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By Saj Sadiq
Sohaib Maqsood made his international debut in August 2013 in a Twenty20 international during Pakistan‘s tour of Zimbabwe. The hard hitting batsman from Multan also went on to play his first One-Day International (ODI)against South Africa a couple of months later where he scored a belligerent half-century against an attack featuring Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The composed right-hander followed up his debut ODI fifty with another half century in his second one day game and was part of the Pakistan side which later secured a historic first one-day series victory in South Africa, scoring 42 in the series-clinching match and helping Pakistan become the first Asian side to win a one day series in South Africa.
He showed a talent for scoring important runs again in the subsequent series against Sri Lanka, where he scored an unbeaten 46 as Pakistan chased down the Sri Lankan target of 226 to secure a series victory. Maqsood finished his debut year of international cricket having participated in nine T20Is and he has also made 363 runs in ODIs at an average of 40.33 in the 10 matches he has played for Pakistan.
The 26-year-old, who hails from the same city as Inzamam-ul-Haq, has been entrusted with the important number four position in the ODI side and he has been identified as a player who is expected to play a significant role for Pakistan in the future across all three formats.
PakPassion.net spoke to Maqsood about his promising start in international cricket, facing Dale Steyn, his hopes of playing Test cricket, comparisons with Inzamam-ul-Haq and his thoughts on Pakistan’s chances at the 2014 ICC World T20 and Asia Cup.
PakPassion.net (PP): You must be delighted with the start you have made to your international career?
Sohaib Maqsood (SM): First and foremost it’s everyone’s dream to play for their country. I’m grateful that my boyhood dream has come true and it’s an absolute privilege to be given the chance to represent my country and wear the green cap with pride. I’ve made a decent start to international cricket that I really need to build on. My intention is to play for Pakistan for many years to come, not just play a few games and then disappear.
I’ve made some mistakes in some of the matches I have played for Pakistan, throwing away my wicket when I was well set, but it’s all part of the learning process and learning from the mistakes I’ve made will stand me in good stead in future games.
PP: Scoring half-centuries in your first two international appearances against a quality bowling line-up like South Africa must have given your confidence a huge boost?
SM: Absolutely. To make a good start to your international career is very important for any cricketer. After scoring half-centuries in my first two one day innings for Pakistan I felt that I belonged at that level of cricket and that I had a place on the cricketing world stage.
It doesn’t matter how many runs you make in domestic cricket, international cricket is of a totally different standard and you have to learn very quickly to adjust to the highest level. To start my One-Day International career with two half-centuries was a massive psychological boost for me.
The fifties I made at the start of my international career made me feel that I could handle the pressure and they also filled me with confidence and relief that I hadn’t been exposed at this level, as some cricketers are.
PP: You look calm at the crease when batting, as if you’ve been playing international cricket for many years. Does it feel that way to you?
SM: I think this has a lot to do with my personality. I’m a very calm individual and rarely get flustered. I think that’s important because if you do panic, you will be prone to making errors. Of course I was nervous during my debut for Pakistan but I approached it as if I was playing a First-Class match. I went out there saying to myself “this is still cricket, the basics are the same and treat it as if you are playing a first-class match back home in Pakistan”. I try to completely blank out of my mind the fact that there are millions of people watching international matches and instead treat it like a domestic match when I’m out there in the middle.
The demands on you as an individual in international cricket are of course greater but my philosophy will always be to stay calm, assured, and not to approach the matches for Pakistan in any way differently.
PP: Generally newcomers in Pakistani cricket, if not opening the innings, are introduced into the national side lower down the order. However the captains have shown great faith in you and promoted you to number four straight away. That must also be a real boost to your confidence?
SM: I felt very lucky to be given the chance to bat at number four in the Twenty20 format and the one-day format. I bat at number three in domestic cricket and that’s where I was initially asked to bat for Pakistan, but the number four slot became available and that’s what I have settled into.
There’s obviously a lot of competition for the top order spots and a lot of the guys want to bat in the top four, but I’m delighted that I’ve been given the opportunity to bat in this position. I think it also suggests that both Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq feel that they can trust me at number four and feel that I am responsible enough to bat in that position.
Misbah-ul-Haq was batting at the number four position in one-day internationals before me and I think it’s a fantastic gesture from him to let me bat in his position and to move himself down the order to number five. There’s a lot of pressure on you when you are batting at number three or number four but the fact that I’ve been told to bat in that position really fills me with confidence and I hope to replay the faith shown in me by my captains.
PP: What was it like to face Dale Steyn so early in your international career?
Sohaib Maqsood: When I went out to bat against South Africa I completely blanked it out of my mind that I was facing the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. If you panic and it plays on your mind that you are facing Steyn, then you may struggle. But it’s not easy to face bowlers of that calibre, they prepare well, they do their homework on each batsman and they come hard at you. I wanted to be positive and not to get under pressure and to stay calm and focussed and to forget who I was facing.
PP: Dale Steyn is never short of offering advice to the opposition batsmen. Did he offer you any “words of wisdom?”
SM: I think they took it easy against me as I was the newcomer and they didn’t really know me at first. However after I hit my first boundary against South Africa off the bowling of Tsotsobe, the whole team seemed to come hard at me and had plenty to say to me. For a few minutes I was quite nervous about what was going on out in the middle as I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. Fielders seemed to come at me from everywhere offering some advice and various other words which I won’t repeat. However at that time I was batting with Misbah-ul-Haq and I had the best possible teacher with me to guide me and back me. Misbah offered me some advice of his own and told me not to worry about what was being said to me by the South Africans and to just concentrate on my own game and to not lose focus.
