I want to emulate Joe Root by breaking into the England side: Moin Ashraf

In 2012, Moin Ashraf took 17 wickets in eight Championship matches to help Yorkshire clinch their return to Division One with a comprehensive victory over Essex at Chelmsford in the last match of the season © Getty Images

A Bradford-born fast-medium bowler, Moin Ashraf made his First-Class debut against Loughborough University in May 2010. He signed his first professional contract for Yorkshire at the end of the 2010 season, having made an impact in the last two matches of the Championship season by taking three wickets on his debut in a win over Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. He followed it up with five for 32 against Kent at Headingley.

In 2012, Ashraf took 17 wickets in eight Championship matches, including four for 36 in the first innings to help Yorkshire clinch their return to Division One with a comprehensive victory over Essex at Chelmsford in the last match of the season.

Ashraf made a big contribution to Yorkshire’s Friends Provident Twenty20 campaign last season in which they were runners-up to Hampshire. His 15 wickets in the competition included a career-best four for 18 against Derbyshire. 

He was selected for the Potential England Performance Programme Squad for the 2011-12 winter which involved attendance of the ECB’s National Academy in Loughborough, a three-week camp in Sri Lanka and fast-bowler training in India.

In an exclusive interview with Pakpassion.net, Ashraf talks about his early days as a cricketer, his experience of working with Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, the spoof Moin Ashraf Twitter account and his future aspirations.

PakPassion.net (PP): A lot of Asian youngsters have their heart set on being a cricketer but only a few make it. Tell us about how you got into cricket and how the interest built.

Moin Ashraf (MA): My father and my uncles originally played cricket. [They] used to play hard-ball cricket and tennis-ball cricket in fields when they came over from Pakistan to England in the early 1970s. My uncles were the ones who transferred from field cricket with the hard ball to actually going on and playing for [the] village or amateur teams. 

Then, it was my brothers who took it from there. They used to play cricket at semi-professional level and got paid to play league cricket. When I was about 10-years-old, I would go watch them play and my appetite for cricket also came from watching it on television. My dad and other family members used to watch a lot of cricket on television. Then, at family gatherings, a lot of the talk would be about cricket, so there was no escaping it.

As a youngster I played a lot of tennis-ball cricket or tape-ball cricket and that helped greatly. At 10, my brother took me to my first trial at Idle Cricket Club in Bradford, which is a ten-minute drive from my house. He was playing for Idle Cricket Club and wanted to get me out of the house and to mingle and socialise with people at the cricket club, so it was more of a social thing initially as opposed to trying to build on any cricketing skills. My brother took me there and they liked me. I played for the Under-10s, Under-12s and Under-13s at the age of 10 and then I played for the Under-15s as well. 

At 13, I moved from Idle to Pudsey St Lawrence and played there for three years. From there I made a move which was quite bizarre for a 15-year-old, but it was a move that we thought of collectively as a family and a move where we thought I would get to play more first-team cricket. One of my brothers had got a contract in Leicester to play for a club called Syston. When he went there he took me along with him and I played for the first team. I didn’t get the opportunity to play first team cricket at Pudsey St Lawrence, so I played a season there which benefited me greatly. I came back to the Bradford League and that is when, at [the] Under-16 level, I got my first call-up for Yorkshire. After that I missed half a season and I wasn’t selected for the Under-17s, as at Under 16s you don’t play much cricket because of the GCSE exams.

I didn’t play for the Under-17s because I wasn’t good enough, but then I played for the Bradford League White Rose which is the Under-21 team. One of the Yorkshire coaches was there and he took a liking to me. From then on I played for the Under-17s and in that particular season, if I am not mistaken, I was the leading wicket-taker for the Under-17s at the age of 16 and that is when I got my first academy call-up for Yorkshire. That benefited me greatly and I never looked back from there. I spent two years in the academy and then when I was 18 I played my first county game for Yorkshire. 

PP: Was fast bowling something you always wanted to do? 

MA: It was something I always did. I always bowled, and I always tried to bowl fast. When you play cricket in the streets, as a kid you are naive. You don’t really think about spinning or swinging the ball; all you think is that the main purpose as a spin bowler is you bowl slow and as a fast bowler you bowl it fast. I never looked to bowl slow; I wasn’t interested in bowling slow and I just wanted to run in and bowl as fast as I could. Then, when my cricket became more structured rather than just running in and bowling fast, I worked alongside my coaches and we tried to make my action as economical as possible at an early age to allow me to bowl quickly without too much stress on my body.

PP: Who were your heroes growing up? Was there a fast bowler you looked to emulate?

MA: I don’t have too many heroes, but I have different types of heroes in life. I think Imran Khan is a massive role model for me, not only for what he’s done inside cricket but also what he did outside of cricket for the community in Pakistan and for people all over the world. He’s done a huge job in terms of helping and doing charity work, so he is a big role model for me. 

When I was a young bowler, I tried to model my action on Darren Gough because I liked to watch him bowl. He was a fiery character and someone that I looked up to. Then, there were Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, two of the other fast bowlers that I enjoyed watching. I remember growing up in my teens and Shoaib Akhtar was at his optimum and there was no stopping him at that time. He had a few off-field problems and he was banned from the Pakistan team. When I found out about that it broke my heart. As a young boy, seeing Shoaib banned really hurt me, but as I grew up Shoaib made a comeback and did really well so I was really happy for him. I’ve always been a big fan of his.

PP: You’ve mentioned issues with fast bowlers regarding their temperament. Do you it goes hand in hand with being a fast bowler?

MA: I think if you look at the nature of fast bowlers, your heart rate and your anger are kind of hand in hand. You see footballers and how angry they get. They do stuff they would not normally do because their heart rate is so high. Everything is so fast paced. I think with spinners or medium pace bowlers you’re not really at that optimum level, but with fast bowlers your heart rate is constantly up there. Everything’s done at a fast pace so it’s almost natural to react in a fast-paced manner. I don’t think it comes hand in hand, I think there are some fast bowlers that have temperamental issues and some that have it in their nature. 

PP: How would you describe yourself? Would you say you’re one of those aggressive fast bowlers that likes to have a few words with the batsman, or are you one of those laidback bowlers who lets his bowling do the talking?

MA: I’m a bit of both. If anything needs to be said, I’ll say it. But I won’t say anything that’s out of line or unnecessary. I let my bowling do the talking, but if I do need to have a word, if I do need to put someone in their place, I will do [so]. I don’t think I’m the most fiery of characters, I’m quite calm on the pitch as you might have seen on television, I let my bowling do the talking. 

I bowl the ball, but then don’t spend half the time walking down to the batsman and giving him a stare. If that’s necessary I’ll do it, but if it’s not I’ll just bowl what I need to bowl, come back [and] bowl it again. I’ll frustrate the batsman in that way, as opposed to giving him a stare and concentrating more on staring than on what I’m going to bowl and then conceding a boundary.

PP: Joe Root’s had a great start to his international career. You must be looking at him as someone that you and the other Yorkshire youngsters would like to emulate?

MA: Yes, definitely. I’m very happy for Joe, he’s developed into an outstanding cricketer in such a short space of time. He was tipped for success at a very early age, but that doesn’t always turn into success straight away. You have to work hard, and boy, does he work hard! He’s always the first one into the nets and the last one out so he’s always practicing hard. He’s someone I do want to try to emulate by breaking into the England side because he’s done everything in such a short space of time. I think I played county cricket before he did; I started in 2010 and he started his county career in 2011 and he had a fantastic year. That stood him in good stead for having a really good 2012 and it’s taken him two good seasons in county cricket to get into the England side. It shows how quickly things can happen if you do the right things at the right times. So. obviously it’s good for me to look at it in that way and hope I can be doing the same in a year or two. I just need to bide my time and make sure I take the chance if it comes. We’re all really pleased for Joe.

