The 18-year southpaw Sami Aslam is creating ripples in the Pakistan domestic circuit © Getty Images
Despite having played only 14 First-Class matches, 18-year-old Sami Aslam has caught the eye of many after some excellent performances for the Pakistan Under-19 side. Considered one of the country’s brightest young batting talents, Aslam has scored two centuries and three half-centuries in his last eight matches for the Pakistan Under-19s, including 108 and 87 in the two matches against India as he led his side to the final of the Asia Cup, where they lost to their arch-rivals.
The left-handed opener’s sound technique and assured presence at the crease means he will be one of the key players for Pakistan as they prepare for the ICC Under-19 World Cup which is due to commence on February 14 in the UAE. Pakistan are due to face India, Scotland and Papua New Guinea in Group A as they bid to become the first side to win the tournament three times.
PakPassion.net caught up with the Pakistan Under-19s captain, ahead of their warm-up match against the United Arab Emirates Under-19s to discuss his career to date, future aspirations, as well preparations for the upcoming ICC Under-19 World Cup.
PakPassion.net (PP): A few weeks on from the defeat to India in the final of the Asia Cup, has the team recovered from the disappointment?
Sami Aslam (SA): Yes, just about. We were on a good run after winning the tri-nation series in England last year and then winning another tri-nation event in the UAE against the hosts and England. We went into the Under-19 Asia Cup brimming with confidence and after defeating India in the pool match, we were very confident of lifting the trophy. It was painful to lose the main match which was the final to India, but you have to move on, learn from your mistakes and try and rectify the errors.
PP: Where do you feel it went wrong in the Asia Cup final?
SA: We played well in the final. It wasn’t a total disaster but we dropped catches at crucial moments and that really cost us. We batted well generally and bowled quite tidily but it was the fielding that really let us down in the final.
PP: Would you say that there were some harsh lessons learnt from the defeat to India?
SA: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes in defeat you learn more than you do with a win. During our training camp ahead of the Under-19 World Cup, we have focused a lot on our fielding which traditionally is the Achilles heel of Pakistani cricketers. Pakistan fielding coach Julien Fountain has also been working with us at the training camp on some of the technical aspects of fielding and that has proved to be very useful for all of us.
PP: You recently broke the world record for most runs in Under-19 cricket. You must be proud of that achievement?
SA: Yes it was a very proud moment for me, but above all it was a proud moment and an achievement for Pakistani cricket. I’ve been very lucky that during my days as an Under-19 cricketer I’ve had fantastic support from coaches, team-mates and the support staff. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all as their hard work has definitely benefitted me over the years.
PP: Under-19 commitments have meant that you’ve not played much domestic cricket this season. How do you feel about that?
SA: The domestic season started really well for me and I made two hundreds in the first-class competition, including a score of 191, so that was really pleasing for me. In the one-day competition I also made a couple of hundreds and in all I had made four centuries in the early rounds of the domestic season and I was the highest run scorer after the first seven or eight matches in the one-day competition. Who knows maybe if I’d played the full season of domestic cricket, I could have been the overall highest run-scorer.
PP: For someone whose not yet reached 19 years of age, you show a lot of maturity in your batting and have made quite a name already for yourself?
SA: This season has been fantastic. The runs I made in domestic cricket at the start of this season have really boosted my confidence. Making runs in domestic cricket against the best bowlers of your country will definitely help you when you play at Under-19 level.
However my true test will be to continue my good form in domestic cricket then do the same, hopefully, in international cricket. The step from Under-19 cricket to international cricket is a huge one and shouldn’t be underestimated though. I feel I’m still learning and improving as a cricketer and making rapid progress.
PP: Traditionally, Pakistan has struggled to find competent opening batsmen. Do you think you can eventually provide that much-needed stability at the top of the order for the Pakistan senior side across all three formats?
SA: That’s my plan and ambition. A number of current and former players have spoken very highly of me and my batting and that has really been encouraging. I’ve made runs at Under-19 level and in domestic cricket but my biggest challenge will be to shine in international cricket. I have a lot of faith in my ability, I’m a confident person and I feel that I can play for Pakistan in various formats for a long time.
