Wahab Riaz: 'I am playing all around the world, but my country comes first'

The left-arm quick last played for Pakistan almost a year ago but has eyes on the 2022 T20 World Cup and the 2023 ODI World Cup

Aadam Patel
Like so many of his compatriots, Wahab Riaz was left in tears when Australia beat Pakistan in the T20 World Cup semi-final.
As Matthew Wade ripped the heart and soul out of Pakistan's campaign, with three consecutive sixes off the bowling of one of Pakistan's shining stars in Shaheen Shah Afridi, there must have been a part of Wahab wondering what he would have done differently. After all, this is the man whose ferocious spell against Australia in the 2015 World Cup still lives on in the memory.
"I still want to play for Pakistan. It's been a year [since he last played internationally] and what I'm trying to do is show what I am capable of wherever I'm playing, whether it's T10, PSL, CPL, or domestic T20 competitions," Wahab, currently captaining Deccan Gladiators at the Abu Dhabi T10, says in an interaction with ESPNcricinfo. "All I can do is show what I'm capable of and I will keep doing that because my heart still beats for Pakistan. So until I have that passion in me to play for Pakistan, I'll keep doing my best."
Since 2010, no Pakistan bowler has taken more wickets in T20s. And he has shown that he still has that ability - he finished the recent PSL as the second-highest wicket-taker.
Not part of the recent T20 World Cup squad, Wahab spent the month working as a pundit on Pakistani television, alongside the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His schedule this year alone has seen him trot the world, playing short-form cricket, including in Pakistan, at the CPL for St Lucia Zouks, at the Hundred for Trent Rockets and now in the UAE.
Wahab stands second, behind only Wasim Akram, in the list of wicket-takers for Pakistan at the World Cup, and he admits to having an eye on next year's T20 World Cup in Australia and also the 2023 World Cup.
"I think there's two-three years still in me to serve my country. And to be very honest, I'm playing all around the world, all these leagues… but my country comes first for me and I just love playing for them because my country has given me this name," he says. "Nobody would have known Wahab Riaz if he wouldn't have played for Pakistan and if Pakistan hadn't given him a chance to prove himself.
"I miss being with them, but my heart still beats for them and all I know is that I believe in my hard work and my skills. And I believe in Allah that if I keep working hard, I'll get my reward."
At the Abu Dhabi T10, Wahab is leading a side that has the likes of Andre Russell and Wanindu Hasaranga, and is coached by Mushtaq Ahmed. The two had previously worked together when Mushtaq was Pakistan's bowling consultant between 2014 and 2016, and Wahab is full of praise for him.
"The best thing about Mushy is that he gives us that responsibility and he asks us to own what we have to do. It's T10, so you can't plan many things because the format is so quick, so you don't really know how to go about it," Wahab says. "To the bowlers, Mushy has talked about having plans A, B and C, so you should know when and where to execute. And to the batters, he's given that freedom as it's only 60 balls. He has given them the ownership and the boys are responding really well."
The responsibility of captaincy is another thing that Wahab is thriving on in the UAE. After leading Peshawar Zalmi to the PSL final, he has captained Deccan Gladiators to five wins in seven games so far: "I'm still learning, but I'm enjoying it a lot."
It is a challenge, he admits, to isolate the bowler from the captain. "When things aren't going your way, it probably affects my performance at the same time, so it's difficult to cope with that but it gives you further motivation on the field to do well and lead from the front," he says. "You have to set an example as a bowler or as a captain out there."
Wahab has played most of his cricket - like many others - when Pakistan have not been able to play at the highest level in their own country. But, given that West Indies, Australia, England and New Zealand are all expected to travel to Pakistan over the coming year and the 2025 Champions Trophy will also be held in the country, Wahab feels "it would be a great opportunity for the fans" to finally see cricket of the highest quality on a regular basis in Pakistan.
"A lot of players are coming for the PSL and it has given them a clearer picture that Pakistan is a safe country," he points out. "You'll enjoy the cricket, you'll enjoy the hospitality and you'll enjoy the crowd. Trust me, if the game starts at 7pm, the gates will close at 5pm and you'll see a packed-out stadium by 4pm… All I can say to all those teams is that once you will come to Pakistan, you'll enjoy one of the best times of your life there."