Junaid Khan © AFP
By Saj Sadiq
The left arm fast style of bowling has special significance in Pakistani bowling folklore. The legendary Wasim Akram set the standard for others to follow and whilst Mohammad Amir appeared to be on his way to becoming the next best thing in Pakistan cricket, it was not until April 2011 when the hopes of another outstanding talent were rekindled with the appearance of Junaid Khan. Junaid’s international reputation has also held him in good stead in the English domestic scene where he is now representing Lancashire in the Natwest T20 Blast competition and speaking to PakPassion.net, the 24 year old fast bowler discussed a variety of topics including his goals for the summer with his stint at Lancashire, Pakistan bowlers’ lacklustre performance in World T20, his experience of working with Mohammad Akram, his own performance in the now famous Sharjah Test against Sri Lanka and his views on Pakistan’s chances at the 2015 World Cup.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): How does it feel to be back at Lancashire?
Junaid Khan (JK): I’m delighted to be back at Lancashire. I can’t express in words just how lucky I feel to be asked by them to come back for a second spell here. I had some other offers on the table from Counties but I had no hesitation in signing for Lancashire once they were interested.
Lancashire looked after me really well the last time I was here and made me feel very welcome and the club is like one big family so it was an easy decision to return to Lancashire.
PP: You’ve only signed to play only in the twenty over format, was there not a temptation to also sign for the one day and four day competitions?
JK: The reason why I only signed for the twenty over format is that Pakistan has a lot of cricket coming up with series against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand, so the Pakistan Cricket Board suggested that I should only play in the twenty over competition and therefore reduce the risk of injury and burnout.
PP: It must be beneficial for you to be playing alongside James Anderson in the Lancashire side?
JK: Absolutely. I’m not here for the money, I’m here to learn and to improve my all round game and to work on my weaknesses. I could have signed for a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) team also and made more money, but I wanted to come to England and to Lancashire and to improve as a cricketer and that can definitely happen when I’m playing alongside players of the calibre of James Anderson.
One of the areas of my bowling that I am really working on is my ability to swing and seam the ball. James Anderson is an excellent exponent of that so I’ll be in his ear asking him for advice and watching him closely and asking him to watch me bowl and see what tips he can give to me.
PP: There’s a possibility that Waqar Younis could be back as head coach, subject to the PCB. You must be excited at the thought of possibly working with Waqar again?
JK: He’s a legend. There are very few cricketers who are revered all over the world and Waqar is one of those. He has a lot of respect amongst the players and my international debut came when Waqar was head coach last time around so I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to work with him again in future. It can only be a good thing for young bowlers like myself to have the opportunity to work with someone with the experience and knowledge of Waqar Younis.
PP: How was it working with previous bowling coach Mohammad Akram?
JK: Yes he tried to get his best out of the boys. Akram works very hard with all of the bowlers and puts in a lot of effort with all of us. At this level it’s not about the basics, the bowling coaches aren’t going to tell you how to grip the ball and tell you about things you know from a young age. I think coaching at the highest level is about improving a cricketer’s mindset and helping player’s improve mentally and to help them become mentally tougher. The coaches are expected to work on match plans and on tactics rather than the basics of cricket.
Both Akram and Waqar are good coaches in their own way and I’ve always enjoyed working with both of them.
PP: Shoaib Akhtar was critical of the coaching methods and the bowlers during the World T20 and claimed that he attended a coaching session where the Pakistani bowlers didn’t really know what they were supposed to be practising. Can you elaborate on this?
JK: Shoaib Akhtar is another Pakistani cricketing legend who I have a lot of respect for, but to be fair to Mohammad Akram he did his best in Bangladesh at the World T20 with the bowlers. There were group sessions and one to one sessions and I think it’s quite unfair to suggest that the bowlers didn’t know what they were practising. During the session that Shoaib is referring to, I was working on my inswing and Umar Gul was working on his outswingers so we both knew what we were working on that particular day.
Junaid Khan is currently playing for Lancashire in the English county circuit © AFP (File Photo)
PP: The Pakistani pace bowlers struggled in Bangladesh at the World T20, why do you think that was?
JK: If you look at the tournament as a whole, most pace bowlers struggled and it was the spinners who did well. As far as the Pakistani bowlers are concerned we just couldn’t get the ball to reverse swing. The main reason for that was that the wickets were soft and not conducive to reverse swing.
I think we bowled well with the new ball but we failed to bowl the yorkers that we needed to bowl and should have bowled at the end of the innings. I think we should hold our hands up and admit that we weren’t at our best when it came to bowling yorkers.