Of course I will have to wait for my chance, take my time and leave it to the selectors as to when they think I am ready for international cricket, but I need to keep on improving and progressing as a cricketer and eventually I feel that my chance will come.
PP: With the upcoming World Cup being your final tournament at Under-19 level, you must be hoping to end this level of cricket on a high?
SA: Yes definitely. I’ve been playing Under-19 cricket for what seems like many years and it’s been a fantastic time. Under-19 cricket has given me a lot of exposure, some great moments but also taught me a lot about cricket. I’d really like to end my time as a Pakistan Under-19 cricketer with a World Cup win. It would be a fantastic achievement for myself, Pakistan cricket and all of the boys if we could win the World Cup.
PP: The Pakistan Under-19’s strength at the moment seems to be its trio of spinners Kamran Ghulam, Zafar Gohar and Karamat Ali. Is it fair to say that they are your potential match-winners at the World Cup?
SA: All three of the boys you have named have been very consistent and given the conditions in the UAE, they will be a real handful for any of our opponents. Conditions in the UAE are very much like Pakistan so our trio of spinners will be confident. In addition, we’ve recently been on a 40-day tour of the UAE and played 12 matches there so conditions will be very familiar. All three of the boys are match-winners and have the potential to trouble any side.
PP: Zafar Gohar and Kamran Ghulam have also impressed with the bat too on a regular basis haven’t they?
SA: Both are very fine cricketers and maturing with each match. They’ve both been very consistent performers with bat and ball and have, many times, scored vital runs when the team needed them the most.
Zafar and Kamran are part of a group of players that go into the World Cup with very high hopes and they are part of a group of players whose morale is very high at the moment.
PP: Is it fair to say that the batting has at times been the downfall for the Pakistan Under-19s as it was recently against Afghanistan when the team was skittled out?
SA: Yes. We’ve lacked consistency and the problem is that if a player makes a big score in one match, then quite often it’s followed up with a couple of low scores. I think it’s due to a certain level of complacency at times. Sometimes, after making a big score the boys relax a bit when they go out to bat in the next match.
We’ve all played long innings, we all know what is required and expected of us so there are no excuses. It’s down to our mindset at times which needs improving. Our top order, including myself, needs to add consistency to our game as making one big score every four or five innings isn’t good enough.
PP: What are your individual goals for the Under 19 World Cup?
SA: I’d love to top the batting charts and end up as the highest run scorer. Also I’d like to ensure that I see my team home when we are chasing targets and lead from the front with the bat. As a captain I have added responsibility so I want to ensure that I handle the responsibility and be a role model for my team mates.
PP: Do you think you are ready for international cricket?
SA: Yes I do, I think I’m ready for international cricket. In fact if it hadn’t been for the Under-19 tournaments this season then I think my performances in domestic cricket would have resulted in an international call up this season. I think a good performance at the World Cup will also help my cause. I feel that I’m ready to play for Pakistan.
PP: You’ve captained the Under-19s for a while now. You seem a natural as captain?
SA: I actually enjoy the challenge of captaincy and the additional responsibility it brings. I think with some players it affects their performance but with myself I think it’s brought the best out of me. I don’t get under pressure or confused as a captain and go with my natural instincts as a captain.
PP: Have any of the current international players or other well known Pakistani cricketers offered you and your team-mates some advice before the Under-19 World Cup?
SA: Yes we’ve seen quite a few of them around at the National Cricket Academy and they’ve all been offering words of encouragement and support. Kamran Akmal the other day stopped for a chat and wished us all the best which was nice of him. It’s important to listen to cricketers who’ve played in major tournaments and to receive advice from them and how they approached playing in such high profile tournaments.
PP: And finally a word on the big match against India at the World Cup…
SA: It’s always a huge occasion when Pakistan faces India in a cricket match and the additional factor this time around is that it’s in a World Cup. We know what to expect, there will be no quarter given and both sides will, I’m sure, be fired up. However we must not lose focus on the fact that whilst defeating India is important, winning the World Cup is the bigger target.
(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)