By Saj Sadiq
Mohammad Hafeez has been a regular pick for the Pakistani selectors in recent times in all three formats. Since returning to Test cricket in 2010, Hafeez had forged a solid and reliable opening partnership with Taufeeq Umar. However after struggling in Tests in 2013, he was dropped for the series against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates.
Despite his troubles in the five day format, Hafeez has continued to perform well in the shorter formats with both bat and ball and is currently ranked at No 1 in the ICC One-Day Internationals (ODIs) all-rounders rankings and at No. 2 in the ICC Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) all-rounder rankings.
Last year Hafeez was chosen as Misbah-ul-Haq’s successor as captain in the twenty-over format and since he has taken over as skipper, the Pakistanis have won twelve of their eighteen matches with Hafeez at the helm.
Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, Hafeez provided his thoughts on why he has struggled in Test cricket in 2013, responded to accusations of interference in selection matters and his being mentioned as a possible successor to Misbah-ul-Haq in the 50 over and five-day formats, and discussed a possible move down the batting order in Test cricket as well as his hopes for a return to the Pakistan Test side.
PakPassion.net (PP): Your batting record in Test cricket in 2013 makes for painful reading. Where do you think its gone wrong?
Mohammad Hafeez (MH): I’ve been playing for Pakistan in all three formats for the past three years and sooner or later I was going to have a slump in one of the formats. This year in Test cricket I’ve not been able to make any notable scores even though my form in the other formats has been good. In fact in Zimbabwe I was Man of the Series in the one day series which proves that my form is not the problem.
Yes I’m concerned about my lack of runs in Test cricket this year but I don’t think there is anything wrong with my form, it’s just the law of averages that you can continue doing all the right things and work just as hard as you have throughout your career but you don’t do well at some points in your career. I’m not worried about my form, if my form was the issue I would be struggling in all three formats, but that clearly isn’t the case.
I made my comeback in the Pakistan Test side in 2010 and since then I have shown consistency and have been Pakistan’s leading run scorer across the three formats. I’ve actually been working harder on my batting in Test cricket than the limited overs formats, but the end result has unfortunately not been good. Yet, last year I scored over 500 runs in Test cricket at an average of over 45. It’s just this year in Test cricket which has been disappointing and frustrating for me.
PP: You’ve stated that you don’t think that your lack of runs in Test cricket this year is down to poor form. If that’s the case then what’s it down to?
MH: As an opening batsman you are always going to be vulnerable against the new ball, particularly in Test cricket. Facing the new ball is the toughest test for any batsman and in my capacity as an opening batsman I have to face the new ball in all three formats.
If it was a mental, technical or any other issue then I would be struggling in all three formats but that’s not happening. The challenge for me is to come back into Test cricket and to reclaim a spot in the Pakistan top order and that’s something I am confident that I can achieve. I’m working hard and I’m very hopeful that I will be back in Pakistan’s Test side soon.
PP: What did Misbah-ul-Haq say to you, after you were dropped for the Test series against South Africa?
MH: Nothing, we had no conversation regarding my axe from the Test side. It’s a decision that the selectors have made and I have to respect that. I always believe that the selectors try to pick the best players available to them and if they feel that I’m not worthy of a place in the Test side at the moment, then I respect their decision.
PP: There have been accusations against you that you have too much say in selection matters. Is that a fair accusation to make?
MH: I’m the vice-captain for both the one day and Test formats and the Twenty20 captain, but I want to clarify that I only have a say in selection for the Twenty20 format. Nobody asks me for my thoughts on the selection of the one day or Test squads so how can people say that I have too much say in the selection of those squads. There is absolutely no truth at all in the accusations that I influence the selection and non-selection of players in the Test and one day squads.
In the twenty over format and in my capacity as the captain, I have stressed to the selection committee that I want them to pick some new faces and introduce some youth to that squad and that’s exactly what we have done. The likes of Raza Hasan, Ahmed Shehzad, Zulfiqar Babar, Nasir Jamshed and several others have been given an opportunity in T20Is and I will continue to push the selectors to carry on with this successful approach. Bringing in some youth to the Twenty20 squad has really paid dividends and it’s something that we wish to continue with.
PP: Obviously the wickets in South Africa for the Test series were very bowler-friendly which is a stark contrast to the wickets in the UAE. Do you think that dropping you from the Test squad was hasty and perhaps you should have been given an opportunity to prove yourself in the two Test series against South Africa in more favourable conditions?
MH: I don’t think of it this way. The difference in conditions between the UAE and South Africa is like heaven and earth, you simply cannot compare the two but I didn’t perform in South Africa and that was my loss. I should have performed in South Africa irrespective of the conditions. As a professional cricketer you should perform in whatever conditions you come across and for me to blame the conditions in South Africa or to feel down about not facing the same team in the UAE would be sour grapes on my part.
I’m a patriotic Pakistani and I always wish the team well, irrespective of whether I am in the team or not. I want the team to succeed even if I am not a part of it, but I don’t want to be bitter about my dropping from Test cricket.
PP: It was only recently that you and Taufeeq Umar were the established opening partnership for Pakistan in Test cricket. How quickly things change though?
