Mohammad Irfan jr was marked as one of the players to watch out for in PSL 2017 © Getty Images
Mohammad Irfan jr was marked as one of the players to watch out for in PSL 2017 © Getty Images

Marked as one of the players to watch out for in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2017, Mohammad Irfan was a key player for Lahore Qalandars in their unsuccessful quest for the title in this edition. At 21, Irfan had the opportunity to debut  in the PSL. He had been picked by the Lahore Qalandars franchise, based on some excellent First-Class performances and the youngster did not disappoint, picking up 7 wickets with best figures of 3 for 26 against the eventual finalists, Quetta Gladiators.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Irfan spoke at length about his experience in the PSL including his interaction with Brendon McCullum, bowling against an on-song Kevin Pietersen his aspirations of representing Pakistan in the future.

Irfan started his cricket playing the tape-ball version but given his height, he was encouraged from a young age to bowl fast as he explained, “I started playing cricket at school level from my home city, Nankana Sahib, where I used to play in tape-ball cricket games. I progressed to hard-ball cricket during school years but I was primarily a batsman. I was then advised to bowl more as my height would help in that case. I took on that advice and have concentrated on bowling more than batting for the rest of my career.”

Irfan’s First-Class debut with Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) in November 2014 appeared to have marked the start of a wonderful journey. , But like many cricketers of his age, the exposure that one can get from a tournament as intense as PSL was missing. However, all that changed when Irfan was picked for the Lahore Qalandars.

“All players dream of playing in high-profile tournaments such as the PSL and I was no different. The exposure one gets by playing against and alongside some great names of world cricket is not comparable to any other form of domestic cricket. The fact that I debuted in the Twenty20 format in this tournament, despite being involved in First-Class cricket for almost three years, is also something I will remember for a while,” Irfan said.

“I was also lucky that I had a captain like Brendon McCullum who guided me during the tournament and I also got the experience of sharing the dressing room with some big names of international cricket as well,” Irfan added.

The effect on the confidence of any young player when playing with the likes of McCullum would be indescribable. Irfan, for his part, was not only impressed by McCullum’s record but was appreciative about his leadership skills as well.

He said, “Brendon McCullum is undoubtedly one of the top international players and I was glad that I had the honour to play under him. However, above all, what really impressed me was the fact that he never showed any signs of superiority in that respect in his dealing with me. And I was also lucky to have another very experienced player in the shape of Grant Elliot who became good friends with me and continues to advise me even after the end of the PSL. The fact is that all of the senior players in the team, regardless of their stature in international cricket would encourage and motivate me throughout the tournament.”

Regardless of the PSL’s success, the darker side of the game in terms of the spot-fixing scandal was something which no cricket player or fan could ignore. With five cricketers accused of involvement in corruption during the PSL 2017, it comes as no surprise that players like McCullum were quick to impart important lessons to young understudies such as Irfan.

“I think the most important lessons I learnt from my association with Brendon McCullum was that I had no reason to fear the opposition or worry when things were not going my way. But given what has happened recently, he also emphasised to me that greed was something that could destroy good cricketers and we could already see examples of that around us,” Irfan said.

A young bowler still learning the tricks at the top-level needs a good teacher, and Irfan has been lucky to have one of his coaches in Aaqib Javed.

“Aaqib Javed really has been an excellent influence on me during the PSL and also for almost three months before the tournament as I was training with the Lahore Qalandars during that period. There was a lot of important advice given to me in the nets and I did a lot of gym work under his guidance. He told me to stick to what I knew best in bowling and to be strong mentally,” he said.

“He also did work with me on yorkers and made sure that he was available to me for advice on all technical matters. The effects of that help, I suppose, showed in my performances in the PSL. Here, I must also mention that since I have played for the Rana Naved-ul-Hasan academy for the last three years, I have also learnt a lot from Rana bhai and the basis for my progress was really built upon my association with him,” he said.

The participation in the Pakistan Super League was an important milestone for the young pacer but whilst it would be easy to get lost in the hype, Irfan knows well that there were some hard lessons as well. Such an opportunity came during a high-scoring game against Quetta Gladiators where Irfan’s adversary was Pietersen.

“You can never stop learning in the game of cricket and that high scoring game against Quetta Gladiators in Sharjah will sit in my memory for a while for this reason alone. This was the game where Kevin Pietersen showed us all why he is rated as the top batsman in this format. I had clean bowled him for 3 in my first encounter in Dubai but this time he had the better of me. When I came on to bowl, McCullum advised me to bowl a yorker to Pietersen but he turned that into a low full-toss and hit me out of the ground,” he said.

“He did the same to the other balls I bowled and hit 4 sixes in total. I was a little taken-aback but McCullum told me to not worry as this can happen to the best of the bowlers in their careers. The main thing McCullum advised me was to learn from this experience and not fear any batsman’s reputation. But I will admit that I had some nerves before I bowled to KP as at the back of my mind was the fact, that I could become very famous if I could get such a big player out but sadly it was not to be,” Irfan added.

Talking about the PSL final which was played in Lahore, Irfan said, “The PSL final in Lahore was a proud moment. As Lahore Qalandars, we would have loved to be playing in the final in Lahore but we were happy that throughout the tournament we could provide the spectators with some top-level entertainment with some very close games. But to be honest, as a Pakistani first, I felt more happiness at the final being played on our home soil than any feeling of disappointment for our team not making it to the finals.”

The young fast bowler is confident that he will overcome the setbacks that he faced recently, and represent Pakistan at the highest level. “I had a bit of a setback as despite being hopeful of a place in the recently concluded U-23 team for the Emerging Teams Asia Cup, I could not make it to the final squad. I am also not included in the teams for the Pakistan One-Day Cup but I am not letting these setbacks discourage me. I will continue working hard and I intend to show the selectors that I am capable of representing Pakistan in the future.”