Asad Shafiq had a good outing in the Test series against England © Getty Images
Asad Shafiq had a good outing in the Test series against England © Getty Images

Sami Aslam’s rise in the space of two innings during the third Test against England at Edgbaston has served as a timely reminder for those who have been concerned about the lack of emerging young batting talent in Pakistan. The lack of public interest in domestic cricket, which in turn has been fuelled by the absence of international cricket in Pakistan has obviously slowed down the discovery of such talent. However, in the likes of the 20-year-old Imran Butt, there is ample proof of belief in a bright future for Pakistan cricket.  Full Cricket Scorecard: Pakistan vs England, 4th ODI at Headingley

Having performed well in last year’s domestic season, where he scored 421 runs in just 8 games, Imran Butt recently played in the Bolton Cricket League for Little Hulton before returning back to Pakistan, where he is participating in the ongoing National Twenty20 Cup.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Imran spoke about the reasons behind his stint in league cricket in England, his aspirations to succeed in domestic cricket with a goal to play for Pakistan and what Asad Shafiq’s success in Test cricket means for young cricketers in Pakistan. READ: Kohli is batsman who I respect and admire, says Aslam

Asif Iqbal, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad and Majid Khan are some of the well-known Pakistan batsmen who have graced English cricket fields in the past. The great Imran Khan has always suggested stints in England as a perfect learning opportunity for Pakistan players. This is the same reason why Imran Butt decided to spend time in England as he explained, “I have been playing domestic cricket in Pakistan for the past four years even though I was being offered some lucrative contracts to play league cricket in the UK. The idea was to focus on special camps held for young and emerging players in Pakistan. However, my seniors advised me to go to England to play cricket, as it would be a very useful experience for me. In England, you get to play on very difficult pitches for batsmen that provides one with a good opportunity to improve skills and also learn to survive as a batsman under such tough conditions.”

Whilst Imran was not entirely satisfied with his performance in England, the experience he has taken back to Pakistan will stand him in good stead stating, “As an overseas professional, you are entrusted to act as the backbone of the team’s batting line-up; and whilst that can put pressure on you to perform, it is undoubtedly great for my development as a batsman. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to perform to my expectations, but I am happy about the positives I have gained during this time. In this respect, I would say that apart from refining skills, my temperament has improved a lot during this stint. I am now looking forward to the upcoming domestic season where my experience from English League cricket will definitely come in handy.”

With the success Imran has had at the domestic level, it is refreshing to see that instead of resting on his laurels, the success is actually driving him towards more introspection. Despite less than ideal conditions in domestic cricket, the young batsman has clearly set higher goals for himself as was evident from his line of thought. READ: Pakistan are No. 1 and cricket is proud of it

“To be brutally honest, I haven’t done as well as I should have done in domestic cricket, and there is room for improvement. However, I do have a strong belief in my capabilities and I do think that if I can continue improving in domestic cricket, I can serve Pakistan as an opening batsman in future. Obviously for my dreams to become reality, I will need to work hard and aim for a domestic average above 50. It won’t be easy as you can get to play on pitches that are not conducive to good batting, like when you are representing departments where you play on grounds all over the country. It would be better to play in regional games where you can show your abilities on good pitches like the ones in Lahore. Regardless of where you play in Pakistan, the cricket is not easy and if one can emerge with a good average then you are undoubtedly a good player and that’s the level I want to attain for myself.”

To many Pakistan cricket followers, the sight of a young Pakistan batsman playing a near match saving innings against overwhelming odds would have been one to cherish forever. In two fantastic innings of 82 and 70 at Edgbaston, Sami Aslam embodied the promise of what the younger generation can bring to Pakistan cricket. To Imran Butt who was Sami’s stable mate in the Under 19 days, the example of the young opener is one that will bring new hope to the younger batsmen in Pakistan.

“Sami Aslam and I batted together in U-19 cricket and I am pleased to see him play for Pakistan. To be honest, he has consistently performed well and therefore deserves a chance to represent the country. His elevation to play for the senior team serves as an excellent reminder for all other youngsters as it shows how by applying ourselves, we can make a difference and ensure a brighter future for the country.”

The Pakistan domestic season has kicked off with the National Twenty20 Cup where Imran Butt is playing for the Lahore Whites team. Whilst Twenty20 cricket is a popular brand of cricket, which can turn any player into a star, Imran knows that the real challenge lies in his performance for his First-Class side SNGPL, which can lead to a place in the Pakistan team. READ: Misbah-ul-Haq should continue to play for Pakistan: Javed Miandad

To achieve this aim, the young opener has his work cut-out; a fact that he acknowledged stating that,  “I am looking forward to continue playing for the SNGPL team in the next season but rest assured that my goal is not just to score a hundred or a fifty here and there. What I am interested in is ensuring that my next innings is always better than the previous one. It’s not about just the number of runs but the quality of those runs, even if it is a thirty-plus score it has to be one that counts for the team in the final analysis. Each innings I play needs to be a better effort and should show that I have improved. Of course, in terms of personal future goals, I would like to convert most of my eighty-plus scores to hundreds which I have failed to do in the past. And if by achieving these goals I am also able to secure a place in the Pakistan side, then I will do my utmost to continue performing and establishing myself in the team.”

There is no shortcut to success, and in Pakistan cricket where the competition for places would be a tough one, it is important that any player dreaming of a place in the national side has a plan of action and a clear roadmap to move forward. Imran Butt has no doubts as to what route he intends to take to success but knows that any path forward has to be reinforced with pure hard work. READ: Is this the beginning of Pakistan’s resurgence?

“One needs to take a step-by-step approach in life, and the same applies to cricket where there is a long-term goal of playing for the national team. In my case, I started with the U-19s; then went on to play First-Class cricket with regional and then departmental teams. A place in the Pakistan A team is my next object of focus; but without work and self-improvement, this goal cannot be accomplished. Regardless of whether I end up playing for Pakistan or not, at the end of the day, I am a professional cricketer and my aim is to play good cricket at whichever level I get a chance to play at.”

One of the main architects of Pakistan’s Test success in the summer of 2016 was the unassuming Asad Shafiq. His success in a format which is not known for elevating players to star level as compared to the more lucrative limited-overs format is a prime example of how younger players like Imran Butt can look to contribute to take Pakistan cricket to new heights.

Asad Shafiq’s success at the Test level hasn’t come without intense effort and Imran Butt knows that he will need to follow a similar path if he is to achieve success in the future. He adds, “Asad Shafiq is a role model for young cricketers in Pakistan. He is an underrated player as he doesn’t play the more popular Limited-Over format cricket but if you look at his Test record, you will note that he has scored well under all types of batting conditions.” READ: The day Pakistan became Misbah-ul-Haq

“His contribution towards Pakistan’s historical rise to the number one position in Tests is well known. For other youngsters, Asad’s performance in Tests is an eye-opener as it tells them that a player can become famous by playing Test cricket and that limited-overs cricket is not the only way to progress. Asad Shafiq’s career is a shining example for someone like me. Just like Asad, I am ready to work hard with dedication to play for Pakistan, no matter which format of the game,” he concluded.

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)