PP: You’re working at Yorkshire with one of the great fast bowlers, former Australian pace bowler Jason Gillespie. He must be fantastic to work with.

MA: Yes, definitely, he’s a great guy and he knows how to treat individuals. He speaks to everyone slightly differently and knows that people have different techniques. So, it’s quite interesting to see him treating people differently. He listens to people’s views; he’s a very good listener and a great help to us all. 

He does have his own thoughts where he thinks you should try to adopt his ideas at times, rather than just thinking that you have your own ideas and that you have to stick with them. There’s a great deal of flexibility in Jason’s coaching methods. For example, we tried the Yorker drills and for some people it worked, and for some it didn’t. For the ones where it doesn’t work, they try and adopt a style where they bowl in the middle of the innings, in a T20, for example. Or there’s a different style for bowling in the Championship format, so it’s very good to have an international approach because he has definitely brought that in. He arguably played for one of the best teams ever, so, learning from that and knowing what they did, and trying to adapt it to our team, is great and it has helped us enormously.

PP: What has Jason Gillespie said to you with respect to your bowling? Are there any specific areas that you are focusing on?

MA: Jason isn’t a massive fan of technique and he just tries to keep things simple. But I’m more of an analytical freak! I think there are always certain changes that are made to the action that cause certain other things to be changed. I think bowlers have a balancing act. 

So, I’m from the school of thought of Steve Oldham, who was the bowling coach when I started and he was my academy coach. Steve analyses bowling actions and he’s a fantastic coach. So, I’ve adopted that style. He always talks about my head going straight down the wicket as opposed to at a 45-degree angle towards gully. He’s always talking about my head going straight down and if my head leads, my front arm will lead, and my front side will lead as well. 

A problem I’ve had in the past is my front side opening up too much too early. So, that results in a crossover of my feet and my back foot not getting around and not having a good pivot to come through. That slows me down so I’m looking to work in a straight line and make sure my feet are in line right as well as trying to stay nice and tall, my front arm and my head going straight down. 

On the bowling side of things, I think Jason just wants me to run in and hit the deck. He says when I do hit the deck, it’s [a] different class. Last year, he said I bowled well in the Championship games that I played in, so he was happy with that and happy that I came in hit the deck and ran in hard. If I continue to keep doing that and getting stronger and fitter, I’ll have a good season hopefully this year.

PP: I watched you bowling in Cardiff last year on Twenty20 finals day and was very impressed with your yorkers. I know Yorkshire lost in the final but that yorker of yours looked good. It’s something that you’ve obviously worked very hard on.

MA: Yes, definitely. I’ve bowled it a lot throughout the age groups. When T20 cricket first came about, I used to watch various teams and when Pakistan won the T20 World Cup in England in 2009, I watched them very closely. One guy that really caught my eye was Umar Gul. I remember he did really well in South Africa as well; he had that long hair and that was Umar Gul in Twenty20s at his best. Recently, he hasn’t been bowling the yorkers very much, but he had this period of two to three years where he bowled devastating yorkers. He bowled them continuously and didn’t stop. He thought, ‘I’m just going to bowl yorkers.’ Even if you try to hit them, you can’t. 

I remember watching two of the World Cups and thinking, “I need to practice that and that; I need to become like that. Become a bowler that can nail those yorkers.” I believe that in the T20 format, the yorker is the hardest ball to hit. Even if you go down to scoop, if you don’t change your length, the yorker is the hardest ball to hit. I don’t think you can scoop a yorker. I’ve done a lot of practice. I remember last year, I used to put a baseball mitt at the stumps and try to hit that mitt for 18 balls. Now, we’ve adopted a new game or theory, ‘The Yorker Goes for Yorkshire’, which helps. You have to try and hit the stumps or hit the base of stumps. It’s fun as well as helping you work on these skills. It’s something that I’ve tried to nail completely and it shows that if you do nail those skills, you can have huge success.

