerous and brave batsman who always inspires me. I admire his courage to hit the ball without being overwhelmed by the bowler he is facing. This is how a batsman should be. I have a similar instinct and the guts to hit the ball out of the ground, no matter who the bowler in front of me is. I think I need to work on my temperament by playing more first-class cricket to get myself refined for top cricket.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent