By Nasser Khan
Azeem Ghumman made his First-Class debut at the age of 16 and, was viewed at the time as one of the brightest young talents in the country. He went on to lead Pakistan to the final of the 2010 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. Four years on, Ghumman has struggled to fulfill the promise of his early career. Whilst his inability to represent Pakistan at the highest level is a cause of concern, it’s easy to forget that Ghumman’s still only 22 years old, an age in which many players have not yet made their First-Class debuts.
PakPassion.net caught up with the young batsmen to talk about his career to date, his hopes for selection for the upcoming Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup, domestic cricket and his thoughts on Pakistan-19s chances on their tour of England in August.
Ghumman began by providing an assessment of his early career, with frankness reminiscent of his time as captain of the Pakistan Under-19s, “I have always believed you should be fair with yourself and others. Prior to the Under-19 World Cup and for a short period after it, I was performing very well and leading well. It was all going smoothly, but after failing to perform, when I was appointed captain for the Pakistan A tour of Sri Lanka, I was dropped. The following year I also failed to perform in domestic cricket. I believe that is the only year in which I haven’t been able to perform.” He continues “In the years prior to that – 2008 and 2009 — and in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, I was playing well and have also in the subsequent years. However, even during my difficult year, coaches around me told me every player goes through bad patches — even the top players who suffer poor form for not only one, but perhaps through two lean years.”
Ghumman indicated that although breaking into the starting eleven for his domestic side had been difficult, when given the opportunity he had been able to perform, despite his limited opportunities “When I started playing better for my department there were some good players in the squad so I wasn’t given many opportunities to play. However, when I got the chance, in the two matches I played I scored two half-centuries. I played against Hyderabad and my performance was enough for me to regain my confidence. In the two tournaments I played recently, One-Day and T20s, I have been one of the top-ten batsmen in the region and regained my confidence. When you don’t perform for a year you lose confidence, you start questioning your technique and forget that it was this technique that allowed you to reach this far. It was good to get some runs under my belt.”
Despite falling off the national selectors’ radar, with the PCB due to announce their squad for the forthcoming Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup, Ghumman retains the belief he can perform if given the opportunity “I am hopeful of being selected for the Under-23 tournament. In the two tournaments I have played for Hyderabad, I have been amongst the top ten batsmen of any age category, and there are no other Under-23 batsmen who are in the top ten with me. I also got a contract in the BPL [Bangladesh Premier League]. Unfortunately I was unable to go, but it would have provided me with some exposure, given the matches were televised.”
The tournament organized by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) could be the springboard he needs to push himself into contention for the national side says the right-handed batsmen “The Under-23 tournament could provide a route back for me. I’m hungry to play cricket for Pakistan but I rely on selection based on the tournaments I play for my region. It also appears that the Under-23s include a lot of the guys who I captained in the Under-19s four years ago in 2009. I am working hard, maintaining full fitness and if the PCB were to select me I would be ready.”
Ghumman is competing with a number of established Pakistan internationals in his departmental team SUI Gas, including Azhar Ali and Taufeeq Umar. “It’s the number one department — they are winning a lot of trophies and have a lot of Test players, so it’s hard to say whether I will be first choice. There are only four or five batting slots, so obviously the Test players will take the batting slots because they are good enough — you cannot tell management to drop the Test quality players for me. The competition is very very tough. I’m not criticising the department, they have such quality players at their disposal that team selection is not an easy decision. In our department this year, whenever the Pakistan national team goes on tour, up to five players could be selected for the national squad. This in turn, provides an opportunity for other players in the department squad to step up and play more matches. This year I have every hope I will play well and I’ll receive support. I believe if a player plays all of the matches for his department, he’ll perform. My problem has been the lack of matches — I am hopeful of more matches this year and if I get the chances, I will be able to perform.”
With the Pakistan Under-19 side due to embark on a tour of England next month, Ghumman is positive on their chances of success “The Pakistan Under-19 team is always a strong one. I have played against the captain Sami Aslam and he’s a very good player and I’m hopeful they can perform. There are three or four guys who I know. If they play without fear, they can win. I have always been a great believer in momentum — in bowling batting and as a team. Once you have momentum it’s very difficult to stop the side. The talent there is at Under-19 level in Pakistan cannot be matched by any other country.”
The Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup is due to commence on 17 August 2013 in Singapore.
(Nasser Khan is a writer for Pakpassion.net, from where the above article is published with permission)