By Shayan Siddiqui
A top performer in domestic cricket for a number of years, Punjab-born, Mohammad Ayub Dogar is a right-handed middle order batsman who moved to Sialkot after starting his career at Sheikhupura. He scored over 1,000 First-Class runs in three consecutive seasons and was the second top scorer in the 2011-12 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 1,013 runs at an average of 66.55. His excellent form resulted in a call-up to the Pakistan Test squad for the series against Sri Lanka in 2012.
An injury to Misbah-ul-Haq resulted in a Test debut for 32-year-old Dogar. He made 25 and 22 respectively as Pakistan were thrashed by 209 runs giving Sri Lanka a series victory. Ayub was duly dropped for the following series and has not been selected for Pakistan since.
With a First-Class average of 42.68 and 18 centuries to his name, Ayub is clearly looking to re-establish himself in the Pakistan lineup, and in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, he spoke about his stellar domestic record, the experience of playing for Pakistan and his aspirations of making a return to the national team.
PakPassion.net (PP): Despite having an impressive First-Class average of over 42, what was the reason you got the chance to play for Pakistan so late in your career and why do you feel you have played just one Test?
Ayub Dogar (AD): If you look at my record, you will see that I have been performing for the past five years. In that time, I have scored 5,300 runs with 16 centuries and my average has been around 45-50. My job is to perform and the rest is up to the selectors.
I feel I was ready four years earlier. However, even when I was performing, I did not get the chance to play. There are cricketers who score 1,000 runs in a season and get the chance to play right away. On the other hand, I scored around 1,000 runs for four consecutive years and only then got the opportunity to play for Pakistan. Again, it is up to the selectors to pick players and I can only perform to show them.
PP: Do you feel you did enough on Test debut to confirm your place for the 2nd Test or for another chance further down the line?
AD: I would like to know which batsman performs well straight away. I take the example of Saeed Anwar here or many other legends who also failed in their initial games. However, I scored 25-30 runs in both innings of my first Test. Our top five batsmen were dismissed early, so I was asked to stay on the wicket and I hung around for about two and a half hours.
Dav Whatmore and others appreciated my performance and it looked like I would be on the tour to South Africa. However, for some reason I was dropped and the reasons are known only to the selectors. My aim was to give my 100 per cent in that match but I feel a player must be given at least a few Test matches to judge his calibre. If he fails to perform, only then get rid of him and try a new player instead.
PP: How confident and geared up are you to do well and play for your country again?
AD: Having played that one Test match against Sri Lanka, I have an idea of what international cricket is all about. Since then, I have put in twice as much effort. This year I decided not to go to England and instead trained at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore the entire summer. I have raised my fitness level as well to meet international standards and I am confident I can do well for my country, whenever I get a chance to do so.
PP: What are your expectations from the upcoming domestic season?
AD: I have been performing consistently for the last five years now. If you go through the statistics, you will find out that I have scored 5,300 runs in the last four seasons — 5,270 to be precise. No other player in Pakistan has performed with this much consistency. My plan is to carry on my run of form this season too. The PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) has made some changes to the domestic setup this time, but my focus is on Test matches and I aim to score another thousand runs this season.
PP: Who has been your favorite player on the Pakistan domestic circuit?
AD: I think Sohaib Maqsood has a lot of potential. If he continues to work hard, he can become a very fine player for Pakistan.
PP: Do you think your extensive domestic experience is a plus point for you over youngsters who are in contention for the national team?
AD: No, I don’t think so. The pitches are the same for everybody so it all depends on how much hard work and effort a player puts in. I am also working hard and so are other youngsters. We know if we do not work hard and sit at home, then how will we perform or bring our fitness levels up to match those of international standards? As you know, there’s not a lot of money in domestic cricket in Pakistan, so we all have to work very hard to earn a call-up to the national side.
PP: How was your experience of the Pakistan dressing room?
AD: The atmosphere inside the dressing room was great. I had played with many of those players in domestic cricket as well, so it was not a new experience for me and they all backed me to do well. Dav Whatmore appreciated me and said that I played really well on a tough pitch. After the game, our fielding coach Julien Fountain called a team meeting and informed all the players of their fielding performances. He named each player and said how many runs they had saved in the field. One person had saved 25 runs, more than any other, and that was Mohammad Ayub Dogar! So it was very positive for me that my performance was appreciated.
PP: The example of Misbah and Younis playing in their mid and late 30s must give you hope for an international future?
AD: Those who perform will stay in the team; it’s as simple as that. This is Pakistan’s national team, so you have to work hard to cement your place in the team. Look at Misbah-ul-Haq, he is 39 years old and he has been performing consistently. He scored a century as well against South Africa just recently. Age is a mere number when you have scores to support your case. We have given so many youngsters chances of late, but don’t necessarily have as much maturity as someone who has played domestic cricket for many years. You can take Australia as an example. They introduce at least 4-6 players aged close to 30. They know their mental and physical level will be far superior to youngsters. Mike Hussey is a prime example. He had no difficulty to adapt, even though he came into international cricket quite late.
PP: We’ve seen Zulfiqar Babar make his international debut in his 30s, is Pakistan cricket full of stories of talented players who’ve not had a chance?
AD: Yes, that’s the case, unfortunately. I don’t understand why we don’t give chances to our players when they are in their prime. We give them a go when they have passed their prime after performing over the years. You have named Zulfiqar Babar and even I am a similar example. Had I been selected four years back, I would have been serving Pakistan now and would have replicated my domestic performances in international cricket.
Zulfiqar Babar was ignored for many years, but he is a genuine bowler, so he kept on performing and now he is playing for Pakistan. He has worked hard and has got his reward for it. He knows how to handle pressure situations as he has been through all that in domestic cricket.
PP: The domestic fixtures have been announced at the start of the season, this must be good news for the players?
AD: It’s an excellent step by the Pakistan Cricket Board. In the past, we have seen situations where until the last minute, we did not know where and against whom we were supposed to play. It is a very positive sign as we know all the fixtures beforehand and the departments are working accordingly. They have their training camps scheduled for that purpose.
PP: Fitness levels of cricketers in Pakistan are often criticised, is that fair?
AD: Yes, it’s a fact and nobody can deny it. Only the players that decide to do something about it themselves are fit. Otherwise players take part in domestic tournaments for a couple of months and then go home. I didn’t go to England and instead trained at the National Cricket Academy at my own expense for about six months as I know I have to stay fit and play for Pakistan in the future.
If a player has that sense of responsibility in him, he will train himself. The Pakistan Cricket Board can also help the players by setting up academies in Sialkot, Faisalabad, Karachi and other cities, but unfortunately we don’t have that system yet.
PP: Could Pakistan domestic cricket benefit from more foreign coaches working with the domestic teams?
AD: Yes, it is true to an extent, but then where will our own former cricketers go? The main disadvantages of hiring foreign coaches are their high expenses and the language barrier. In domestic cricket, most of the players are not well educated and can’t understand English. We need to hire former players with good reputations — that’s the most important thing. If we hire honest coaches, we will benefit otherwise our domestic cricket will suffer.
PP: Are there any talented youngsters on whom we should keep an eye on in the coming months and years?
AD: Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Amin and Haris Sohail are all very talented. They can serve Pakistan for years to come. Apart from them, there is another upcoming player named Salman Ali. He has been selected for Lahore and I see a lot of potential in him.
(Shayan Siddiqui is a writer and moderator at Pakpassion.net)