Wahab Riaz: Would have been good to play alongside Alastair Cook at Essex

Following England’s excellent victory over a dismal Sri Lanka at Headingley last week, thoughts are already turning to this summer’s second visiting side, Pakistan. While Sri Lanka’s bowling attack was ultimately handled with ease by Jonny Bairstow and Co, Pakistan are likely to provide a much tougher challenge, particularly with the quality of the pacemen on show.

The leader of the Pakistan attack this summer is likely to be 30-year-old Wahab Riaz, the left-arm quick from Lahore whose fiery spells in which he has picked up forty-three Test victims in 15 appearances, have made people sit up and take notice of him. His Man of the Match performance in Dubai last year against the same opposition will be fresh in the memory of the England batsmen, and he could do yet more damage in what will undoubtedly be far more bowler-friendly conditions.

Wahab’s potency is likely to be further enhanced by his preparation for the tour. He has already arrived in England where he is representing Essex in the Natwest T20 Blast, gaining valuable experience of bowling on English wickets. Speaking exclusively to Saj Sadiq of PakPassion.net, Wahab spoke about the aims behind his stint with Essex, his views on the bowling partnership of Broad and Anderson, the changes brought in by Inzamam-ul-Haq and his own form in Test cricket.

PakPassion (PP): What are you hoping to achieve during your spell for Essex in the Natwest T20 Blast competition?

Wahab Riaz (WR): I think it is a great opportunity for me to acclimatise to English conditions ahead of the Test series and get some cricket under my belt before the series against England. The weather in England is obviously a lot different to the weather in Pakistan and it takes a bit of time to adjust, so I feel that the seven-match opportunity with Essex is perfect for me to get ready, find some rhythm and for my body to adjust to English conditions. In addition, having the opportunity to bowl on English pitches is vital for me because bowling in England is a great deal different to bowling back home in Pakistan. Overall, it’s ideal preparation ahead of the challenge of facing England.

PP: Your first match against Surrey did not go according to plan with your good friend Azhar Mahmood leading your opponents to victory. Did Azhar have much to say to you after the match?

WR: It always hurts losing any game of cricket. Azhar did not really say too much to me after the game. We were in a good position and looked like we could go on and win the game but then we lost three wickets very quickly which ultimately cost us the match. But there’s a lot of cricket ahead in the T20 Blast and I am sure we will have learnt from that defeat to Surrey and we can hopefully correct the errors we made. Azhar showed against Essex that he is still a very good cricketer, still very fit and he is able to fully utilise his experience. Also, he’s familiar with the conditions in England and that’s why he’s been one of the leading twenty over cricketers over the years.

PP: The World Twenty20 tournament was a major disappointment. How do you feel about Pakistan’s performance in that competition?

WR: Naturally, we wanted to do well as it was a high profile tournament. Expectations are always high for Pakistan going into such tournaments and reaching the semi-finals was our minimum aim. The fact is that we didn’t play as well as we could have and should have. Looking back, it is frustrating and we need to make sure that in the upcoming tours we perform a lot better than we did at the ICC World T20 2016.

PP: You must be distraught at missing the Army boot camp that Pakistani cricketers recently took part in?

WR: I think it was a good idea to have the camp. You can never underestimate the importance of fitness in the modern game. I had to miss the camp as I had already signed for Essex but I am also working hard with the Essex coaches and trainers here who have given me fitness plans and regimes that I am working on every day. I have never tried to sidestep fitness and have always taken my training seriously. I have always believed that if you are physically fit then that helps you perform better too.

PP: Looking ahead to the Test series against England, Alastair Cook and Joe Root are going to be formidable opponents. What are your plans to counter Cook and Root?

WR: In home conditions England are very tough opponents, so it is going to be a big challenge for us. We are going to have to play our top game to compete with England. We have faced Cook and Root before and we know their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, we need to adjust to the conditions and ensure that we test the England batsmen out thoroughly and test their weaknesses. Alastair Cook is a tremendous batsman; he is one of the greats. He is a dedicated and committed cricketer. It would have been good if I had the opportunity to play alongside Alastair at Essex but of course, he is busy playing for England against Sri Lanka. He is the mainstay and focal point of the England batting, patient batsmen who the other batsmen in the England line-up play around. His wicket will be vital for us and the earlier we get him out the better for us and that will surely create pressure on the other England batsmen.

PP: Do you think Pakistan’s bowlers can challenge the England batsmen in the upcoming Test series?

WR: We have a good bowling line up with variety and there is a lot of potential to make the England batsmen work hard but the most important thing is for our bowlers to adjust to bowling in England and to get acclimatised as soon as possible. It is absolutely crucial that we get used to the conditions and the wickets as soon as possible and I believe the Pakistani bowlers will test the England batsmen.

