Saud Shakeel has so far lead his team against the Afghanistan Under-19 in Lahore and in the recently-concluded series against Kenya Under-19 in Nairobi © Getty Images (File Photo)
Saud Shakeel has so far lead his team against the Afghanistan Under-19 in Lahore and in the recently-concluded series against Kenya Under-19 in Nairobi © Getty Images (File Photo)

By Amir Husain

The 19-year-old Saud Shakeel is one of the brightest young prospects in Pakistan cricket. He has been in headlines since Shakeel started playing in Under16 tournaments in 2011 and then onto the inter-region Under-19 level, where he played for Karachi Whites and Karachi Zone. He then went to play in the Inter-Region/Department tournaments where he represented the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). His proudest moment came in early 2014 where he was a finalist in the ICC Under-19 World Cup.

Recently promoted as the captain of the Pakistan Under-19 side, Shakeel has so far lead his team against the Afghanistan Under-19 in Lahore and in the recently-concluded series against Kenya Under-19 in Nairobi, which ended in 5-0 whitewash for the visitors. Not only did Shakeel lead his team to victory, he also had a fantastic tour due to his own performances which earned him two Man of the Match awards for innings of 121 and 112.

A clearly elated Pakistan Under-19 captain spoke exclusively to PakPassion about his role as captain, the importance of Under-19 tours for the development of young players, the unsuccessful series against Afghanistan, his aspirations for the future and Pakistan Under-19’s chances at the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016.

PakPassion (PP): When did you start to play cricket and who were your role models or the players you respect?

Saud Shakeel (SS): I started to attend an academy when I was just 10-year-old. It was next to my house so I didn’t have to travel far, which really helped. In terms of role models, initially it was the Australian batsman Matthew Hayden. Then, when I started to bat at the No. 3 position in my younger years, it was Sri Lanka‘s Kumar Sangakkara who I idolised. Although as a Pakistani, I have to say that I respect all our players equally but since I get to practice a lot with Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, then I would say that these two have a lot of influence on my cricket.

PP: How competitive is the Under-19 set up in Pakistan?

SS: In Pakistan we have a three-day and a one-day Under-19 tournament and those who play in this competition are of similar ages, and you are pitted against the top performers from their respective regions. So it’s quite competitive as only the best get selected to play in this tournament and the competition is very intense.

PP : What sort of a setup is there for the Under-19s in terms of regional teams, clubs and tournaments?

SS: In terms of tournaments and setups, this year we are just playing regional tournaments. Last year there were departments playing as well and I represented NBP. The standard of cricket was very high and it was definitely tough to play in. We do have clubs but those contain a mixture of Under-19s and older players — there are no specific clubs for Under-19s.

Coming back to my time in the departmental setup last year, let me say that it was excellent as we got proper employment contracts and a monthly salary which really helped as the family was happy that we are earning. Remember that if you play Under-19 cricket then you also have to sacrifice your studies and a future career as well, to an extent which is an issue for parents as they worry about your ability to support yourself. Another benefit with the Under-19 departmental setup was that if you performed well you would get selected into the main team also which is a great thing to look forward to as it sets you on the right track for your future in domestic cricket. But unfortunately, we are back to the regional setup this year.

PP : Have you played tape ball cricket and how much does it effect a player in terms of development?

Saud Shakeel : Yes I’ve played lots of tape ball cricket in Karachi. There are lots of tournaments at street level but nothing at any other level than that. You can only get so far playing tape ball cricket and to be honest, I don’t think it really helps you a lot due to the massive differences between tape and hard ball cricket.

PP : Does it help a Under-19 team’s confidence if you have a player who has played international Under-19 cricket in the same line up?

Saud Shakeel : Yes it does as the other younger players have a role model to look up to and they too aspire to get into the Pakistan Under-19 team. Take my case, I have been playing for the Karachi Zone VI in the recent Under-19 tournaments for my zone and the boys knew that I had played at the international level. They were clearly motivated with my presence in the team and that also gave me a sense of responsibility as I knew I had to guide them through with my international experience.

PP: What is the cricket set up like in Karachi?

SS: Karachi is divided into seven zones and I play for Zone six. The well-known players from our club are Sarfraz, Shafiq and Anwar Ali. It benefits us a lot as we practice with these big players and learn from them. There are a lot of academies in Karachi such as Rashid Latif‘s academy which is also excellent as it is free of cost. However, you really need to start at a young age to benefit from them. In my case, I work a lot with my regional and club coaches.

At this point let me clear a popular misconception about selection for tournaments. The fact is that there are a lot of tournaments for which young players are selected. It is all performance based. If anyone feels they are being treated unfairly I advise to them to use the internet and look up statistics and see for themselves if there is any unfairness in the manner in which they have been treated.

PP: Who has given you the best advice in your career so far?

SS: I have been helped during my career by many people but when I first started to go to an academy, Mahmood Rashid was my coach and taught me a lot. He taught me that if you want to become a good cricketer then you must become a good human being first. This is an advice that I have carried with me throughout my career so far.

PP: You are the Pakistan Under-19 captain now, how proud are you of this achievement?

SS: I am extremely proud of being the captain. It is an honour being the captain of any team but to be given the task of leading the Under-19 team for your country is extremely satisfying and I really enjoy the job and the responsibility that comes with it.

PP : What was the reason for your recent losses against the Afghanistan Under-19s in Lahore in October this year?

SS: I am not looking for excuses here but this was a new Under-19 line up for us and we had only met a day or so prior to those matches. There really wasn’t enough time for a training camp either. Therefore we didn’t have time to adjust properly and to gel as a team which is important for a series of this nature. We felt a little unsettled and a bit under-cooked as some of the players were coming off straight from the domestic season and possibly took on too much stress. Also the matches being live on television made the players feel pressure which they weren’t used to.

But then, these are all excuses which are not really useful. The fact is that the better team on the day won. This team which played so well against Kenya is pretty much the same team that played against Afghanistan, the only difference being that this time we have had a little more time to prepare as a team. The results of good preparation for this series are obvious in the score line.

PP: After the Kenya tour, you have some more tours coming up soon as well. Tell us about those tours and also explain the importance of foreign tours for Under-19 players?

SS: Yes, we have unconfirmed tours to Sri Lanka and UAE coming up from what I have heard, which is great news for the players. In my view, playing at home is fine as you can play in your own conditions and perform but playing and performing abroad is what gives you real confidence.

You learn to adapt to different conditions and get experience of the pressures of touring abroad which can come in handy for the future. Playing on these tours is almost as important as playing in a World Cup for Under-19 players as it allows them a chance to get experience in foreign conditions to improve their development. It builds your confidence and is a morale booster as you know that you can perform well away from home. It really helps you to grow as a player.

PP: What are your future targets?

SS: I want to play First-Class cricket and gain maturity at that level so that if I do get selected for the national team, I will be well prepared and won’t make mistakes that will result in me being dropped. I want to put in some consistent performances for Pakistan and establish myself in the team. Obviously when I do that, it will also benefit Pakistan which really is the top priority for any player. I am also interested in playing county or league cricket in England but that will never be at the expense of my commitments to Pakistan cricket.

PP : Will this current Under-19 team be able to win the ICC Under-19World Cup 2016?

SS: Ideally I would want the same team we have now to play in that tournament as well. This is simply because the more you play together the better you get as a team. Although we have some injury concerns I am hopeful we will have the same team. We have a lot of confidence that we can win the World Cup 2016, Inshallah.

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