Sohaib Maqsood makes hay in Pakistan’s domestic cricket

Sohaib Maqsood is in red hot form in the Pakistan domestic season © PakPassion.net

By Saj Sadiq

Sohaib Maqsood has been in scintillating form this season, a run which has seen him emerge as an outside contender for Pakistan’s Champions Trophy, despite not being named in the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) original 30-man squad.

Till date in the 2012-13 seasons, he has played 13 List A matches, scoring 977 runs at an average of 79, including two centuries and seven fifties. This is in contrast to the previous two seasons, in which he has played just six matches, averaging in the mid-30s.

His run of form over the last six games for WADPA [Water and Power Development Authority] has been particularly impressive, recording innings of 57, 68, 66, 43, 119 and 74. However, his best innings came against Karachi Dolphins for Multan Tigers in which he scored a blistering 156 off 132 balls. A tough competitor, he recovered from a serious back injury and has worked hard to improve his batting and bowling, developing into a handy off-spinner.

Maqsood spoke to PakPassion.net about his season, hopes for the future and his development as a batsman.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion (PP): How did you get into cricket?

Sohaib Maqsood (SM): I started playing cricket around the time of my Matriculation exams. My cousin used to play a lot of cricket, so my father asked him to take me along, more to get me out of the house. The interest was developed by chance — I was one of the rare breed of Pakistani children who really had no interest in cricket when I was young.

PP: A lot of good players have hailed from Multan, including Inzamam-ul-Haq. Is Inzamam one of your cricketing heroes?

SM: I had little interest in cricket as a youngster and as a result I didn’t have any heroes. I was 14 when I started playing cricket and I didn’t have a hero at that time. But from the time I first started taking a keen interest in cricket, I have admired Jacques Kallis! I really like the way he plays his shots and I just love the way he plays cricket and his whole approach to the game.

PP: When did you start to take cricket more seriously?

SM: Initially cricket for me was just a chance to catch up with friends. But after completing my Matriculation, I went to college and started playing cricket for the college team. That’s where I met one of my mentors, Professor Javed Malik. He took me under his wings and asked me to play for his club.

I started playing cricket for Professor Malik’s club and he really appreciated me. He strongly encouraged me to play regular cricket over the course of the next year and I took on board his advice. I was then selected for the under-19 Multan regional academy team and then selected for the Pakistan Under-19 training camp to tour Sri Lanka, so I suppose, things happened very quickly for me once I started taking cricket seriously.

PP: You then started playing Under-16 / Under-19 regional cricket in Multan. How did you break into First-Class cricket?

SM: I played for Pakistan Under-19s. One year I was on the verge of selection and the next year I was given the chance to play for Pakistan Under-19s against Sri Lanka in the home series in Test matches.

Sri Lanka had Angelo Matthews, Upal Tharanga, Chamara Kapugedera, and a lot of other stars. I played Under-19 cricket for Pakistan and next year I was in the Under-19 World Cup training camp, but I got injured. I broke my back and I had to leave cricket for a year-and-a-half. I loved playing cricket but I went back to college, I completed my graduation and I went to university. At that time I didn’t have any plans to play cricket again and I thought my cricket career was over before it had properly started.

I had a 30-day break from my semester and I played in a district seniors tournament. One of my fans and a senior, Mohammad Ali Niazi, who holds the record for the highest one-day score in domestic cricket in Pakistan, asked me to play for Multan district while I was free for a month. So I didn’t play any cricket before that for 18 months but I agreed to Niazi’s request and went to play for Multan district while I had some free time. I scored about 500 runs in five innings in that 2007-08 season Before the five matches for Multan district, I had played all my cricket as a spinner and I wasn’t regarded as much of a batsman in under 19 cricket.

PP: When you scored those runs (for Multan region), it must have rekindled your hunger for cricket?

SM: Yes, it did. I felt my back was better as well and I that I had recovered fully from my injury. After that we had the regional First-Class trials. I was not interested in the trials as I wanted to go back to university and get my MBA, but my father said that I should attend the trials as I had scored plenty of runs in regional cricket. I entered the trials and got selected for a First-Class team (KRL) and was also awarded a regional contract.

PP: It’s nice to see guys like yourself and Ali Waqas who have concentrated on their studies as well as cricket. What did you study at University?

SM: I started my MBA but then ended up having to give it up due to cricket. I then went to another university [Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan] and completed an MSc in Sports Science.

PP: How did things develop after you were selected for the First-Class team?

