You've had a lengthy career. You have 85 Test wickets, but I'm sure you recognise that your average (52.74) is below par. What do you see as the reason for your struggles in Test cricket?
Test cricket was a struggle. I was Man of the Match in my first Test. But then after two or three series, I did not play regularly. And really, I did not perform according to the expectations of me.
After that, the issue was that I was in and out of the side. I would play one Test and then sit out for a year before making a comeback. That does have an impact on you mentally, constantly being in and out of the team. In those days the wickets in the subcontinent were very much batting wickets. Still, even with all of that in mind, I didn't perform as well as I should have in Test cricket.
In your first Test you bowled with extreme pace and picked up a lot of wickets. That must have been satisfying?
It was a dream come true. With Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar around on the scene, to be Man of the Match in my first Test was an honour for me. Every kid in Pakistan dreams of playing Test cricket for the country and donning the green cap. So you can imagine as a young cricketer to be named Man of the Match in your first Test is a dream coming true.
There was a time when people, looking at the retirements of the Ws, were talking about the coming of the Ss -you and Shoaib Akhtar - as two genuinely fast new-ball bowlers. Was that something you were looking forward to as well, to step into Wasim Akram's and Waqar Younis' shoes?
The plan always was to serve Pakistan as well as I could, but when you speak of Wasim and Waqar, you're talking about all-time greats and legends of the game. I don't think it's right to compare me to them. Opportunities were there, but again, I didn't perform as I should have.
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You've been playing cricket professionally for over 17 years and you still have pace. Given that in the early part of your career you were bowling well over 90mph, was there something that the PCB should have done to support you that they didn't do when you were struggling?
I don't think so. Honestly, 36 Test matches is enough for someone to prove themselves and I didn't do it. But because I didn't perform well in Test cricket, it had an impact on my place in the ODI team. If you look at my performance and my ODI statistics, they are very good, but because of my Test performances, I kept getting dropped from the ODI team. To be honest, that did hurt. I accept that my Test match performance was not great, but my ODI stats suggest I should not have been dropped from the ODI team.
When you were dropped from the ODI team because of your performances in Test cricket, was there anyone to talk to about it, such as the captain or team manager?
Yes, of course, you can talk to the captain, the coach or the cricket board, but the person you really need to talk to is yourself. Self-motivation is most important. Once you get dropped, the way back is long and very difficult. You have to go back to domestic cricket and work hard to start the process of your comeback, the course of which you have to plot yourself. You have to self-motivate at a time when you're most disheartened. I've had 14 or 15 comebacks. It doesn't happen without hard work and mental toughness.
When you speak of being self-motivated, did you always have that? And if you're self-motivated, are the comebacks still difficult?
Of course. It's very difficult. If you've played at the highest level, it is distressing to go down a few levels. The facilities you've been used to, the attention from fans and media coverage - all the things you get when you play international cricket, you don't get any of that at the lower levels. But I've always loved the game and as long as I stay fit, I will play. I made 14 comebacks because I love the game to the point of obsession. I told myself that anything else could be happening around me or in the team, but I had to focus on my own game.
Let's talk about one of those comebacks - the 2010 Sydney Test match. You had an inspired opening burst in which you took three wickets, including Ricky Ponting for 0. But you only bowled 12 overs in that innings, taking 3 for 27. Was it frustrating that when you were bowling so well in your comeback match, you only got 12 overs?
Yes, it was frustrating because I was bowling well, but then again there were also wickets falling from the other end. Things like that can be frustrating when you're bowling well but don't get the ball, or you might want to bowl from a particular end, but there's another strike bowler in the team who also wants that end. But that's part and parcel of the game. You don't always get what you want, and you have to cope with that.
When the captain takes the ball away from you in such circumstances, can't you ask for more overs?
Well, you can ask but the decision rests with the captain. The most frustrating thing from a personal point of view about that Test was that I was dropped again. There were other occasions too when I was in a good spell and the ball was taken away, and then I got dropped. The cycle resumed of going back to domestic cricket to make my way to the Test team again. So, going back to one of your earlier questions, about working my way back up to Test cricket - it takes a lot out of you, the energy and motivation you have to put in. Sometimes you work so hard to get back that by the time you get there, you've lost steam. I think this long comeback process has ultimately been a factor in my performance at Test level too.
In the modern game it is recognised that bowlers can be suited to particular formats, but when you were at your peak that wasn't really a common way of thinking.
Yes. T20 didn't exist. It was just Tests and ODIs and it was a batsman's era. Look at the scorecards from the subcontinent in that time - 500 runs in an innings was quite common.
When you would return to Test cricket, you were often coming back in those batsman-friendly, flat pitch conditions.
I loved to play, so I didn't mind. My extra pace was a factor in playing me on flat tracks, but then of course, it also continued the worsening impact on my overall record. I maybe played four or five Test matches in helpful bowling conditions. I played most of my Tests on the flattest pitches, which is a factor in why I couldn't show my true potential.
There was always a sense that you were particularly unlucky also with catches being dropped off your bowling.
I don't want to name anyone. I guess I have been unlucky too. Everyone has appeals turned down by umpires, but there were certainly times when I had put hard work into a spell and was bowling well, that calls that definitely should have gone my way didn't. That was just my luck. All I could do was put in my best effort.
Of all the captains you had in your Pakistan career who do you think used you best?
There were a lot of them, but I think Inzamam-ul-Haq used me well and he gave me the most chances. Rashid Latif understood my bowling well. I played most of my cricket under the two of them.
When you were at your fastest, speed guns weren't around much. It is said that you could bowl 100mph, but as far as you know, what is your highest recorded speed?
I think it's 97.68mph or something like that. There were matches where, like Shoaib Akhtar, I was clocked at 100mph, but for whatever reason those speeds have not been recognised. Maybe the machine was faulty. I really don't know.
Have you changed anything in your bowling to adapt to T20 cricket?
Definitely. Even as the ODI game evolved, I had to adapt. I brought changes to the length I bowled and how I placed my field. There were a lot of bowlers who were very good in ODIs but couldn't adapt to the T20 format.
Did you work these things out yourself or through working with a particular coach?
I've worked with a lot of coaches on these things and received all kinds of advice. Ultimately as a bowler you have to choose what is the best option from all of that advice, and figure out yourself what works for you and what suits your bowling.
Is playing in leagues like the Global T20 Canada and the CPL, which is your next stop, satisfying for you?
Yes. Everyone has their time. I think my international career for Pakistan is over. I could still play T20 cricket, but my Test and ODI days are over. I do work hard and pay attention to my fitness. I try to make sure my bowling stays in rhythm. T20 is a shorter format and I think I can still play in T20 leagues for another couple of years if I stay fit.