MH: We both made our comebacks around 2010 and our chemistry as opening batsmen and our understanding was excellent. We had several century opening stands and a number of half century opening stands. During the time when we opened the batting together we formed a stable and effective partnership with both of us playing our part in it and the team was successful and benefited from the starts we gave them. I think it’s very important to have a stable opening partnership and generally teams have done well over the years when they’ve had a stable opening partnership.
Unfortunately neither of us is in the Test side currently but that’s the way it goes in professional sport. You have to take the good times and the bad times. Tafueeq got injured ahead of the tour of South Africa and since then he’s not been picked which I’m sure he’ll be looking to change. We played our part in a successful period for Pakistan in Test cricket and I’m sure Taufeeq like me will be looking to make a comeback into the Test arena. Who knows maybe at some point in future we may be opening the batting once again for Pakistan.
PP: One or two of your colleagues have made it clear that they would be interested in taking over from Misbah-ul-Haq as the captain of the Pakistan one day side. You’ve made no such announcements, but is captaincy in the fifty over format a target for you?
MH: Misbah-ul-Haq has been outstanding as captain in all the formats that he has led the side in. Rather than any of us declaring our interest in taking over as captain from Misbah, we should be supporting him.
Misbah took over the captaincy at a very difficult and delicate time in Pakistani cricket and he has done a fantastic job. He has stabilised the team, he has led from the front and Pakistan’s cricketing integrity has been restored under his leadership. Unfortunately and sadly there are a number of people out there who can only criticise Misbah, irrespective of what he does and how well he performs. He’s handling a lot of factors and issues that people are not even aware of and has led Pakistan cricket through a very difficult phase. He should be commended for that and not criticised.
Misbah is a fantastic leader, an excellent ambassador and a brilliant role model for young cricketers in Pakistan and I would urge everyone to support him, back his judgment and not to criticise him at every opportunity.
PP: But have you given the Test and one day captaincy any thought?
MH: Whether I or any other cricketer have thought about it or not is irrelevant. What matters is the opinion of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on who should lead the team. To be given the opportunity to lead my country in the twenty over format is an honour, an honour that is bestowed upon only on a few cricketers. It’s an honour to play for your country, but to be chosen to lead your nation in any format is an even bigger honour. Zaka Ashraf asked me to take over the Twenty20 captaincy and I gladly accepted the challenge. We have progressed as a team in T20Is and I hope with the help of my team mates we can continue that improvement. I’m really satisfied with the support I’ve received from everyone in the T20 format and it’s been an absolute pleasure to lead the team.
One aspect of my captaincy that I am adamant on continuing is to give youngsters a chance to show their skills. I make no apologies for wanting to give youth an opportunity under my leadership. If we provide these youngsters with a chance in the shortest format then who knows maybe they will soon flourish in the other formats.
Of course I’ve given captaincy in other formats some thought, but at the moment I am fully behind Misbah and I’m just concentrating on leading the team in the twenty over format.
PP: You’ve always opened in Test cricket. Would you consider a move down the order to secure a spot in the Team?
MH: As you’ve mentioned, I’ve always opened in Test cricket. However, recently the management asked me to move down the order to number three in the shorter formats and I did that. I adjusted my mindset and my game to bat at No. 3, but I think Azhar Ali is an excellent batsman and ideal for the number three spot in Test cricket.
At the moment Azhar is struggling but he’s a very talented batsman and I have a lot of faith in his ability. At the end of the day it’s a decision for the team management but I’ve always thought of myself as an opening batsman in Test cricket. However if I’m requested for the cause of the team to bat at No.3 or in the middle order then I would happily take on that challenge. I’d definitely be prepared to bat down the order in Test cricket if needed.
PP: You missed out on playing in this year’s Champions League after leaving Faisalabad for Lahore. Any regrets on that decision?
MH: Absolutely no regrets at all. I feel I made the right decision at the time. Faisalabad has played some wonderful cricket at the domestic level but some of their youngsters struggled at the highest level when they went to India to play in the Champions League. They didn’t have much exposure at the highest level and they struggled with that.
There are no regrets though and despite that I no longer play for them, I really wanted them to do well at the Champions League as they were representing Pakistan. Despite the fact that Faisalabad didn’t qualify for the second phase of the Champions League I think the experience of playing at such an event will definitely benefit their players.
PP: Do you feel Pakistan is amongst the favourites for the World Twenty20 tournament next year?
MH: The most important thing for us is to keep the momentum going. We’ve been playing some good cricket in the twenty over format and I want that to continue against South Africa and then against Sri Lanka. We have a number of match winners in the twenty over format which is a real plus point and we have a lot of potential.
I’m really pleased with the standard of cricket we’ve been playing in T20Is and as a captain it’s heartening to see the effort from the boys and the backing I’ve had. Luck will play a big part in who wins the World Twenty20 but I’m very confident that, with the group of players I have at my disposal, we can mount a strong challenge in this tournament.
Conditions will suit us and our spinners should be very effective in Bangladesh. I’m excited about the players I have to work with me and our record in the World Twenty20 events is very good so yes, I think we stand a good chance. However, as I said earlier, you need to go into such a tournament with some momentum behind you and that’s why it’s very important for us to prepare well and play some good cricket in the build up to the World Twenty20.