I took the attack to the opposition in my first match against South Africa despite us having lost three wickets in the space of two or three overs and I think that came as a bit of a surprise to them. Normally players who are making their one day debut go into their shell but I never did that and I think that’s why there were quite a few words coming in my direction from the South Africans.
PP: The Pakistani dressing room in limited overs chases appears to be quite a nervous place. Is that an accurate assumption?
SM: No I don’t think it’s a nervous place. I just think that sometimes there is a problem chasing targets and that can play on some player’s minds. Each team has strengths and weaknesses and sometimes when you have faltered in the past, that can play on your mind and appear to be a weakness. I don’t think though that there is any huge problem chasing targets or that we don’t fancy batting second in limited overs internationals.
PP: Do you feel you are ready for Test cricket?
SM: If you begin thinking about playing in this format and that format for your country, it can start playing on your mind and you end up losing what you have and are performing well in. If you start thinking too far ahead instead of concentrating on the present then that can be your downfall.
I was given an opportunity to play for Pakistan in the twenty over format and I was delighted with that. Then I was picked for the one-day side and that made me even happier. It’s my responsibility and mine alone to make sure I do well and perform on a consistent basis whenever I am picked. It’s my responsibility to score runs and to show the selectors what I am capable of. I think I can do well in the longer format of Test cricket. I’ve done well in the longer formats in First-Class cricket and hopefully when the opportunity presents itself I won’t let anyone down.
PP: What was it like to work with Dav Whatmore and what advice did he offer you?
SM: Dav was always very positive about me and my batting. Even before I played for Pakistan he was very supportive. He watched me ahead of the tour of Zimbabwe when there were some issues about my weight and levels of fitness and said to me that he really liked the way I bat and he said that my approach to batting was very good.
Dav advised me to lose some weight as he thought that would have a positive impact on my cricket. I appreciated the words of encouragement from Dav and I acted upon his advice and I shed 10-12 kilograms ahead of my international debut. Dav only mentioned the issue of weight to me as he really wanted me to do well and play international cricket. I’m thankful for Dav’s support and advice and wish him well for the future.
PP: The fitness issues are they now over or are there still some concerns in your mind?
SM: Losing the excess weight has really benefited me. I feel more confident and I feel a lot fitter than I did before I played international cricket. I had to put in a lot of hard work but I think it was worth it. By losing weight the right way through training I definitely feel a lot stronger and I’m sure it will benefit me in the long term. It was vital for me to be in top shape before I made my international debut and removing any doubts about my fitness has been very important to me.
PP: Your back foot drive through the covers reminds many of a former Pakistan batsman hailing from the same city as you. I am of course referring to Inzamam-ul-Haq. Do you think the comparisons are unfair on you?
SM: The comparisons are very flattering, but we have to be careful not to label a cricketer as the next Inzamam or the next Wasim [Akram] or Waqar [Younis]. When I hear people comparing me to Inzamam, I think that it’s just way too early to compare me with a legend like Inzamam. If I can end my career with half of the runs and performances that Inzamam had for Pakistan, I’ll be a very happy and satisfied man.
Inzamam and Jacques Kallis have always been my favourite cricketers and being the same height as Inzamam and playing for the same club in Multan, I guess people are always going to compare myself to Inzamam. Even when I saw the replays of myself batting for Pakistan, when we were analysing the match, I thought yes, that shot through the off-side was like Inzamam’s and it does resemble the shot he would play.
It’s a strange feeling when people compare me with Inzamam as it puts a lot of pressure on me but also encourages me too. I just want to work hard and try to be the player Inzamam was.
PP: Speaking of Jacques Kallis, were you able to spend much time with him when you played against him?
SM: Jacques is the only cricketer I have ever asked for a picture with and I told him that before the Pakistan A tour match against South Africa. It was a dream come true to meet Jacques. Unfortunately though for Jacques I got him out in that match, but he raised a smile when he realised it was me that got him out! However when he came to bat and hit one of his trademark shots through the off side for four, I said to one of my team-mates that it was worth being on the field just to watch that shot from Kallis. It was an absolute honour to be on the same field as Jacques and it’s really sad that I won’t be able to watch him bat any more in Test cricket.
It was a great experience meeting him, watching him bat from close quarters and being on the same field as him. I never thought that I would ever get the chance to be on the same cricket field as the great Jacques Kallis. It’s something that I will always cherish.
PP: It must be useful for the upcoming batsmen like yourself to have an experienced campaigner like Misbah-ul-haq to guide you at the start of your international career?
SM: He’s a terrific man. He’s one of the nicest people I have ever met. He’s very cool and calm and he really does help the younger players a lot. Misbah’s an inspiration and role model for cricketers like myself. The way he handles pressure and applies himself and sets an example is just exceptional.
He wants the young players to do well, he enjoys seeing young cricketers from Pakistan doing well. He’s not selfish at all by insisting that he bats at a certain position, he would rather see young cricketers flourishing in the Pakistan team than adopt a selfish attitude and hog the limelight.
PP: What do you think of Pakistan’s chances at the upcoming Asia Cup and the ICC World Twenty20?
SM: I think we are strong contenders in both tournaments. We’ve been playing some excellent cricket in the limited overs formats in recent times. We played well in South Africa and we played well against Sri Lanka also and the games we’ve lost recently have been very close.
We’ve had a good year last year in twenty over cricket and were close to being the number one ranked team in this format. With both tournaments being held in Bangladesh it gives us a real boost as conditions will suit our side, particularly our spinners. I really fancy our chances in both tournaments.
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