SM: I scored around 400 runs in five games which I played that year. Over the next year I couldn’t get runs in two games and was dropped for the whole season. In the next season, I wasn’t even selected for the regional team and I went to KRL where I was dropped for 10 games. I only got the chance to play in one game that season, so in my first two seasons in First-Class cricket I couldn’t really do anything. I didn’t get enough chances to play.

Season 2010-11 was a turnaround season for me, when I went to WAPDA. I scored about 750 runs in eight or nine games. I was selected for Balochistan in the Pentangular Cup and got plenty of runs there as well. Unfortunately I was struck by injury again; I broke my ankle and was out of cricket for a year-and-a-half again. I have made a comeback this season again and this year has been really good so far.

PP: In this year in all formats, your name has been at the top of the performers. What do you put this season being so special down to?

SM: I think the reason is that I had been away from cricket for almost eighteen months and that hunger for cricket was really getting to me. Also, I made a name for myself in 2010-11 by scoring 1200 runs in that season so it is very important for me to make a good comeback to follow that season with another good season.

At the end of the day you can’t do anything as it’s up to God. I worked hard this season and came back from such a serious injury. I also prayed a lot and everything happened for my benefit.

I’ve also received good support from my department. I would really like to thank everyone at WAPDA particularly the management in the way they have supported me. When I started playing this season I was not 100% but they always supported me. They always said to me that you are going to play all of the games. Even if you are not performing, you are our special player and we won’t drop you regardless of how you do. That was the confidence which was given to me by the management that really helped me. Their support is what has provided this great turnaround in my career.

PP: You have performed well in all formats this season. Some players only make runs in T20, One-Day cricket or four-day cricket. But this season you’ve performed in all types of cricket. How do you feel about that?

SM: I always think that real cricketers, batsmen or bowlers, are those who can adapt themselves according to the situation and circumstances and perform in all formats not just one or two. My main thing is that I play freely and naturally; I don’t put pressure on myself in any format.

I always play cricket positively and focus on the shots which I can play freely regardless of whether it’s T20, 50-over or the four-day format and I adapt to each format quickly. I’m really happy that I’ve been able to do well in all formats of the game this season.

I think if you are in good form, the ball is coming on nicely, you can do well in any format and particularly if your confidence is high. Because I am a free flowing batsman, T20 and one-day are the formats I guess people feel I am more suited to, but I think I’m also effective in the four day format as I feel I have good levels of concentration at the crease. I’m really thankful that I average around 50 in all formats.

PP: Is the injury situation all sorted? The ankle, back, no lingering problems with that?

SM: The back problem I had was six years ago so no issues with that. You can’t score runs in one day cricket if you’re not fully fit. I featured in both one-day tournaments and thankfully I am fit enough to play in all formats of the game.

PP: You have obviously developed your batting and as you say, you started off as an off spinner. What do you see yourself as: a genuine all-rounder, batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder?

SM: I used to be a bowling all-rounder at the start of my career, but when I broke my back I was forced to focus on my batting. Even when I used to play Under-19 cricket, A-grade cricket or club cricket I knew that I had a better technique to be a better batsman than a bowler, but I take both facets very seriously.

As I was forced to focus more on my batting due to injury, I set my mind to score big runs because as an all-rounder you are scoring 30-40 or so but as a front line batsman that’s not enough. I just had to focus my mind into thinking that I need to be scoring big runs and to mature as a batsman. I love bowling too and in the last couple of years I have started bowling again. I particularly enjoy bowling in the shorter formats of the game.

PP: In a recent interview, Basit Ali mentioned you as one of the stars of domestic cricket this season and somebody who he thinks should be playing international cricket soon. Surely your aim must be to play for Pakistan?

SM: I think it’s not just me but every cricketer who plays cricket has a goal to play for his country. My mindset is that as well. I know that if I continue to work hard my chance may come. I will need to put in even more effort and continue to improve. That’s how much hard work I have put into my batting, bowling and fielding. I want to stay at the top of cricket for a long time, I don’t want to be the player who plays one Test or two One-Day Internationals. If I get my chance, I want to play for Pakistan for many years.

PP: The Champions Trophy might be too soon for you, but there are some “A” tours that may happen later this year. That must be in your mind to perhaps get selected for one of the “A” tours?

SM: Well, even when I was a child I always wanted to play and enjoy my cricket and it didn’t matter whether I am playing for my club or for Pakistan Under-19s. I want to make sure whichever game I play I enjoy cricket.

The real goal is to play for Pakistan but it all depends on the selectors and the PCB as they may want me to go through the “A” tours and perform there and get selected for the Pakistan team. Whenever the opportunity arises, I will have to take my chance — whether it’s in the “A” Team or the National team — and I will simply need to perform.

 (Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)