Wahab Riaz: Last time we left Lord’s with our heads bowed, this time we left with our heads held high

Known for his blistering pace and on-field aggression, the 31-year-old fast bowler Wahab Riaz was part of the successful Pakistan pace attack which together with the spin of Yasir Shah helped Pakistan to a convincing seventy-five run victory at the recently concluded first Test at Lord’s.

Wahab Riaz is considered a key member of Pakistan’s bowling attack with 45 wickets in 16 Test and alongside Mohammad Amir is expected to offer a serious challenge to the opposition batsmen in the ongoing series between England and Pakistan. Speaking to PakPassion.net, the fast bowler discussed the camaraderie between the Pakistan team, the advantage of bowling alongside a leg-spinner such as Yasir Shah and Pakistan’s unique celebrations after their win at Lord’s. ALSO READ: 12 facts about Pakistan’s pace sensation, Wahab Riaz

PakPassion (PP): You were one of the few Pakistani players who played at Lord’s in 2010 and also last week at Lord’s. How did it feel returning there after the events of the last tour of England?

Wahab Riaz (WR): Last time we left Lord’s with our heads bowed, this time we left Lord’s with our heads held high. It was an opportunity for us to show the cricketing world what we can achieve and are capable of and thankfully we grabbed that chance and buried the memories and events of 2010.

PP: As the senior bowler in the current bowling attack for Pakistan, what did you say to Mohammad Amir ahead of the Lord’s Test match?

WR: I said to Amir that this match is an opportunity for you to win the hearts of people who you hurt six years ago. I told him to go out there and believe in himself and in his ability. I also said to him that everyone in the squad is behind him and is there for him and that we are here in England to earn respect, and of course to win the series.

PP: Would you rate that win at Lord’s as one of the highlights of your career to date?

WR: Yes, definitely. To defeat one of the best teams in the world in their own backyard in a Test match was great, especially with the match being played at the Home of Cricket. It was a matter of great pride for myself and for my team mates that we won at Lord’s, and that too after a 20-year gap.

PP: When Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow were batting well together, there must have been some nerves and tension out there?

WR: In that sort of situation, you have to be ready mentally for some good partnerships by the opposition and not panic. We knew that Woakes and Bairstow are very capable cricketers and at no point could we underestimate them. We also knew that we had to break that partnership as it was a crucial one, and when that partnership breaks we would have a good chance of victory. Once Bairstow was out, we knew that victory was in sight for us.

PP: It seems that as a bowler, you are at your best when you are snarling and angry?

WR: Yes, I do not mind mixing it with the batsmen. I enjoy that rivalry of the fast bowler against the batsman. It is like two gladiators fighting it out as the world watches, and that competitive aspect of cricket does spur me on. Everyone is out there representing their country and I don’t think international cricket is a place for the faint-hearted.

I did not take many wickets in the Lord’s Test but that does not upset me as the result for the team is more important than individual performances. We all have roles within the team and I know my job is to unsettle the opposition batsmen whenever I can. I believe you get rewarded for hard work and if you put in the effort, you will get a return on that. However, sometimes you bowl well and do not get the rewards, but then on other occasions you bowl not so well and you get wickets, so it all evens out in the end.

PP: Whilst there are three pace bowlers in the Pakistan line-up, do you agree that you are all different and have differing rolls within the team?

WR: Yes, absolutely. Amir, Rahat and I are different types of bowlers and each have our strengths. My thinking is that I have to be prepared and ready for whenever the captain wants me to bowl a long spell. I actually enjoy bowling long spells and I think I am at my best when I bowl long spells. What I am really enjoying though is that there is a lot of backing amongst the boys, we are all supporting each other; whilst there is a friendly rivalry and competition, we are all pleased for each other when a teammate does well.

PP: Conditions at Lord’s must have felt like the wicket had been imported from Lahore or Dubai?

WR: We had done our homework back in Pakistan and knew what conditions would be like. We knew that the wicket at Lord’s would be a bit slow, slower than the other wickets we will encounter. We are very used to playing on slow wickets so it was good to see that the wicket was as we expected. We were also prepared for the fact that the ball would reverse-swing, especially in the second innings and were actually pleased to see England reverse-swinging the ball when they were bowling, as that meant that we would also be able to reverse it when England were batting in their fourth innings.

PP: It must make your job easier when you have a bowler like Yasir Shah in the team?

WR: It makes a massive difference when you have a bowler like Yasir Shah in the team. With him there, pressure on the other bowlers is reduced. He is great to have around; he’s very energetic, always talking about the game, about bowling and asking for opinions from others on what he can do to improve as a cricketer. He is always ready to challenge the batsmen and take them on and he is a really hard-working team man.

PP: When did the squad decide that if you won at Lord’s, you would celebrate in the way you did?

WR: The squad decided ahead of this tour that whichever player made a century or took five wickets in an innings would celebrate with push-ups as a tribute to the army staff who trained the squad ahead of this tour. The idea of doing the push-ups at the end of the game if we won came from Younis Khan, ahead of the last day. Then when the ninth wicket fell, Younis Khan once again reminded every one of the celebration.

PP: Are you surprised at Alastair Cook’s reaction to the push-ups. It seems he wasn’t impressed?

WR: He is obviously disappointed as it’s not very often that the unfancied team defeats England in the opening Test of a series at Lord’s. Perhaps as captain, he felt the pressure of the defeat and that is why he is disappointed. We will hope that we continue winning, and we have decided that we will continue with this celebration if we win more matches on this tour.

PP: In a pep talk ahead of this tour, the PCB Chairman asked the squad to win cricket matches and win friends. Is that something that you are trying to achieve?

WR: Look, our main motive is to win cricket matches here and show everyone what we are capable of as cricketers. It is a tough ask to come to England after six years with a squad of players, who have not had much cricket in England previously. Playing against England in England is a very tough challenge but I feel that we have a very good chance this time against England to compete with them, as we have been playing some excellent Test cricket in recent years. We are a very united squad focused on performing well in England. It is a squad that has the team’s goals ahead of personal milestones. This is also an opportunity to win friends and erase the memories of 2010 and what happened then.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion where the above article first appeared. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)