Sohail tanvir was left out of the ICC World Cup 2015 Pakistan squad © Getty Images
Sohail tanvir was left out of the ICC World Cup 2015 Pakistan squad © Getty Images

At the age of thirty and having represented Pakistan in sixty two ODIs, Sohail Tanvir continues to battle to establish a permanent place in the Pakistan ODI team. Having taken seventy one ODI wickets at an average of 36.14 , the left-arm medium pacer known for his unorthodox bowling action is once again facing disappointment after not being included in the squad for the ICC World Cup 2015.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Sohail Tanvir spoke about his shock at not being selected for the ICC 2015 World Cup, his views on Pakistan’s upcoming World Cup encounter with India, suggested the tactics the Pakistan bowlers should adopt against Virat Kohli, Pakistan batsmen’s ability to deal with the bouncy pitches in Australia as well as Pakistan’s chances in the World Cup.

PakPassion.net (PP): You must be really disappointed at missing out on the 2015 World Cup?

Sohail Tanvir (ST): It is a definitely a disappointment as this event comes around every four years which is about two or three times during a player’s playing career. This time, though, it was a bit more depressing and shocking as it appeared that I would make it to the squad but just at the last minute, it seems, that the decision to pick me was changed.

PP: It must have been a surprise for you to be dropped as you have played quite regularly for Pakistan since the last World Cup?

ST: Yes it’s surprising for me since I have constantly been with the team for the last two years and recently played against Australia in the ODI series and then also against New Zealand where I believe I bowled really well. Yes, I had one ODI which may not have gone as well as expected but that is part and parcel of the game and can happen once in a while to any bowler.

So, really, I don’t see any real reason why I shouldn’t have been picked. I have chipped in with some good batting performances as well. As and when I have had a chance to bat, I have put in a reasonable performance. To be honest, I was very sure that I would be travelling with the team to play in the World Cup, but I guess this is the decision of the selectors and team management. All players need to accept that and move on.

PP: Did the selectors explain to you the reason for being excluded from the World Cup squad?

ST: I haven’t had any such conversation with the officials or management and they did not take me in their confidence on this matter.

PP: We all know about the fitness issues plaguing the Pakistan fast bowlers at the moment. For instance, Junaid Khan is struggling to regain fitness and there are even doubts about Mohammad Irfan’s ability to stay injury free. Are you concerned by this situation?
ST: Yes it’s a big concern and a risk as some of the fast bowlers have injuries and some are coming back from injuries, so there are definite concerns in this area. I hope that whoever has got a chance to play now will do well and we should back them and pray for their success and hope they stay injury free.

PP: Mohammad Irfan is expected to play a key role, but given his fitness issues, how should the management handle him during the World Cup?

ST: From what I see, the World Cup schedule will allow for some good gaps between games. This is different from bilateral series where you have at the maximum a gap of two days and you are expected to play up to five matches in a two week period. This puts a lot of pressure and strain on the fast bowler’s body and more so on someone like Mohammad Irfan.

In the World Cup, Pakistan’s first game against India is on the 15th of February, followed by a game against the West Indies on the 21st and then they play Zimbabwe on 1st March and so on. So basically, this is advantageous for someone like Irfan as it will give his body a chance of recovery between games. I hope that he can play in all games and if needed, he can be rested in games such as those against Zimbabwe and UAE. Having said that, Irfan’s workload will also depend on the form of the other bowlers as well.

PP: How will the absence of Pakistan’s premier spinner in the shape of Saeed Ajmal and the possibility that Mohammad Hafeez will be unable to bowl at the World Cup effect Pakistan’s overall performance?
ST: There is no doubt that Saeed Ajmal was the number one spinner whilst he was playing and his services to Pakistan in this regard are no secret. So Pakistan will feel the absence of Ajmal. However, to me the real problem is that it would be difficult to come up with a good team combination without Mohammad Hafeez in the bowling line up. In the past, Pakistan have always looked to strengthen their batting and play with six batsmen, with Hafeez also providing a good bowling option for the captain. As you will have seen in the previous series against Australia and New Zealand, we had issues with the fifth bowler. With Hafeez in the line up, you not only had the luxury of playing an extra batsman, but as a bowler he is also economical and a wicket taker as well.

Mohammad Hafeez’s absence is a bigger setback to me and I do hope that he is able to pass the ICC’s test on his bowling action soon. I would also say that if Hafeez is able to clear this test, then that will greatly increase the chances of success for the Pakistan team in this tournament.

PP: Do you think part-time options as a fifth bowler such as Haris Sohail and Ahmed Shehzad can fill the gap left by the possible absence of Mohammad Hafeez?

ST: As we know in today’s limited overs cricket, any bowler can have a bad day. Having extra options alongside Hafeez in the shape of Haris Sohail or Ahmed Shehzad is very useful. However, I really feel that you need Hafeez as the main fifth bowling option and others such as Haris Sohail as the sixth or Ahmed Shehzad as the seventh bowling options. Of course no one can really replace Saeed Ajmal but it is a fact that the team combination will suffer without the presence of Mohammad Hafeez whose bowling is very important to our chances in the World Cup.

PP: Given that two stalwarts of Pakistan cricket, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi, will be retiring after this World Cup, would you agree that there would be a greater motivation for them to perform well in this tournament?

ST: Yes, this will be the last World Cup for both players but you have to remember that given the importance of this event, the motivation levels are very high as is for any player taking part in such a high profile tournament. I was involved in the victorious campaign of the 2009 World Twenty20 and though I did not participate in all the games, I do know the feeling of taking part in such a tournament.