PP: What are your thoughts on the 2-week camp to be held at Hampshire ahead of the Test series?

WR: It is a fantastic idea. To have the opportunity to get an additional two weeks in England before the series will be great. The batsmen will get the chance to face the seaming and swinging ball and the bowlers likewise will be given the opportunity to bowl in unfamiliar conditions. It’s a wise step by the Pakistan Cricket Board and the time spent in Hampshire will be very important and we must make good use of those two weeks.

PP: Inzamam-ul-Haq has come in and made some drastic changes as Chief Selector. What are your thoughts on the Inzamam revolution hitting Pakistan cricket?

WR: What can I say about Inzamam-ul-Haq, whatever I say will not do justice to the great man. He is a cricketing legend and we can only dream of being as good a cricketer as he was. The level of performance he gave for Pakistan is something that we players can only hope for. The ideas he is putting forward such as the two-week camp in England are excellent initiatives and it is a fantastic step by the Pakistan Cricket Board to appoint him as the Chief Selector. I think great things will come from this decision by the PCB and the Board needs to back Inzamam-ul-Haq’s ideas all the way.

PP: Many Pakistani cricketers complain about the quality of cricket balls in domestic cricket. In addition, the fact that a different ball is used in international cricket is surely a problem?

WR: The type of ball that is used in Pakistan domestic cricket has a very protruding seam, which gives bowlers a huge advantage as the ball swings and seams a lot. However, the Kookaburra ball’s seam flattens after 10 to 12 overs so the ball does not swing and seam around so much after that. Bowling with the Kookaburra ball in international cricket is much tougher for pace bowlers. It’s definitely a problem that we are using a different ball in domestic cricket compared with what the rest of the world is using. What then happens is that our bowlers who look great in domestic cricket and are swinging the ball around with ease struggle to move the ball around in international cricket.

PP: How important is it that Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan provide the bowlers with the runs to defend during the Test series in England?

WR: Both Misbah and Younis have been great servants for Pakistan cricket over the years and they have batted with great responsibility. But also, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed have been performing consistently with the bat and have provided great support to Misbah and Younis. I think it is vital that our batsmen prepare well ahead of the series. Our batsmen have the capability to put up some good scores on the board for the bowlers to work with. Let us see what sort of wickets are prepared for the series as the nature of the pitches will be very important.

PP: How highly do you rate the partnership of Stuart Broad and James Anderson?

WR: England has one of the best bowling attacks in the world. They were superb in ideal seam bowling conditions at Headingley against Sri Lanka. Broad and Anderson are bowlers who are lethal in favourable conditions, especially when overhead conditions are cloudy and they know exactly how to bowl in such conditions. Our batsmen need to have their wits about them and concentrate fully against two such high calibre bowlers. I think it will be a very interesting battle between Broad and Anderson and the Pakistani batsmen.

PP: What has happened to the Pakistani pace bowler’s trademark delivery, the yorker? There seems to be a distinct lack of them these days?

WR: We are practising bowling yorkers, but these days the margin of error is very small and what you think may be a yorker ends up as a full toss and flies to the boundary. It is not like we aren’t trying to bowl yorkers, it’s just that sometimes they don’t come off and the batsmen capitalise on this. It is not a delivery that we have forgotten about or are overlooking and I am sure everyone will see plenty of yorkers from the Pakistani bowlers in the series against England.

PP: What are you looking forward to working on with the new head coach Mickey Arthur?

WR: He’s a big name and comes into the role with a big reputation. He’s been a very successful coach and is very experienced. Working with a new coach is always exciting and interesting as they all work in different ways and have different ideas and philosophies so it promises to be an exciting time. He was Head Coach of Karachi Kings at the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and I met him a few times during that tournament so I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m sure he will bring the best out of the players and will be a successful appointment.

PP: Does a foreign coach bring additional problems with him such as a lack of communication for some of the players?

WR: No I don’t think it’s a problem. We have all worked with Grant Luden and Grant Flower recently and we all understand each other. I think the Pakistani players understand English quite well, but if there is an issue where the players cannot express what they are trying to say then there are always other players there to help them. But by and large the players are really trying to make an effort in speaking and understanding English and it’s a situation that has improved greatly in recent times.

PP: Are you concerned about your lack of wickets for Pakistan recently?

WR: Well the lack of effort is not there. I always go out there looking to take wickets and giving my all but sometimes luck does not favour you. You can have days where you bowl well but end up with no wickets or just one wicket, which does not really do your efforts justice. However, I am aware that as a bowler for me, it is a wicket-taking business and I am confident that the wickets will come. However, I can categorically state that my effort levels never drop and I always give my all for whichever team I am playing for. If you ever hold back from a 100% effort then you can question yourself, but I feel that if you are trying your level best and giving your all then the results will surely come.

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