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By Saj Sadiq
Born in Swabi, 27-year-old leg-spinner Yasir Shah has represented Pakistan on three occasions, twice in Twenty20 Internationals as well as in one solitary One-Day International. His Pakistan debut came over nine years after his first-class debut in 2001, and he began his international career with a spell of 2-51 against Zimbabwe. He took the wickets of Vusi Sibanda and Tatenda Taibu as he helped Pakistan to victory by 28 runs.
Since his brief stint with the Pakistan team, Yasir Shah has continued to impress in domestic cricket with a bowling average of 25.49 in First-Class cricket as well as an average of 27.01 in List A cricket. He has also demonstrated his ability with the bat, crossing the 50 mark on eight occasions with a top score of 71. He’s also had an excellent President’s Cup so far this year for SNGPL, having taken 24 wickets in six matches at an average of just 15.41. He also played a key role in helping his team reach the Final of the Faysal Bank T20 Cup for Departments, finishing with an outstanding economy rate of 5.04 as well as taking 7 wickets at an average of 16.57.
In an exclusive interview with Pakpassion.net, Shah spoke on a variety of subjects including why he chose to become a leg-spinner, how the lack of international cricket in Pakistan is hurting the younger players, and his ambitions for a recall to the national side.
PakPassion.net: Most youngsters in Pakistan want to be fast bowlers or batsmen, why did you want to be a leg-spinner?
Yasir Shah: I started playing cricket at the age of 11. I wanted to be a batsman at that age, but when I saw the great Shane Warne bowling on TV, my focus shifted towards leg-spin bowling and that’s when I turned myself into a leg-spinner. However, I am also a great admirer of the legendary Abdul Qadir. Whenever I feel the need to improve my bowling skills or need advice on aspects of my bowling, I consult him and he (Qadir) has always helped me with some useful tips. He is the greatest among Pakistani leg-spinners and his advice has always been very valuable to me.
PakPassion.net: You have made just three appearances for Pakistan. That must be disappointing…
Yasir Shah: There is no such disappointment to be honest. I am simply trying to do my level best to perform in domestic circuit. My sole aim is to perform well and the rest is up to the selectors. It’s their job to select the best team possible for Pakistan and I hope I can impress them with my match performances. As far as my stint with Pakistan is concerned, I took 2-51 from my 10 overs in my only ODI, but then Shahid Afridi made a comeback, so I didn’t get to play any more matches. I’m waiting patiently for another opportunity to play for Pakistan and will not disappoint anyone, whenever I get the next chance to play for my country.
PakPassion.net: In recent times, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA areas seem to be providing a lot of cricketing talent for Pakistan. The most recent one being Usman Khan Shinwari. What is the reason for this upsurge of talent?
Yasir Shah: Yes, definitely! A lot of the players coming through are very talented. They are performing well and that’s the reason they are getting to play for Pakistan. They are simply being selected on merit. Take the case of Usman Khan Shinwari, he’s a very fine bowler and a hardworking one. Due to his achievements in the recently-concluded T20 Cup for Departments, he was selected to play for Pakistan in the T20Is against Sri Lanka. Although he didn’t do as well as what we all expected in the matches he played in, we all hope and pray that he will get more chances and will improve with time.
PakPassion.net: The recent defeat to ZTBL in the President’s Cup T20 Final must have hurt?
Yasir Shah: Winning and losing is a part and parcel of cricket. When two teams play each other, at the end of the day, one has to win and the other has to lose. We did our best and put in our efforts in that final match, but unfortunately we lost by 78 runs. Defeat was in our fate that day, unfortunately. Fact is that T20 cricket is a very fast paced game and you have to take quick decisions in it. Our fielding and our batting collapsed that day, which didn’t help our cause. Usman Khan Shinwari bowled outstandingly well and swung the ball a lot and he took wickets at the right times and we were reduced to 9/4 at one stage, but I thought we did extremely well to post 106 runs on the board. Had we kept wickets in hand, we could have chased that target, but it was not to be and all the credit goes to Usman Khan Shinwari who finished with fantastic figures of 5-9.
PakPassion.net: The number of leg spinners coming through in Pakistan has dramatically reduced, why do you think is that happening?
Yasir Shah: I believe there are still a large number of leg-spinners in our domestic circuit, and there will be more who will come through as long as they get chances to prove themselves. Usman Qadir, the son of Abdul Qadir, is a prime example. He has some notable performances at the U19 and the U21 level so there is a lot of talent but as I said, the spinners from our country need an opportunity to show their talent. If you take the examples of Fawad Ahmed of Swabi who has played for Australia just recently, or Imran Tahir of Lahore who is now an integral part of the South African side, you can see what spinners from our part of the world can do when provided that opportunity.
PakPassion.net: What’s it like working with Basit Ali and what areas of your game has he told you to work on to improve? What is the effect of his coaching on the rest of the team?
