I started watching my cousin, who played for Rawalpindi Rams and was the only one playing cricket in the family at the time. Otherwise we are into tent-pegging and horse-riding. I am the only one who has reached the highest level in cricket.
In 2016, a PCB selector, Kamran Khan, came to my region for U-19 trials. There is a trend in smaller districts that when a national selector comes, you get him to check out the best player in the town. I was called and when Kami bhai saw my hitting in the nets, he said, "Tum player bano gay," [You will become a big player]. That was the vindication [I wanted], a relief for me, clearing doubts in my mind.
Everyone learns with every passing game. I think nobody is 100%; you can't be. Batting is a much more difficult job than bowling because a batsman [can be dismissed off a single mistake], so I try to give my best in training and in the game. I make sure I move ahead with learning from mistakes. The rest, I think you will get what you have in your destiny.
Of course, it's not easy. I still have to score runs, but now there are more eyeballs and expectations. Every day is a challenge. The pressure at the international level is immense as compared to playing for a regional team. You have to be quick to learn things, otherwise you will be left behind. It's not just me. The pressure is the same for someone who has played 200 games. I am still young in the team and experiencing things, and thankfully, I am getting the support I need. My basics have never changed. It's about understanding your game. The more I play, the more I learn, the higher are the chances of me performing.
You doubt yourself only when you haven't performed. I did great in domestic cricket, did well in [my] early T20I games for Pakistan, and I'm evolving in my role with the team. I know things can go wrong and that's part of the game, but the day I start doubting myself, that is the end.
It was [Mohammad] Akram bhai in the PSL who urged me to play with an open mind. They [the Peshawar Zalmi franchise] told me to play without fear. Daren Sammy figured out my role, set a pattern and told me this is how I should be playing. When I was picked [in the PSL] in the supplementary category after my first-class stint, I had no clue what role I would get and where I would be playing. To be honest, I never thought I will play a single game in my first PSL season. But then I scored a 17-ball 70 against the Quetta Gladiators during a practice game in Karachi and Daren told me I would become the best emerging player.
I grew up hearing coaches say that there are all sorts of players but the best one is the one who adapts to any type of condition and situation. Your game keeps evolving and you learn to control it. If you are asked to play Test cricket, you play accordingly. I remember playing my first first-class game and scoring 99 in 250 plus balls [208 balls] against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Abbottabad. I was surprised by how I managed to spend that much time at the crease. Since then, I am playing mostly T20s and ODIs, but I will definitely go back [to the long format] when I get a chance.
When you have a bad patch, you think a lot about the problems you are facing. But Younis bhai has been giving me a bit of motivation. He tells me that once you get into a phase, you will be consistent in scoring runs. He keeps emphasising that, telling me not to lose my head, because technique wise, everything is perfect. When you are not scoring runs, you overthink your game, finding fault in your head movement or the movement of your legs. He asked me not to think about it. He gets me to practise, makes me play every shot with every angle, and makes me believe everything will fall in line. It's about getting the right practice and hitting balls in the nets.
I think I am young, evolving my game, learning every day, and the batting order is something my team decides. Wherever they ask me to bat, I will play my part. I know things haven't been great lately, but I can tell you I don't really know what I am doing wrong. The only answer I get is that I am inexperienced right now and the more I play, I will get better.
I have broken it down between white- and red-ball cricket. I have played mostly white-ball cricket and have a similar mindset to tackle both one-dayers and T20s. But if I go back to playing the longer format, I am sure I will catch up with an aggressive mindset. I don't know yet how I will respond because it's been a while, but I can tell it will be different [from T20]. That is automatic, because you set your mind to play at least 200 balls [in long-format cricket]. In T20, I am out to attack, which is my defined role, and I have the licence to go all out to give my team a brisk start. If the pitch is good, the conditions are suitable, why not get the maximum out of the ball?
See, I made my name with the game I am playing with. There is no problem with it. Of course, I have to pull myself according to the situation, but when the run rate is going smooth and the team needs me and I slow down for myself, then it's unfair to the team.
They are very keen about their profession and their work ethics. Their perceptions about the game are very interesting. Misbah talks a lot about cricket. He is always processing things in his mind. Babar's dedication to the game is extraordinary and this automatically brings success. I speak to Babar about his game and how he actually feels at the pitch. He once said that he feels pressure for the first few balls but after middling four-five balls, he starts to get in his groove. This comforts me. If Babar Azam feels that way, there's nothing wrong with me feeling under pressure. It's natural.
Not much, because it's about pressure and that's the same everywhere, from club level to top level. The first five to six balls define everything. If you hit them right, everything will be the same afterwards, no matter what format or level you are playing.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent