Sohail Khan, the right-arm Karachi-based fast bowler, has shot to fame in his debut first-class season by grabbing 65 wickets in his first nine matches. The haul includes 16 for 189, a Pakistani record previously held by Fazal Mahmood. Aged 23, Sohail's journey to first-class stardom has seen plenty of travel, hard work, pebble-throwing and prayers, as he reveals to Cricinfo.
Since it is your debut season, not many people know much about you. What was your early cricketing life like and how did you end up in Karachi?
I am from up north. I was born in Malakand agency (in NWFP) and, like a majority of other youngsters, played tennis-ball cricket from an early age. I was told that I bowled at a lively pace, something I realised quite soon myself. We lived in the mountain regions and, as kids, we threw a lot of stones around. Tedious as it sounds, it helped build muscle-strength in my shoulders, which was increased by the amount of swimming I did in the innumerable streams and rivers. Perhaps realising the potential I had, together with my height and build, a relative of mine advised me to go to Karachi to play professional cricket. And such has been the bond between myself and Karachi, together with the success I have had, that ever since I set foot here four years ago, I have not gone back even once.
So how did the transition from tennis-ball cricket and pebble-throwing to professional cricket take place?
When I arrived in Karachi, I did not know many people. So I started playing cricket here and there. Nothing professional. Then, Sikander Bakht held a speed hunt talent contest which I entered, and attained top position. At 85 mph, I also came in third fastest in Pakistan. It was after that recognition that I started playing for Millat Club in Malir (Karachi) and followed that up with a place in the Sind Police team. A few months after that, Dr Shah (a renowned individual in the cricket fraternity in Karachi) spotted me and insisted I play for his club (A.O. Club). During a successful stint with him, I was spotted by Rashid Latif who then offered me a place at his academy. That I could not refuse since Rashid bhai has groomed so many individuals - including Younis Khan and Danish Kaneria - at his academy. While a member of his academy, I also played for Deewan group and finally, I got spotted by the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) who offered me a place on their team last year. I got 21 wickets in a handful of matches and, following its promotion to first-class cricket, here I am.
What sort of coaching have you been able to receive?
When I started at Rashid bhai's academy, he confined me to nets for a year! I thought I would never see an actual match situation because it was nets day in and day out. I would bowl all day, work on my fitness and remain in the nets and do nothing else. It seemed endless. However, it all paid off when, playing for the first time under Rashid, I bowled three overs, got three wickets and even hit one batsmen who was taken to hospital. I have also sought help and guidance from [former first-class cricketer] Mohinder Kumar who has also helped Kaneria and Mohammad Sami. I would spend four to five hours a day with Kumar and he's the one who helped me develop my outswing because previously, I would bowl fast and swing the ball in only. He guided me on the wrist position on how to obtain movement away which has helped me considerably. The 65 wickets has a lot to do with the month I spent with Kumar.
Our fast bowlers are prone to injuries at a relatively early age. Any that you have been affected by?
Yes, in fact, I missed an entire season due to a groin injury about two years ago. I was actually called up to a Pakistan camp following my performance at the speed contests and club cricket I had been playing and it was in the middle of the camp that I felt the niggle. I decided, with the help of Dr Shah, that it was best to take a break and get it sorted otherwise it could have severe repercussions in the future. Therefore, I had to abandon my stay at the camp and return to the training ground. However, that time off gave me ample opportunity to work on my body and fitness and I came back eager and stronger, both physically and mentally.
|Training hard is essential for any cricketer and since I'm a fast bowler, I tend to work harder on my shoulders. Funnily enough, I have this tractor wheel that I tie with a rope and run the diameter of this ground [Asghar Ali Shah Stadium, home to A.O.Club] pulling it with my shoulders. There is also sprinting and gym sessions involved and together with a good, balanced diet I also find time for plenty of rest|
You are currently involved in a grueling domestic season, your first, as well as playing club cricket. What sort of training routine do you follow to keep your body in shape?
Training hard is essential for any cricketer and since I'm a fast bowler, I tend to work harder on my shoulders. I have this tractor wheel that I tie with a rope and run the diameter of this ground [Asghar Ali Shah Stadium, home to A.O.Club] pulling it with my shoulders. There is also sprinting and gym sessions involved and together with a good, balanced diet I also find time for plenty of rest.
Not everyone enters first-class cricket and breaks a national record from the depths of obscurity. How has the season worked out for you?
Well, I'd like to sum it up in three words; training, desire and prayers. As mentioned before, there is, and was, a lot of training and hard work involved. In order to achieve something, I knew I had to put in a lot of effort and I did. Because I had the desire to succeed and I knew, and was told, that I had the potential to make it. I am also a devout Muslim and I back up my willingness with prayers. By the grace of God, I have managed to break the great Fazal Mahmood's record.
Do you think you are ready for international cricket or would you like to spend some more time playing domestic?
I am at my peak. I'm fit physically and mentally and everyone I speak to tells me I'm quite capable of handling international pressure. I have not had any communication with the national selectors but I know there is a series against Zimbabwe coming up and I would love to represent Pakistan. I know I am young and inexperienced, but playing with experienced cricketers, coaches and being among people who know much about cricket, I can only improve. Given the chance, I will surely replicate my domestic performance on the international arena.
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo