Yasir Arafat still harbours hopes of playing for Pakistan © AFP
By Saj Sadiq
Considered by many as unlucky to not have been a permanent member of the Pakistan team, Yasir Arafat played for Sussex in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and was part of the Sharks side that won the Twenty20 Cup in 2009. He has turned out for five different English counties — Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Lancashire and Somerset and is the leading wicket-taker in the history of domestic Twenty20 in England.
Arafat, who has played three Tests, eleven One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and thirteen Twenty20 Internationals, has appeared in the short format for club sides in Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, Bangladesh and Australia has taken 219 wickets at an average of 20.98 in 171 Twenty20 appearances.
His recent appearance at the Big Bash League 2014 was cut short by an unfortunate thumb injury, however, Arafat performed admirably in the six games he participated in. He took 12 wickets at an impressive average of 14.75 and won two Man of the Match awards, playing an important role for Perth Scorchers, who ultimately went onto win the tournament. The injury to his thumb also prevented his participation in the recently concluded Faysal Bank T20 tournament in Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the Rawalpindi born all-rounder spoke of the frustrating injury at the Big Bash, his hope that he can return to play for Perth Scorchers in the future, his experience of playing cricket in international leagues around the world, his ambition to play for Pakistan in future and how the Pakistani domestic Twenty20 competition could be improved.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion (PP): You were injured mid-way through the Big Bash League. How did that happen?
Yasir Arafat (YA): I was playing against the Adelaide Strikers and whilst we were fielding, I dived to stop the ball and I seemed to dislocate my thumb. My entire weight landed on my thumb and the pain started immediately. Despite the pain, I still managed to bowl my four overs and after the match the physio suggested that the injury wasn’t too serious. However the next day, the pain increased and I got it checked out by the medics and I was told I had some ligament damage. I had some treatment in Australia and it’s beginning to feel better. It should be perfectly fine within two to three weeks.
PP: You must have been very disappointed that you weren’t able to play in the latter part of the tournament?
YA: Yes naturally I was disappointed but on the other hand I was very pleased with my performance. Of the six matches I played, I was Man of the Match in two and was also selected in the Big Bash Dream Team, which was an honour for me and for Pakistan. I took 12 wickets in those six games and was the highest wicket-taker at the time when I was injured. So I was performing well, but injuries are a part of life, particularly for fast bowlers. Insh’Allah (God willing) I will recover soon and will be back playing cricket. It was great to see Perth go on and win the tournament and I was pleased that I played some part in their success.
PP: Despite your injury, you remained with the Perth Scorchers squad throughout the tournament?
YA: Yes I requested to stay with the team but as I had performed so well, they also wanted me to stick around and support them in the latter stages. They wanted me to share my experience with the other all-rounders in the squad and at the same time I was able to get treatment on my injury.
Perth Scorchers were very concerned for me as I had come to play in the Big Bash and had made the effort to participate, and also performed well. So, they wanted me to recover fully before I left which was really nice of them.
PP: You became a firm favourite of the Perth crowd, how did that feel?
YA: I won the Man of the Match award in the first game at Perth, so, I really gained the support of the crowd from game one. Brad Hogg, who is one of the local favourites at Perth, announced on his website that I would be playing for Perth Scorchers and a lot of the fans got behind me as a result.
I’ve had a lot of support on Facebook and Twitter, especially when I got injured as people were disappointed that I wouldn’t be playing. So much so, that people were offering me their own thumbs and hands so I could go out and play for the team when I was injured!
PP: Brad Hogg is in his 40s, yet is still keeping fit and remains so committed. He must be an excellent example and role model as a cricketer?
YA: Yes, many suggest that Twenty20 cricket is a young person’s game yet some of the top performers are around 40 years of age, such as Michael Hussey and Brad Hogg. Even in Pakistan, it’s mainly the more experienced cricketers who are performing well. Hogg is 43 years of age yet his name has been included in Australia’s squad for the upcoming ICC World T20 2014. He really brings a lot of energy to the side.
PP: You were unable to play for Rawalpindi in the recently concluded Faysal Bank T20 Cup. That must also have been very disappointing?
YA: The tournament was organised by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to provide very good practice for the Pakistani players ahead of the World T20 in Bangladesh and it would have been good for myself also, had I been fit. Even though I had just played in the Big Bash and performed well it was still unfortunate that I got injured but I still went to the ground every day to meet my team mates and support them. For now the focus is just to recover from my injury as quickly as possible and to resume playing cricket.
PP: Your name did appear in the initial 30 man provisional squad for the World T20 but you were not picked for the final squad announced recently. How disappointing was that?
YA: I am obviously disappointed as I was hoping that my good performance in this year’s Big Bash, which is really the second biggest tournament after the Indian Premier League (IPL), would have been taken into consideration when this decision was made. However, the selectors did not see it that way and there isn’t much I can do except to keep on working hard and continue performing well.
PP: You’ve played in Twenty20 tournaments around the world, including the Big Bash which is a very well organised tournament with big crowds etc. What can the PCB learn from such tournaments in terms of organisation and arrangements?
YA: There is a world of difference between Pakistan’s domestic Twenty20 tournament and others around the world. The PCB can learn a lot from the organisation of these tournaments. For instance, the itinerary for the County season in England has already been announced months before the start and it’s usually the same for the Big Bash and other domestic tournaments.
Here in Pakistan a tournament is taking place just before the World T20 and half the players know that no matter how well they perform, they’re not going to get selected! On the other hand, the Big Bash was held at just the right time and the players who performed, such as Hogg who wouldn’t usually stand a chance of being chosen under different circumstances, were selected for the World Twenty20.
