By Saj Sadiq
Hammad Azam, 22, hails from Attock and made his First-Class debut in 2008 for Rawalpindi. He was selected for the Pakistan Under-19 team for the World Cup in New Zealand after only six First-Class appearances.
He impressed in the World Cup in New Zealand with his all-round performances — he scored 173 runs in six matches and was dismissed only once. His standout performance was the unbeaten 92 against the West Indies Under-19s in the semi-final.
Hammad made his international debut alongside Junaid Khan in a One-Day International (ODI) against the West Indies in 2011. The following year he made his Twenty20 International (T20I) debut against England in Dubai and in his second T20I against England he made 21 runs off 15 balls.
However since his debut, Hammad’s chances have been limited and he has only appeared in 13 matches (both ODIs and T20Is) for Pakistan.
A hard-hitting middle-order batsman and medium-fast bowler, Hammad recently led the Pakistan Under-23 side in the Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup in Singapore, where Pakistan lost to India in the final.
Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, Hammad explained what areas of his game he feels he needs to improve upon, his frustration at only playing 13 times for Pakistan, as well as how a lack of ‘A’ tours is hindering the progress of emerging Pakistani cricketers.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): You played a scintillating innings in the semi-final of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Emerging Teams Cup in Singapore against Sri Lanka, but then you and your colleagues suffered a nine-wicket defeat in the final against India. What went wrong in the final?
Hammad Azam (HA): The final was a huge disappointment. After the elation of winning the semi-final by one wicket, to lose the final in such a one-sided affair and that too against India was very difficult to stomach.
We left Pakistan brimming with confidence and we were very upbeat about our chances in the tournament, but the competition did not start well when we lost to India and it ended unhappily with the defeat to the same opponents in the final. My team mates and I weren’t happy with our overall performance and we only showed glimpses of the quality of cricket that we should have played in Singapore.
However we still have to be upbeat in that we reached the final. Winning and losing is part of cricket and we did learn a lot from playing in such a competition against some tough opponents. I’m sure this tournament will help in the development of all of the boys who played in the competition.
PP: The team’s batting in Singapore was a total flop, why was that?
HA: The conditions were very tough out there for batting. We weren’t the only team that struggled to score freely, all of the teams found the going tough when batting. Also the type of cricket ball that was being used in Singapore really helped the bowlers. In the final, our middle order just collapsed and we lost seven wickets for less than 20 runs. Even if one of our batsmen in the final had stayed at the wicket and batted through the innings we could have made a fighting total, but instead we just folded without too much of a fight.
PP: Recently there have been an abundance of ‘A’ tours for countries like India, Australia, England and South Africa. Surely players on the fringes of selection like yourself would benefit from more “A” tours?
HA: Absolutely. The importance of ‘A’ tours in the development of a cricketer cannot be overestimated. In fact I would say that ‘A’ tours are probably the most important tours for a cricketer and there needs to be more such tours organised to help in the development of Pakistani cricketers.
To be thrown into international cricket particularly on an overseas tour direct from Pakistani domestic cricket is a huge ask. If a cricketer has some experience of conditions abroad by having played on some ‘A’ tours then that is definitely going to help him and the team.
PP: In addition to the lack of ‘A’ tours, there is the additional issue of touring teams not playing side matches in Pakistan against teams that you could in theory have been a member of. This must also surely be a hindrance in the development of cricketers like yourself?
HA: Despite the fact that facilities in the UAE are excellent and that there is a large Pakistani community there, playing in your home conditions is entirely different. I’m sure if Pakistan were playing their home series in Pakistan the level of performance would be better. But at the moment it doesn’t look too promising regarding the return of cricket to Pakistan and as you say there is a distinct lack of side matches against touring teams and therefore limited opportunity for the emerging players to play against the touring sides.
PP: The Pakistan Super League (PSL) could have been another opportunity for players like yourself to showcase your talent to the watching world, but unfortunately that hasn’t started yet either. You and many other cricketers in Pakistan must be waiting anxiously for the PSL to commence?
HA: Yes we were all very excited when the announcement was made about the Pakistan Super League but unfortunately the tournament hasn’t materialised yet. Whenever it’s played and whether it’s in Pakistan or the UAE, I’m sure it will be a great spectacle.
We Pakistani cricketers look at the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and the Big Bash League with envy and would dearly love to have something similar that we can call our own. It will be particularly useful if international cricketers from around the world take part in such a tournament and it will give the opportunity for Pakistani cricketers to play alongside and against the best cricketers from around the globe.
PP: Your critics say that whilst your batting is up to facing the challenge of the best bowlers in the world, your bowling isn’t good enough for international cricket. Is that criticism fair?
HA: I’ve worked really hard on my batting with all of the coaches at the National Cricket Academy and they have invested a lot of time in me. I feel that my batting has come a long way since I started playing First-Class cricket and I’ve made some technical adjustments to my batting which I feel have paid off.
Regarding my bowling, I admit there is definitely room for improvement and I am working on those areas of my bowling which I feel I need to improve upon. I don’t want to be tagged as a cricketer who can just play the shorter formats, I want to play for Pakistan as a genuine all-rounder in all formats and for that to happen I want to work hard on all facets of my cricket particularly my bowling which undoubtedly needs improvement. Having said that I think I can hold my own in international cricket as a genuine all-rounder.
