Pop the Question

'I consider myself a bowler first'

The Pakistan allrounder answers readers' queries about his preferred batting position, playing against India, his biggest six, and more

Look up in the sky: Shahid Afridi heaves one high, Pakistan v Zimbabwe, 2nd ODI, Hyderabad, January 24, 2008

'I have never changed my grip'  •  AFP

1. Who is the most difficult bowler you ever faced? asked Fezzan from Sri Lanka
When it comes to the new ball, it was Glenn McGrath, while with the spinners it is Muttiah Muralitharan. McGrath was obviously due to his accuracy, whereas Murali is a very difficult opponent, especially on subcontinent pitches, where he gets a lot of turn. So you have to keep a close watch on the ball. I've hit him for quite a few sixes, but it is never easy.
2. Usually most Pakistani allrounders start as bowling allrounders and gradually become batting allrounders (e.g. Shoaib Malik). But you started as a rapid-fire batsman and now you've developed into one of the best middle-overs spin bowlers. How did this change come about? Do you rate yourself as a specialist batsman or a specialist bowler asked Vairam from the USA
I actually started as a spinner, but when I cracked the world record for the fastest ODI century, in October 1996, people started to expect more from me as a batsman. But my position in the batting order was never consistent and I couldn't cope with the constant shuffling up and down. So three years ago I decided I should focus on my bowling once again, and I have done well now. I rate myself as a bowler first and then a batsman.
3. Which position do you like to bat in the most? Opener, No. 3, or middle and lower-middle order? asked Koushik from the USA
In the subcontinent I prefer to open, and outside, be No. 6. That is because it is easy to hit the new ball early on, as it loses its shine just after a few overs in the subcontinent. That is not the case overseas, where it becomes difficult for my style of power hitting.
4. About a couple of years back you were quoted as saying that you were tired of Test cricket and wanted to retire. What are your thoughts now? asked Tushar from the USA
At that point I was frustrated. In fact, I was doing better in Tests than in ODIs, and still they did not play me. They said batting in both forms is completely different, so I said, 'What's the point in going on when they are not playing me, not thinking of me as a Test player.' I was fed up. However, some of my well-wishers inside and the outside the team asked me to rethink, so I decided to go back on my decision.
Test cricket is always the priority for any cricketer. Also, Test cricket is now fast-paced: there are more results in Tests and games end in four days too. There are some swift run-makers like Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya, who bat with their natural style and perform well. I think of myself as the same.
"I'm not sure about the best compliment from an Indian cricketer, but there was this instance when a frustrated Anil Kumble, after I had hit him for a few fours, said: 'You are not bothered about your respect or mine'"
5. How do you feel on the eve of a match against India? And who are your favourite Indian cricketers? asked Sharath from the USA
I enjoy the games against India the most because there is a lot of pressure and lots of expectations. And if you perform, you become a hero instantly. My top three innings against India are, my all-round performance in the Bangalore Test of 2005, 109 in Canada in 1998, and the century in Kanpur in the must-win game in the ODI series in 2005.
Sachin Tendulkar has always been a favourite and I have enjoyed his batting.
I'm not sure about the best compliment I've received from an Indian cricketer but there was this instance when a frustrated Anil Kumble, after I had hit him for a few fours, said: 'You are not bothered about your respect or mine'"
6. Which was your biggest six ever? And who was the bowler? asked Tahir Hassani from Pakistan
Against Brett Lee, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Without moving my feet, I hit him over mid-off. This was immediately after he had taken two quick wickets, so he was in good rhythm.
7. I remember you bouncing Brian Lara in a one-day international once. Who bowled you the quickest bouncer of your career? asked Roderick Daniels from the USA Brett Lee shot one across my head in the 1999-00 ODI series. I did see it, but it flew above my head without giving me any chance.
8. Initially when you started, your technique was simple and successful - to hit as straight as possible. Now you like to hit straight balls over long-on, which tends to cost you your wicket. Also, your grip on the bat handle seems to be very loose. Any reason for these changes? asked Usman Ali from the UAE
I have never changed my grip. I actually don't think about all such things.
9. Who are the top five most destructive batsmen in cricket history, according to you? asked Obaidulakbar Masum
As opening batsmen, it would be Sanath Jayasuriya, Virender Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Chris Gayle (in no particular order).
10. You have played under so many Pakistani captains. Whose leadership qualities have inspired you and the rest of the team the most? asked Shahzeb Shaikh from Pakistan
Wasim bhai [Akram] and Inzi [Inzamam-ul-Haq] - both were captains, who were caring and understood how to motivate his players. A good captain is someone who will continue backing his player, especially when the player is going through a lean patch.
11. Which is the best century you have scored - in ODIs and Tests combined? asked Arvind from India
In Tests, 141 against India in a tough situation in the 1998-99 Chennai Test. In ODIs, against New Zealand in Sharjah in 2002, where Pakistan were once again in a spot and it was a good challenge to take them home.

Interviewed by Nagraj Gollapudi