By Amir Husain
Mohammad Sami burst on to the international scene in New Zealand in 2001 with a hostile spell of pace bowling and reverse swing. His performance in his debut Test match made Pakistani fans sit up and take note of this youngster and many hoped that he was the next star to come off the conveyor belt of Pakistani pace bowlers.
However after his debut he never really established himself in the Pakistan side in any format and found himself in and out of the international set-up, resulting in a lack of confidence and very few memorable performances.
In 2008 after he was was discarded from the Pakistan squad, Sami joined the Lahore Badshahs in the Indian Cricket League. He eventually made his return back to Pakistan and after a sterling performance in the Domestic QEA Trophy including eight wickets in the final, he was called back into the Pakistani squad for the Test series against Australia. On his return at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) he picked up the first three Australians wickets but after a poor second innings, he was perhaps unfairly dropped for the next Test. In June 2012, Sami was selected for Pakistan’s tour to Sri Lanka where his performances lacked consistency in all three formats. More recently, he was selected for the 2012 ICC Twenty20 World Cup where he only played the two warmup matches.
As is often the case with Pakistan cricket, it would be unwise to write off Sami’s international career, and in an exclusive interview with Pakpassion.net the pace bowler talked about his most memorable moments in a Pakistan shirt, why his career has not lived up to expectations, as well as speaking about Pakistan’s current stock of fast bowling resources.
PakPassion.net (PP): How did you feel when you played your first game for Pakistan, and which match or series was the most memorable for you?
Mohammad Sami (MS): I felt very good, I felt proud. All youngsters and cricketers dream of playing for their country, so I was very happy and I knew I had to perform to keep my place in the team. It was an exciting time for me.
In terms of the most memorable games or series, there are plenty to choose from. I would mention the Test series against England that we won in Pakistan and then the series against India. I’ve also taken two hat-tricks which were pretty memorable for me. I’ve played international cricket for 10-12 years and it’s all memorable for me. I especially enjoyed playing with Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar because it was a totally different pace attack, they were so attacking and so aggressive.
I also recall taking three wickets in the third Test against India in Bangalore (2004/2005) — I was almost the Man of the Match in that game, so that was a very good match for me.
PP: What do you think about our present pace bowling unit and do you think there is scope for you to make a comeback in the national team?
MS: I am not too sure about the current pace attack. There is definitely a difference from the pace bowlers we had when I first started my career. Back then, we had the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Azhar Mahmood. To me, that was a lethal bowling attack. Right now, it’s a different situation. We are depending mainly on our spinners who are the leading wicket takers for Pakistan. So there is certainly room for improvement in that regard.
In terms of my own comeback, it depends on what the selectors and team management think and whether or not they need me. I’m still playing, still fit, still in form. The domestic season in Pakistan is starting again and I’ll prove myself once again to the selectors. So it’s up to the selectors, I’m not planning to retire at the moment, I’m still willing and ready to play for Pakistan.
When you play for such a long time, you do get support from those around you. They know your class but you have to prove it yourself. Others around you can provide support but at the end of the day, it’s what you do yourself that matters.
PP: Which of the three formats do you think is ideal for your style of bowling?
MS: I am fit to play in all three formats. However, people have to realise that my performance will not always be the same as sometimes I am asked to bowl with a new ball and at other times I am given an old ball to work with.
My suitability for a particular format also depends on how I am used in a game situation. The fact is that I have extra pace which the current Pakistani bowlers don’t have. So, the management have to use me carefully in this context and not overwork me. It’s not like you have four 90mph bowlers at the moment! As for my One-Day International (ODI) and T20 record, well it’s pretty good in comparison to my Test record, but I’m willing to play in all three formats of the game. Insha’Allah (God Willing) I will get a chance to prove myself!
PP: You have made lots of comebacks for Pakistan. Do you think there is extra pressure on you because of Pakistan’s rich history of fast bowlers?
MS: Obviously there is pressure, especially if the management and selectors don’t give you confidence and there is a sword hanging over your head that you’ll be out if you don’t perform every time you take the field. These things do affect a player, you cannot perform everyday.
You can have a bad day and if that happens, then you don’t get the support from the management and you are dropped! This is no way to build a team or encourage players to perform as no one is perfect. So obviously morale falls when you get dropped after a bad game and pressure builds up which is what I have always felt.
PP: In your honest opinion, why do you think you were not given an extended run in the Test team?
MS: I think the selectors are partially to blame, and I suppose I’m to blame as well. You can’t always perform but that’s part of the game. Sometimes you perform and sometimes you don’t. So, it depends on how you take the lows and how you go on and improve yourself after that.
I haven’t had just one comeback, I have had twelve or thirteen comebacks! If a player is selected he needs time to learn and also needs space to perform as well. What I don’t understand, especially in my case, is simply this — Why is a player dropped after just one bad match? If you want to try a player out, at least give him a fair chance to prove himself. If you give a player a chance to prove himself and he doesn’t do well then he has no reason to complain, but dropping a person after just one or two matches like I have been is simply ridiculous and that does hurt.
PP: If you look back at your career, would you have done anything differently?
MS: Definitely, there are a lot of things but now the time has passed and I need to focus on the future. All I can say is that I deserve a chance as I have experience and I am aware of the demands of this job.