PP: You attended the bowlers camp earlier this year which had Wasim Akram and Mohammad Akram as the coaches. What did they say about your bowling and what are the areas of improvement you spoke about earlier?
HA: Wasim Akram looked at my action closely and he said that there was an issue with my front arm. He spoke to me at length about the issue and worked with me to rectify that problem. In addition both Wasim Akram and Mohammad Akram spoke to me about the length I was bowling and suggested that I work on that aspect and finally they spoke with me about swinging the ball, particularly my out-swinger. It was a very useful camp and I felt confident after working with two very experienced ex-cricketers.
PP: The natural comparisons are with Abdul Razzaq. Is Razzaq someone who you have modelled your brand of cricket on?
HA: Abdul Razzaq is a role model for many cricketers in Pakistan and around the world and to emulate even part of his achievements would be fantastic. I’ve never really modelled my game on anyone though as I’ve always preferred to play to my own strengths, but there are aspects of Abdul Razzaq’s play that I’d like to incorporate in my game.
PP: Against England last year you impressed many in the limited opportunities you had. A lot of people thought that could be the turning point in your international career and it was the start of a promising international career, but that never occurred which must be frustrating for you?
HA: The matches against England were my debut games in the 20-over format and there was a lot of pressure on me, as this was a high profile series. I was quite pleased with my performances and I thought I did quite well given the limited opportunities presented to me.
Naturally it was disappointing to be dropped not long after that series and to be on the sidelines again, but all I can do is to perform well in domestic cricket, add more consistency to the level of my performance and hope that the selectors give me another chance. It’s not easy being in and out of the squad, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and you just have to accept it with a view to raising your performance levels so that you cannot be dropped in the future.
PP: There seems to be a shortage of genuine pace bowling all-rounders in Pakistan at the moment. Most seem to be spin bowling all-rounders, any particular reason for that?
HA: I don’t think it’s a trend or that there is any specific reason behind it. I guess it’s a phase that Pakistan cricket is going through at the moment where it’s producing more batting all-rounders who bowl spin.
I think genuine pace bowling all-rounders are hard to find right across the world not just in Pakistan. Also, I think being a pace bowling all-rounder is a natural talent and not really something that is developed or at least is only developed on very rare occasions.
At the moment in Pakistan apart from myself there are Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti who are all-rounders but they are bowling all-rounders rather than batting all-rounders who bowl medium to medium fast like myself. I don’t think there is any other cricketer who falls into the same category in Pakistani First-Class cricket as myself, in being a batting all-rounder who bowls medium to medium fast.
PP: Only 13 international matches in the two and a half years since your debut for Pakistan. That must hurt?
HA: It’s a statistic that does hurt. It’s a statistic which also confirms that I have been in and out of the side and a statistic that verifies the thoughts of many in that I have not had an extended run in the team. I don’t want to be treated with any sort of favouritism from anyone but a run of matches in any format would give me the opportunity to show what I can do. It’s very difficult playing an international match knowing every time, that this could be your last for a while. It’s also very difficult being in and out of the side, playing a match or two here and there and then to be dropped. That does not fill any player with confidence.
However my aim is simple, to get back into the Pakistan one-day and T20 teams, to establish myself in both formats and to make sure that my performances mean that I cannot be dropped. When that chance comes, I want to make sure that I do not let anyone down and I grasp that opportunity with both hands.
PP: How important is it for a cricketer to have the full backing of his coach and captain?
HA: It’s absolutely vital. It doesn’t matter whether you are a seasoned international or someone making a start in international cricket, to have the captain and coach boosting your confidence by telling you that they are backing you and to let you know that you will feature in a full series makes a tremendous amount of difference. If you are going into every match thinking this could be your last international match for a while, then that is undoubtedly going to affect your performance and confidence.
In this regard, I must mention Pakistan’s T20 captain Mohammad Hafeez for his support and backing in the Caribbean this year when I featured in two T20Is. He really backed me to do well and offered me a lot of encouragement and support which was really heartening and boosted my confidence.
PP: You are currently attending a training camp in Lahore for emerging cricketers in Pakistan. What do you aim to achieve from this camp?
HA: I’m working predominantly on my bowling with the coaches. This is a great opportunity provided by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for cricketers like myself to work with some of Pakistan’s leading coaches. It’s a great chance to work on areas of your game that you and the coaches feel that you need to improve and tweak.
PP: Your brand of cricket could ideally be suited to the English County circuit, would you be interested in playing County cricket if the opportunity arose?
HA: Definitely. So many of Pakistan’s great cricketers over the years have played County cricket and learnt a lot from it and if the chance came then I would undoubtedly grab it with both hands. I think a season or two in County cricket would do me no harm at all and would most likely improve my game, particularly bowling and batting in conditions that favour seam bowling and that are different to what I am used to.
PP: You are one of the few Pakistani cricketers running their own Twitter feed and will no doubt read the various comments posted on that platform. Do Pakistani cricket fans get a bit too “passionate and heated” at times when it comes to cricket?
HA: Before I started playing professional cricket I was also a very passionate cricket fan and someone who always wanted Pakistan to win and would get extremely upset when they lost, but not to the extent of abusing players.
I would urge Pakistani cricket lovers to back the team and back the players. The cricketers themselves want to win every match just like the fans want them to do, but that isn’t always possible. We cannot always perform brilliantly in every match or win every game of cricket that we take part in. So please support us, be patient and back us in the good times and bad times.