PP: We’ve seen the Pakistan Super League being mentioned recently. It’s been postponed for now but it may well happen later in the year. Is that the sort of tournament that would interest you?

MA: Definitely, but I think that this year for me is probably the wrong time because I’m looking to prepare for the county season. The main thing I want to do is prepare for the Yorkshire county season and it [PSL] would have affected our pre-season, and what we are trying to do at Yorkshire. If I had gone out to play in this Super League, I’d have less time preparing with Yorkshire in Barbados. It’s kind of conflicting and there are other issues. 

You may well see me play in that in the future. It all depends on if it’s the right thing for my development or not. I’ll have to sit down with my team and my representatives and see whether that’s the right thing or the right option for me. I do however think it would be a good option and I think I’d be very interested to play in the future.

PakPassion.net: What’s a Bradford lad doing supporting Arsenal? 

MA: It’s not as simple as that. When I was growing up, obviously Bradford did do well for the season they came into the Championship. But the first game I ever went to watch was an Arsenal game. I went to watch them at Highbury. Growing up, they always played beautiful football. I grew up playing football as well as cricket, but everyone was trying to play like Arsenal. You pass the ball about and keep it simple. I got attracted to that style of football. Since then, I’ve supported Arsenal, but then again I support Bradford as well. As soon as they beat Arsenal in the Carling Cup [now Capital One Cup], I wished them well, and I’m trying to get a hold of a few tickets to go to Wembley to support my local team! If they win, it will be a massive boost for the community.

PP: Tell us about this spoof Moin Ashraf Twitter account. We’ve heard about a few spoof Twitter accounts that haven’t gone down too well with some cricketers. What do you make of this spoof Twitter account of yours and do you think it’s helped your career?

MA: I’ve taken it differently than some other cricketers would. I started off a bit worried; it was on the back of the Kevin Pietersen saga with the England team — that’s when it was first made. I was wondering if it was going to create the same amount of animosity between teammates and if it’s going to say stuff I don’t want it to say and who actually is it. 

But then I’ve seen that I had a tough time at Warwickshire away from home, and he didn’t tweet, so I was pleased to see for a couple of days he didn’t tweet at all. When he didn’t tweet, I realised that he’s in it for my betterment. He’s not looking to take digs at me, or take the mickey out of me, or heckling me in an arrogant way. It’s just a bit of fun, I think. Quite a few of the England players are following it as well. It’s getting me known, but not in a wrong way. It’s just a bit of fun. I’ve never looked at it in a bad way.

PP: Do you know who’s actually operating that Twitter account?

MA: No, I still don’t know. I’d appreciate it if someone came forward. I’d like to thank them because it has gotten me well-known alongside my performances in the T20. That account has benefited me, so if someone does come forward it would be nice.

PP: You said you have a trip to Barbados coming up and then obviously the full season with Yorkshire. What are the short-term goals for this season and then the long-term goals looking ahead for you?

MA: Short-term goals are to play as many games as I can for Yorkshire. I had the same last year as well. I didn’t have a set number of games I should play, I always just try to take one stage of the season at a time and try to take it a step at a time. As a fast bowler, you want to play as many games as you can, but it’s not going to happen due to the workload and the number of overs you have to bowl in a season. 

I want to have another successful Twenty20 season. That would be one thing that’s high on my agenda for this season, as well as featuring in the County Championship and taking quite a few wickets at critical times like I did last year as well. 

In the Pro40, I’d like to do the same as I did last year and have an effective season. All in all, I think it’s something to build on from the foundations of last year. I’m looking to kick on now, take it one step further and hopefully build on last season.

As for the long-term, there’s no secret in me saying that I want to represent my country. I want to play for the best team in the world, to try and make England the best team in the world in all formats. That would be an honour for me and a dream for me to go out and represent my country. This is my country; this is where I was born. This is the country that’s made me who I am today, so it would be nice to go out there and represent them and do my best for them.

PP: Thank you for your time. 

MA: My pleasure.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)