Coming back to your question, let me say that since both Misbah and Afridi have announced their retirement from ODIs after the World Cup, they would naturally be putting in an extra effort to make sure they sign off on a winning note and put in some memorable performances which people will remember for a long time. Let’s hope for the best as both the senior players have served Pakistan to the best of their abilities and no praise, credit or tribute is enough to honour their performances for the team as well as what they have achieved for Pakistan.

PP: With the amazing batting performances by the likes of AB de Villiers and Luke Ronchi in recent times, it appears that ODI batting tactics have changed a lot. Do you feel that Pakistan also need to adopt a more aggressive approach in their batting?

ST: Look, each team has its own strengths and a game plan. All teams don’t play with the same game plan and in the case of Pakistan, we have always played in a certain way with some positive results to show for our efforts. If you look at our record, whenever we have had wickets in hand, we have always scored above 100 runs in the last ten to fifteen overs. In our case, we have what I would refer to as an explosive batting line up. The other teams have a middle order which can be classed as explosive but their batting at the death is not that explosive unless they have are just three or four wickets down and they can capitalize on that in the final overs. These teams do not have the depth and ability to score freely if they are six or seven wickets down at the start of the 40th over.

In Pakistan’s case we have Shahid Afridi and Sarfraz Ahmed as well as a few bowlers who can hit well towards the end of the innings. As you can see from the last series we played, whenever we kept wickets in hand, we were able to utilize the final overs to our advantage.

PP: Historically speaking, our batsmen have always struggled in Australian conditions due to the extra bounce there. What should be Pakistan’s approach this time during the World Cup?

ST: The batsmen will struggle a bit but the good thing is that we are going there well before the World Cup where we will also a play a few warm up games. I hope that they will be able to adjust to the bounce by the time the mega event starts. In Australia, the batsmen who play square of the wicket and play the cut and pull shots well tend to be more successful. Pakistan does have such batsmen in the shape of Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez – all of them can play the cut and pull shots very well. All of these are batsmen who can score runs on bouncy wickets with ease. So Pakistan does have batsmen who can tackle such bouncy conditions and who will not become too defensive there. In fact, I feel that our batsmen have a great chance of success in Australia as they have good abilities to play square of the wicket.

Also, if you look at the track record of the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, you will see that they have so much experience that they can score runs in such conditions. Let me say again that I have no doubts in my mind that the Pakistani batsmen won’t have any problems playing on the bouncy pitches in Australia.

PP: Based on your own experience, what is the pressure like of playing against India and your thoughts on the upcoming Pakistan-India World Cup encounter on 15th of February?

ST: Let me start by saying that no one can predict the outcome of a Pakistan-India encounter based upon past records, current form of the team or even team combination if you wish to go that far. This type of analysis just doesn’t apply in matches between Pakistan and India as you saw in the Asia Cup encounter in 2014 where people didn’t give us much chance of success based upon our prior form. The matches between these two teams are always very tense – there seems to be a different atmosphere when they play. Even this time around, I am expecting a very close game regardless of whether a team has been showing strong results recently or not.

PP: We have seen Australia target Virat Kohli with sledging in an attempt to reduce his threat. Should Pakistan indulge in similar tactics during their game against India?

ST: Every team has its own game plan in such matters. The Australians always come hard at their opponents with sledging so it’s not just Virat Kohli who they target but we have seen this happen in the Ashes series as well. As far as Pakistan is concerned, they may well sledge Kohli but the fact is that you have to bowl well to get anyone out! Pakistan has enough bowling options to get Kohli out so they don’t need to rely on sledging for this. I’d say to the Pakistan bowlers not to sledge Kohli, just get him out cheaply. Also remember that Pakistan isn’t just playing Virat Kohli in a match but there will be six other Indian batsmen to contend with. Any one of those batsmen can single-handedly win the game for India on a particular day so I don’t think we should focus on Kohli so much. No doubt he is one of their key players and the loss of his wicket will put India on the back foot but Pakistan still need to focus on Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni and the other Indian batsmen as well. Yes we should always have aggression and positive body language when playing such games but I am not too sure about sledging as a weapon in this case.

PP: What are your views on the next captain for the ODI team? Should this honour be awarded to a youngster or an experienced player?

ST: This is really the Board’s decision and I really cannot comment on this but the Board will need to think about this carefully. I suppose the decision will depend on whether they start planning for either the long term or for just the next two or three years. It really hinges on what the team management has in its mind for the future of the team.

PP: How do you see Pakistan’s chances in this World Cup? How far do you feel they can progress?

ST: I feel that unless there is a major upset, the top ranked teams will be in the Quarter Finals. After that it’s really a three match World Cup. We all know that on any given day the Pakistan team can do anything which can be both a positive and a negative as we can play great or play horribly against any team!

With other teams you can always predict the result based on their past form or ranking for example you can if say South Africa play against a team, they are favourites and so on. With Pakistan you cannot say if they will beat a team on a given day or not. A team like that can never be discounted or discarded. So in my view, the Pakistan team is quite capable of winning on any given day against anyone. Pakistan may not be favourites but they can easily win. I have great faith in their abilities and hopefully they will play to their potential and make use of the experience we have in our batting, which in my view the team will rely on rather than on their bowling. With the experience of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan along with Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi who on current form can win us any match. As Pakistanis we all should have high hopes of winning this tournament.

PP: What are your plans for the future given you have not been picked for the World Cup?

ST: As a player one is used to being picked or dropped from the team. You can’t just stop playing cricket if you are dropped from the team and lose heart! Cricket is my profession – my bread and butter. I will keep on playing domestic cricket and I will ensure that if God forbid, one of the bowlers in the squad is unable to continue, then I am available for Pakistan team when there is a need for my services. In the meantime I will continue to try and perform in domestic cricket and to play in competitions around the world.

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