In addition, our Twenty20 tournaments start and end within six to seven days whereas the IPL or the Big Bash goes on for a month or two. Here you lose a game and you could be out of the tournament straight away, so you end up having to wait another year for a chance to perform. In the other tournaments you get 12-15 matches every year, so, even if you have a couple of bad games, you have the chance to come back.
If we want to maintain the standards of our Twenty20 cricket then we need to consider making these changes. At the moment, we are able to compete with the rest of the world through sheer talent. If we have the right system in place we can become a Twenty20 superpower.
PP: So, in your view, the tournament should be expanded to two to three weeks rather than being one which lasts just four or five days or even a week?
YA: That’s absolutely right and on top of that, we also need to make invest more in such tournaments. If you look at players from other leagues around the world they get proper financial contracts. In Pakistan’s domestic structure, I don’t think they get more than PKR 4,000-5,000 as a match fee. If you convert this amount to the Pounds or Dollars, it amounts to nothing for a club cricketer or a Test cricketer. As I said before, there needs to be a financial investment and the length of the tournaments should be increased, so that if a player gets injured and misses a few matches, he still has a chance to make a comeback.
In Australian domestic cricket, sometimes they have two matches in a day which they broadcast on TV. All our matches should be televised so the players feel the matches being played are close to international standards. If you look at these domestic games, there are sometimes crowds of 15-20 thousand people which is similar to international standards along with commentators who are ex-cricketers or experts.
The fact is that even domestic cricket in some countries is very close to international standards. They have excellent facilities at the ground for teams and management so we should also try to compete and bring our level to the standards of other domestic structures around the world. If we don’t want to compete and just want to hold a tournament for the sake of it, then nothing can be done to improve our situation.
If Pakistan players are not allowed to play in the IPL, then that’s not the end of the world. There are other leagues around the world along with our own domestic tournaments, so there are plenty of opportunities to play cricket
PP: We have recently heard the names of Azhar Mahmood and Azharullah as Pakistani-born cricketers eligible to play for England. Could you tell me what your status is in regards to the qualification period?
YA: The issue of qualification period only arises when you get the nationality or passport of another country. Here in the UK, it really depends on the Home Office as to how long they take but the fact is that the amount of time I am currently spending in the country for qualification purposes is not enough to satisfy their requirements and it’s at their discretion if they grant me status or not.
If this does happen, I will be able to take part in the IPL and other leagues around the world but at the moment I am playing domestic cricket here in England and if hopefully my name comes up for the Pakistan team in the future, I will be more than happy to serve my country as well. All this will become clearer with the passage of time, so let’s see how it goes.
PP: Have you ever thought about playing in the IPL if such an opportunity arises?
YA: No, I haven’t really thought about that opportunity as yet because they are not considering Pakistani players at the moment. But if such an opportunity does come through, I will discuss it with my family and then take a decision. At the moment I’m concentrating on playing domestic cricket in Pakistan and also focusing on getting selected for my national side.
PP: Pakistan is a huge name in the Twenty20 format having players like yourself, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. Do you feel disappointed that Pakistani players are not getting a chance in a big tournament like IPL?
YA: It’s quite simple really. The whole process depends upon the agreements between the boards. For example, the boards of both countries agreed to the India tour by Pakistan last year, with the governments also getting involved to iron out any related issues with the tour. If our board allows us to play in the IPL, we will go there and obviously Pakistan having the best Twenty20 players would make the IPL stronger and similarly the boys will get more experience and exposure through a big tournament. On the other hand if they don’t allow us to play, then that’s not the end of the world. There are other leagues around the world along with our own domestic tournaments, so there are plenty of opportunities to play cricket.
PP: Playing Twenty20 league cricket around the world must be a great experience — one that you can share with the upcoming youngsters as well. Do you think it is beneficial for Pakistani players to play league cricket outside Pakistan?
YA: Of course, it is very beneficial especially for me who has played a lot of cricket overseas and in Pakistan. I have experienced different cultures and lifestyles and learnt how to deal and talk to people from different countries. The County cricket season is like attending an academy with over five or six months of cricket, featuring all the top players from the world. Interacting and playing with such players gives you a lot experience and develops your game.
I always try to share my experiences with the junior level players back home and I always tell them that if they get a chance to play overseas, they should avail that opportunity. It’s not only me but some superstar cricketers in the past such as Imran Khan, Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, all have played County cricket for years and of course they must’ve learnt a lot and also made a name for themselves and for Pakistan. Even I would like to do the same, which is to go out there and represent my country in the best possible way.
PP: You are playing this County season from Sussex. Are you looking forward to playing with the team where you started your County career and also hoping for this to be a successful season?
YA: Certainly, Mushtaq Bhai (Mustaq Ahmed) and I, started our County cricket from Sussex and won a lot of trophies, championships and a Lord’s Final. I played there for three years and had a fabulous time with the coaching staff and players like Luke Wright and Matt Prior. The players know me well and appreciate my performance, as do the supporters who like me as well. On top of that, I live in Kent, which is a neighbouring county and I really do hope that I can go back to Sussex and perform well this season.
PP: You already mentioned you have a desire to represent Pakistan again if given a chance and the fact that you have always performed in every format you represented Pakistan in. Are you hopeful of getting selected for the national team again?
YA: In the last World T20 I played, I took five wickets (three against Bangladesh, two against South Africa) in four matches. My performances were decent against Australia in Dubai where I took two wickets and against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, where I took three wickets in the first match. I consider myself quite unfortunate to have been dropped from the World Cup and then that whole year I didn’t get a chance to play again.
This year, once again, my name featured in the 30 probables for the ICC World T20 2014 and with the kind of performances I had given in the Big Bash League, I was hoping that I would get selected again and be able to represent Pakistan. However, this did not happen but I am still hopeful of representing my country in the future on as many occasions as possible.
(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)