I have no regrets but at times I do think I was treated unfairly and didn’t get a fair chance. A person cannot always perform in his first comeback match; he should at least get a couple of matches to settle down. You need some time to adjust as playing cricket at the highest level isn’t always easy.
PP: Bowlers like Abdul Razzaq have complained to the media about not being selected. You have never done such a thing and always seem to accept your fate in a quiet manner. What is the reason behind this?
MS: If you look at my career which has spanned almost 16 years, you will notice that my bowling and performance on the field has done all the talking. That’s all a human can do, the rest is in the hands of the Almighty and not in anyone’s control.
PP: A few years ago, Imran Khan gave you some special advice about your bowling. What did he tell you and what did you make of his advice?
MS: Imran shared a lot of his knowledge with me as he did with Wasim and Waqar. He has developed many fast bowlers during his career and he discussed some of the technical issues with me about my bowling and that is how I should have been mentored by others.
It’s not just Imran Khan but also Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis who have helped and cooperated with me throughout my career. Obviously, how I implemented that advice is another matter. The fact is that everyone’s circumstances are different but all said and done; I don’t think I have been given a fair chance in the last four-five years or else I would have put their advice to good use.
PP: You must have seen some fast bowlers at the U-19 and U-23 level or even in the Pakistan team. Do you have any desire to coach them in the future and pass on your tips?
MS: Definitely with time, but at the moment I haven’t really thought about it as I am still young and still concentrating on restarting my international career.
PP: From the current Pakistani fast bowlers, who has impressed you the most?
MS: Impress? Well it depends! In international cricket the most important thing for a fast bowler is speed and, with all due respect, all the current bowlers in the current side are simply ‘medium pacers’. Pakistan is known to produce really fast, quick and threatening bowlers but that is not the case at present. Like I said before, most of the good bowlers are spinners and the bowling attack relies on them to the extent that if a fast bowlers get one or two wickets it’s considered to be a bonus for the team. During the ten years of my career we relied on the faster bowlers most of the time but the scenario of the bowling unit has changed now.
PP: There are a few names in the team like Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan. Do you think they have room for improvement and can serve Pakistan in the long run?
MS: Definitely, they are with the team and playing at the moment, so they will improve over time. There is always a lot of room for improvement, they can work harder and become better. Simply speaking, the more matches you play, the more experience you gain and therefore you can develop your skills further and grow in confidence. It all depends on if a bowler gets more chances. If they do, they can certainly improve over time and serve the nation.
PP: In the case of Mohammad Irfan who is in his 30s, do you think there is a case for him to avoid playing Test cricket to lengthen his career? Should he just stick to limited overs cricket?
MS: It depends on how Irfan and the management feel about his fitness. I cannot tell you about his fitness whilst sitting here or whether he is capable of playing Test matches or not. There is a lot of cricket being played throughout the year. If he plays all the formats it’s not a problem, but I personally think if he wants to serve Pakistan for longer he will need to leave one format.
PP: Are there any bowlers in Pakistan’s domestic cricket you think we should watch out for?
MS: There are a few good bowlers but Mohammad Talha stands out in my view. He is really quick and has improved in the last few seasons. Mohammad Talha’s name has to be at the top of the list of domestic bowlers.
PP: Realistically speaking, is there any chance that you can represent Pakistan again?
MS: Why not! People are making their debut for Pakistan at the age of 30-32 these days. I’m also 32 years old. I have the experience and am fit enough so I’m sure I can play. I don’t understand the logic from some people or why people think that I cannot make a comeback at my age.
Fast bowlers are making their debut at the age of 32 — What is my fault? I’m in form and fit enough to represent Pakistan.
PP: In terms of a comeback, do you have any specific target in mind for a return? Perhaps the series against Sri Lanka in the UAE?
MS: The first and foremost aim in my mind is to make a comeback. The four most important aspects to consider here are form, fitness, rhythm and performance – all of these factors are in my favour and my domestic performance will prove that.
In all the previous times when I have made comebacks for Pakistan, it has never been the case where selectors have told me two months prior the series to prepare myself. Believe it or not, in Pakistan you never find out till the last day whether you’re in the team or not, as there is no proper system or thinking involved in the selection process. There is obviously a fault within our system in that we don’t get to know until the last minute.
PP: The last question is about coaching. People say if you have a good bowling coach, the worst of bowling attacks can be mentored to become the best. Do you think a coach has that much of an impact?
MS: Due to the high volume of cricket being played these days, coaches do play a vital part as they know how to look after the technical and performance aspects of each bowler. They know when you are over-worked or not doing enough. The bowling coach uses his experience and monitors where improvement is needed. The fact is that bowlers need good coaches but in Pakistan if a bowler takes three or four wickets, he becomes a hero and doesn’t bother with advice from coaches.
Having said that, I don’t think a lack of coaching is the reason for the decline in our fast bowling resources. In the past we had some really good bowlers who never went through proper coaching. They played by their natural talent and senior players and coaches helped them along the way. Unfortunately, we don’t see the natural talent coming through these days in Pakistan.
If you look at the domestic level, we don’t have any 90+ mph bowlers left because they just don’t have it in them to work harder. Fast bowlers cannot be produced while sitting at home. You can become a batsman or a wicket-keeper but unless you have natural talent, a genuine fast bowler cannot be produced nor can he be coached. You can correct the mechanics and mentality of a bowler but without real talent, he will never be able to generate pace and become a great bowler.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)