There weren’t any technical problems with our pace bowlers, the wickets never suited our style of bowling and the ball just never showed any signs of wear and tear which meant we couldn’t reverse the ball. Also the boundaries were small, top edges were flying all over the place and as I said earlier, most fast bowlers failed to live up to expectations in the tournament, not just the Pakistani pace bowlers.
PP: Why can’t Pakistan defeat India in an ICC tournament?
JK: I don’t think there are psychological issues behind losing to India in ICC tournaments. It’s one of those things really, cricket produces some unusual statistics and patterns and this is one of those. We should have won some of the games that we have lost to India and I’m certain that the run will come to an end soon. It’s a statistic that we are keen to remove and the 2015 World Cup would be a good time to change that series of results.
PP: You’ve had some interesting battles with Virat Kohli. It seems there is an intense rivalry there between you?
JK: Virat is a world-class batsman and when you are up against the best you want to perform well and not to let them dominate you. At the end of the day whether it’s Virat Kohli or a number eleven batsman my objective is always to dismiss him as quickly as possible. I enjoy bowling to Kohli though as he’s a match-winner and it’s always good to see the back of the opposition’s key batsman. I enjoy bowling to Kohli and when you play against the best, then you want to raise your own standards. I’ve had my fair share of success against Kohli and I hope that continues.
PP: That was some performance in the recording breaking Test match at Sharjah against Sri Lanka by you. It seemed like you were back to your best in that Test series?
JK: I’d gone into that Test series in really good form and in good spirits. My confidence levels were high as I’d taken wickets in the one day international series against Sri Lanka ahead of the Test series and in the first Test match I’d taken eight wickets which was heartening. My morale was really high in that series and that played a huge part in my performance.
Confidence always plays a key part in my bowling. If my confidence is high then I can do anything, that’s just the way I am. Also I enjoy bowling against Sri Lanka as my record would suggest. I guess Sri Lanka are a lucky team for me to bowl against.
Being part of the third Test match winning group was an amazing feeling. We’d decided that whether we lost the series 1-0 or 2-0 didn’t matter, we were going to go for the win. There was nothing to lose and the attitude was spot on amongst the boys. It was an amazing feeling to win that match.
PP: There are a lot of people out there who want to see you bowling with the new ball more often. Do you feel that your captains should hand you the new ball on a regular basis?
JK: Any international bowler should be able to perform with the new ball or the old ball. If I say that I can only bowl with the new ball or I perform best with the new ball, then I don’t deserve to be playing for Pakistan and instead should be playing local park cricket where I can bowl with a new ball all of the time.
The captain has to assess the match situation and look at the opposition and which bowlers he has at his disposal and then decide when bowlers should bowl. I’m happy with whenever the captain throws me the ball, whether it’s at the start of an innings, the middle overs or the end, my job is to make sure I perform, not worry about when I am bowling.
PP: What are your targets and aims with Lancashire this season?
JK: I’ll be assessing myself at the end of the spell with Lancashire but for the moment I’m looking to perform well in each match and according to the surface that I am bowling on. I think what I have learnt already in my career is that you cannot blast the opposition batsmen out on every type of wicket and some days you have to play the waiting game. In twenty over cricket with Lancashire there will be some days when it’s about containment and playing in such tournaments as the T20 Blast will definitely help in my development as a bowler.
PP: What targets have you set yourself for Pakistan?
JK: My dream was always that I wanted to play Test cricket for Pakistan, even if it was only one Test match and I could say that I was a Test cricketer. After my Test debut the hunger to play Test cricket on a regular basis became more apparent.
I’m young, fit and keen. I want to play all formats for Pakistan to the best of my ability and when I retire I want to be remembered like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, two Pakistani legends. When I retire I want people to say yes Junaid Khan, he was a very good bowler and mention me alongside greats like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.
PP: The 2015 World Cup is on the horizon. Do you think Pakistan has a serious chance of winning that tournament?
JK: We play all of our matches away from home and therefore the issue of playing a major tournament outside of Pakistan is not a problem. The 1992 team will be our inspiration as the tournament is of course in the same countries as when Imran Khan’s cornered tigers won the trophy.
We’ve got the players, we’ve got the match-winners, we just need to play like the cornered tigers of 1992 did in Australia and New Zealand.
PP: And finally, the jump at the start of your run up, commonly known as the Junaid Jump. It’s becoming very popular around the world. How did that start and why do you do it?
JK: It sort of happened without me knowing it really or realising it. Morne Morkel does a turn before he bowls and I have my jump. Bowlers are creatures of habit and this has become a habit for me. I never did it at the start of my career but started doing it in domestic cricket a few years ago. I feel it gives me momentum. It’s like a car changing gear, I feel I am changing gear in my run up after the jump. I start my run up slowly, then change gear after my jump.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)