By Amir Husain
The National Stadium Karachi (NSK) is a venue which has seen history being made on many occasions by Pakistan teams and cricketers of the past and the present but since the April 20, 2013 the stadium in the City of Lights has become the scene of another important cricketing event.
Frustrated by the perceived ineffectiveness of the country’s fast bowling resources and with an eye towards the fast approaching Champions Trophy in England this summer and beyond, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has asked one of the finest fast bowlers ever — Wasim Akram — to spend time with the nation’s top fast bowlers and impart valuable bowling tips and advice regarding the art of pace bowling.
The ongoing 10-day camp is featuring the top names in Pakistan’s fast bowling arsenal such as Junaid Khan, Mohammed Irfan, Rahat Ali and Ehsan Adil as well as some of Pakistan’s best young pace bowlers. In addition, the camp has invited some of the top performers in domestic circuit headlined by the prolific Asad Ali who in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, spoke about his interaction with Wasim Akram, his experience of touring with the national side, playing domestically with Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) alongside Pakistan’s top international players and his hopes of being selected to play in the Champions Trophy in England this summer.
Along with his fast bowling partner Waqar Younis, the legendary Akram in his heyday was capable of destroying any batting order at his whim. Having a personality of this stature offer one-on-one coaching is a dream that the participants of the PCB-UFONE Fast Bowler’s camp are now living at the NSK. It’s therefore no surprise that Asad Ali is overjoyed at this opportunity.
“The camp is going very well. I am very thankful to the PCB for this initiative and to all those who put a lot of effort to make this coaching camp happen. To have a legend like Wasim Akram, whose reputation is famous throughout the world and for the PCB to bring such a respected name to come and work with the top bowlers in Pakistan is a wonderful experience.”
“I feel very lucky to be working with Wasim Akram, to spend valuable time with him. Who knows when I will be able to work with him again? It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s wonderful for the PCB to arrange this and it’s a great achievement, especially given it’s the first camp of this kind that the PCB has organised.”
To cynics of such coaching clinics, a mere 10-day camp is no substitute for a longer term plan of attack to fix issues with techniques and to learn tricks of the trade from the Maestro. However to Asad , the 10 days he is spending in the company of Akram is proving to be immeasurable in terms of providing feedback on specific aspects of his bowling – advice that could greatly enhance his chances of becoming a successful bowler at international level.
“My aims for the 10-day camp are to learn as much as I can from Wasim Akram. As a bowler you may never have this opportunity again and I don’t want to waste a minute during the camp. Every day there is something new to be learnt from the great man. Wasim does group sessions for the boys as well as one to one discussions which are proving to be very beneficial. Wasim gave me some great pieces of advice; bowl from closer to the stumps and utilise my height by using a high-arm action and to ensure I release the ball at the right point in my delivery stride. These are all minor yet important adjustments. He (Wasim) told me that with my bowling action, the closer I get to the stumps, the more wickets I’ll take. Wasim has encouraged me a lot and his feedback has been great both from a technical perspective and as a confidence boost. Wasim stated to me that I had impressed him and that my bowling would improve further with the aforementioned adjustments.”
“Wasim also said he did not see any benefit in changing my action, but he did advise me on the employment of certain techniques that could make a big difference. The pieces of advice he’s provided me with have already had a significant impact. Despite experiencing success in the last six years, I feel the advice I received from Wasim Akram has enhanced my bowling further and boosted my confidence. I will certainly aim to utilise this advice going forward and become an even better bowler.”
Although he is yet to play an international game, Asad is no stranger to big game pressure, having been a member of the squad which toured India in the iconic series at the end of last year, followed by an even tougher tour of South Africa in the first quarter of this year. He has fond memories of both tours and feels that inexperienced players can learn a lot about the game in the field even as non-participants.
“To represent your country and be selected in a squad of just 15 boys is a huge honour. I thank the Almighty for providing me with the opportunity, I am very lucky. When I went to India, I gained some great experience on that tour, particularly of crowd pressure and what it means both off and on the field. The India tour was most enjoyable. The Indian people love cricket, there were huge crowds both in the hotel and on the streets and everywhere we went, but regrettably, we were not allowed to go out unescorted during the tour. But having said that it was a brilliant experience.”
At 24, being on the verge of selection, many others would be drowning themselves in self-pity but Asad has other plans. In the current season playing for the domestic SNGPL team, Asad’s tremendous record has marked him for future honours. He has taken 61 wickets at 19.7 in First-Class cricket this season, including taking five wickets in an innings on five occasions and 10 wickets in a match twice and experienced similar success in 2011/12. In one-day domestic cricket, he took 19 wickets at 19 apiece and has bettered that by taking 23 wickets at 15 in T20s. He puts down this run of good form to help from the Almighty and his own work and the support of his team mates. The fact that he has had the chance to play alongside some of the top international names such as Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammed Hafeez has he feels enhanced his confidence even further.
“I set myself some challenging goals prior to the commencement of the recent season. I wanted to be the top-wicket taker in at least one of the formats, whether that be One-Day matches, T20s, or the longer version of the game, with the hope that I would be selected for the national side in at least one format! I’ve ended up being the most successful bowler not just in one format, but two – T20s and the fifty over format. This year my T20 side Faisalabad Wolves won the Faysal Bank Super Eight T-20 Cup and I was awarded the title of best bowler. I then played for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) who also won the one day title. I was awarded the best bowler in the competition and I was man of the match in the final of the President’s Cup One-Day Tournament against WAPDA. As a result, my confidence levels are very high. Also Misbah-ul-Haq has been my captain since 2006 and we get along really well. I’ve been playing with Mohammed Hafeez as well and that’s really helpful for me and both those experienced cricketers have been very supportive of me over the years.”
Buoyed by the confidence of an exceptional domestic performance, Asad Ali appears focussed towards the eventual goal of any cricketer — a chance to play in the national side. He does admit that there is no room for complacency and has consistently been setting and achieving ambitious personal targets.
“It is all based on setting high goals for the season. I have been performing in the last four or five seasons, but I wanted this season to be different and more focused. I knew there were gaps in the pace bowling department in the national side and I feel I can fill those gaps. I wanted to perform, to impress the selectors, to take so many wickets that I couldn’t be ignored. I have been able to perform, I have been on two tours [India and South Africa] with the national side due to my high levels of performance. I did not want to leave any room for complacency — I was utterly focused on succeeding this season and the results are there for all to see.”
The PCB’s main objective in the organization of the current 10-day camp under supervision of Wasim Akram was to prepare potential squad members for the prestigious Champions Trophy in England. Whilst the likes of Junaid Khan who has had a successful season for Lancashire, are no strangers to conditions in England, the PCB would have also taken note of the fact that Asad has established a very good reputation amongst club cricketers due to series of successful seasons. Could he now return to England as part of the Pakistani national team this summer? This is a thought that has crossed his mind but he remains he remains adamant that given the chance he will not disappoint his country or his team
“I have been playing club cricket in England for the last seven years and so I have significant experience of playing there, I know how to utilise the English conditions and I will give my all if selected for the Champions Trophy.”
The Pakistan squad for the Champions Trophy is expected to be announced in early May and Pakistan plays their first game of the tournament on Friday, June 7 against the West Indies at The Oval.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)