Yasir Shah: Basit bhai (Basit Ali) is a wonderful coach. The best part about him is that he not only advises me on my bowling, but he has also helped to improve my batting considerably. That has been very helpful in my development as a cricketer. As far as his influence on the rest of the team is concerned, the results are there for all to see. Despite the absence of our senior players such as Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Umar Akmal and Bilawal Bhatti, we are No 1 and No 2 in four-day and one-day cricket respectively. We seem to be playing better and in a more organised manner. It’s also a great sign that our youngsters have stepped up in the absence of the the “big name” players.
PakPassion.net: The likes of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi aren’t going to be around forever, do you see a comeback to international cricket for yourself as and when these star performers leave the international scene?
Yasir Shah: Both of these bowlers are great names in Pakistani cricket and I hope and pray that they will serve Pakistan cricket for a long time. As mentioned before, I am simply waiting for my chance to represent Pakistan again. The way I am doing this is by putting my best effort into my bowling, batting and fielding and hopefully, my hard work will pay off very soon. I average 25 and 27 in First-Class and List A cricket respectively, so I hope my performances will be noticed by the selectors and I will make a comeback soon.
PakPassion.net: Were you surprised at how much the Pakistan batsmen struggled against Imran Tahir, as generally it’s regarded that Pakistan are decent players of spin?
Yasir Shah: There is no doubt that Imran Tahir is a good bowler. However, I feel our batsmen showed signs of complacency which brought about their demise, but the fact is that he bowled really well at times. Even a less well known leg-spinner like Sri Lanka’s Seekkuge Prasanna took two crucial wickets the other day against Pakistan so the solution is to face more and more leg-spin bowling in order to improve. We must have a specialist leg-spinner in our team, not only for Test matches, but for the shorter formats as well. We need to face as much leg-spin bowling as possible in order to be able to play it.
PakPassion.net: Your friend Junaid Khan is really doing well for Pakistan, you must be delighted for him?
Yasir Shah: Of course! I am extremely glad for him. He’s worked very hard on his bowling. He was not that effective at the U19 level, but he has improved a lot since then, which is a great omen. The best part is that he always wants to learn and whenever he has been given a chance to play for Pakistan, he has obliged by performing well on the field. He is a greatly improved bowler as his recent performances have shown against Sri Lanka and South Africa. He can only get better as he spends more time with the national team and is guided by top coaches and players.
PakPassion.net: How is the lack of international cricket in Pakistan hurting players at a domestic level? Is the media doing enough to promote the newer players?
Yasir Shah: It hurts us, for sure. Had we been playing international cricket in Pakistan, we would have produced a lot more youngsters capable of holding their own at an international level. What we have now is that our team plays all its cricket abroad and takes one or two young players in the squad which really isn’t enough. Domestic players have less chances of being exposed to foreign teams and picking up experience. Not playing against touring sides is definitely hurting the progress of young Pakistani cricketers.
In terms of the role of media, I have to say that I am really disappointed by the lack of telecasting of our domestic matches. I know not every first-class match can be televised, but matches being played at the Gaddafi Stadium here in Lahore and the National Stadium in Karachi should be shown on TV. Players will obviously perform and feel better when they know that they are being given importance by the presence of TV cameras in the ground and people round the country are watching them play.
PakPassion.net: You are an excellent fielder. Why do you think it is that Pakistan struggles to produce high quality fielders?
Yasir Shah: We just have to put in more effort to save runs in the field. You have to anticipate the ball even before the batsman has hit it. It’s not very difficult to do, you just need to focus and it will work in your favour. My secret of fielding well is that I give my 100 percent in the field and try to save as many runs as I can. I enjoy fielding well and as long as you enjoy something you tend to do it well.
PakPassion.net: There are a lot of low scores in domestic cricket in Pakistan these days, why do you think that is?
Yasir Shah: (Laughs) No, the pitches are not the factor! What we have are very good quality fast bowlers in domestic cricket. If I take one of our recent matches against State Bank of Pakistan as an example, you will see that our fast bowlers bowled their heart out. We posted 403 runs on the board, which exerted extra pressure on our opposition. We then put them under further pressure as they were reduced to 114/7. The Grays ball maybe was a factor, but then our fast bowlers, which include Imran Ali and Samiullah Khan Niazi knew their line and length and stuck to it and got rewarded in the end.
PakPassion.net: Any young cricketers who have impressed you in domestic cricket recently?
Yasir Shah: There are quite a few players who have impressed me a lot. Imran Khan has been a fine performer this season and Imran Ali is another one. Sharjeel Khan, due to his consistency, has been rewarded with a Pakistan call-up on merit. Bilawal Bhatti has also been very impressive and he’s also part of the Pakistan team now. He’s a very fine all-round cricketer. If these players will continue to work hard, they will become permanent members of our national team.
PakPassion.net: What are your aims and targets for this season?
Yasir Shah: My target for this season is to take 45 and 25 wickets in four-day cricket and one-day cricket respectively. I have had a reasonable start to my campaign and have already taken 23 wickets in four-day cricket and 11 wickets in one-day games. There is still half of the season left to play, so I am very hopeful that I will attain my goals, Inshallah.
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