I still have a lot to offer Pakistan cricket: Ahmed Shehzad
Ahmed Shehzad (AFP Image)

Ahmed Shehzad’s promise as one of the outstanding batting talents to emerge from Pakistan seems to have largely been unfulfilled despite representing his country 153 times and scoring 5058 runs.

In an interview, Shehzad spoke about why criticism against him is unjustified, his hope that he will get more opportunities to represent Pakistan with Misbah-ul-Haq as Chief Selector, what he feels are the reasons behind Babar Azam’s phenomenal rise as a world-class batsman and his goal to make another comeback to serve his country in the near future.

What do you so to those that state you have had enough chances to prove yourself for Pakistan and do not deserve another opportunity?

I don’t agree with my critics when they say I have had too many chances to show my worth for Pakistan. I feel this is not the right phrase to use to describe my situation as I have earned those chances to play for Pakistan and have always performed for my country. It’s not about scoring well in a couple of series or in a few domestic tournaments, rather it’s to do with the entire journey I have undertaken. If one looks back at my career, you will see that I have always performed well at the Pakistan Under 13, Under 19 and Pakistan ‘A’ levels and then of course, for Pakistan as well. Even when my performances were not up to the mark at the international level, I have managed to pull things back at the domestic level. The fact is that if one gets a proper run in international cricket, the player can improve. For example, if you look at the number of international runs I have scored and add them to the ones that I scored in domestic cricket after being dropped from the Pakistan side, you will conclude that I could have scored all those runs for Pakistan had I been retained in the national side, and that would have been good for the country as well.

You recently made a comeback for Pakistan in a couple of games and were then dropped again. Was that unsettling and do you believe you were given a fair chance?

First of all, let me admit that whether I got one or two chances to play for Pakistan, I should have done better. But yes, such things do play on one’s mind and to show how our administration can fix such a problem, let me give you the example of the England side. When Andrew Strauss took over as Team Director in 2015, he called upon England One-Day captain Eoin Morgan to ask for the reasons for the poor performances at that time. Morgan told him that his players had a fear of failure and that this situation needed to be improved. So, they sat down and strategized and came up with an idea to create a pool of the 15 best available and talented players in the country and put in a process to support them.

Morgan was given Strauss’s word that once that pool of players had been selected, they would have the full support of the management. These players would be given a chance to perform for 2 years regardless of whether they fail or succeed. From my memory, I can say that during that period, I saw Jos Buttler and Joe Root who were not performing well worked very hard to fix their situation. I also recall seeing Jonny Bairstow struggle and Jason Roy upset during the Champions Trophy as he wasn’t scoring runs at that time. The same was the case with Ben Stokes before he did so well at the 2019 World Cup. My point is simply that all these players had support, and no one was getting dropped and, in the end, how did they repay this trust? They not only did perform well but they also made a name for themselves and won the World Cup for their country. We need to do the same which is to help remove that fear of failure and also choose those skilful and talented players who can play at the highest level.

Would it be correct to say that you thrive upon the confidence of the captain and coach and sometimes that has not been there for you?

It’s not only me who feels like that, but every player needs that. I think it’s very reasonable to expect a certain amount of respect and support from your coach and team management in the same way others are getting. When you don’t get that support, it does affect your performance. I believe to make a good player, there needs to be a bit more effort and you cannot just bring players into the team and then drop them. Developing a player is a process and you need to polish his skills over time which is something that all countries do.

The Pakistan team of today seems to lack superstars, why is that?

I think to win consistently against the big teams, we need to produce superstars, but you need to make such players first which is something we have consistently failed to do in recent times. What also does not help the situation is when we call someone a superstar and start criticising them within a year when they don’t do so well. What does need to happen is to identify some players as potential superstars and then develop them over a period of time. A team needs 3-4 such players not only to win games and win against the big teams, but also to bring in crowds to watch the matches which is a win-win situation for everyone.

You’ve been around for what seems an age, but do you think you are still to reach your peak as a batsman?

I am now 28 and have already played 153 games for my country across all three formats. Many players start their international careers around this age, but I have played so many games already at this stage of my life and learnt so much from that experience. Of course, you have tough times in your career, but the good thing is that if at a young age you get to see difficult phases then it does prepare you for tougher challenges later on. What I have learnt from the past two years is that whenever I have been dropped from the side, I have always performed and made a comeback and have not faded away which could easily happen to someone in my situation. These are the positives I have taken from these two years and I am now waiting for another chance to cement my place in the side and winning games for my country. I believe I still have a lot to offer Pakistan cricket.

Does the appointment of Misbah-ul-Haq as Head Coach and Chief selector give you more hope than the previous management regime?

Misbah-ul-Haq is an honest gentleman and we all know that he was the best Test captain Pakistan has ever produced. I am convinced that he will always do what is beneficial for the country and won’t be biased. Like every other person starting in a new position or a job, he too needs time to settle in. At the same time, Misbah’s appointment is a great opportunity for players like me to work hard and perform and try and find a place under his very capable management.

You could have been the player mirroring Babar Azam’s current achievements. How do you feel about that?

I am happy and proud of what Babar Azam has achieved for Pakistan. He is like a younger brother to me, and what he has achieved at this young age is amazing. But at the same time, I consider the presence of Babar in the Pakistan side to be a healthy form of competition for me as when you have such a situation it leads to an overall improvement in the whole team. Mickey Arthur has done a good job of grooming Babar very well and he made sure that he got to bat at the position he desired and was pampered a bit. This is not a bad thing and it really needs to happen with every other player as well and only then can we see more players like Babar emerge in Pakistan.

There’s still some uncertainty in the opening spots for Pakistan in all formats, do you still believe you have an opportunity to cement a place in international cricket?

All I believe is that it’s important to give chances to players and for players to avail such opportunities. Whenever players are given a chance, it’s not just an opportunity to guarantee their own survival, but it’s something that will ultimately benefit their country too. This is what I have in mind whenever I go out in the middle to play for Pakistan. My objective is to always play innings which have an impact on the game and can help win the game. Coming to the question of opening spots for Pakistan, it is true that there is a problem in that aspect and I am looking to fill that slot just like I had for about 5 years. I feel that I still have 10 to 12 years left in me to serve the country based upon the kind of training and fitness regimes I am following. If I can get to play 6-7 more years of international cricket for my country, I feel confident that I will be making and break many records for Pakistan.

Does playing in all three formats of the game unsettle and adversely affect a batsman?

I can only thank The Almighty that he has given me the talent and skills where I don’t have to change too much to adapt to the different formats of the game. In terms of records, I am second behind Rohit Sharma in terms of the number of hundreds amongst Asian batsmen in T20s with 5 centuries to my name and I was part of the Pakistan team when it attained the number one ranking in T20Is which is something I am proud of. In addition, I averaged around 51 in last year’s PSL, then I got selected for the series against Sri Lanka but got dropped again, but overall I feel that my performances are very good. If one looks at my Test match performances, I have three hundreds in 13 matches which were scored against some big sides such like Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka but then I was unfortunately dropped after doing well against the West Indies.

In ODIs, I was very young when I played my first game and my average was not that good but then when I came back after being dropped and I have scored at a healthy average over the last three years. I will also be the first to admit that I have underperformed in the last 10 innings in ODIs due to some reasons which are best left undiscussed for now. Regardless of what has happened, my focus based on 153 international games so far has been to produce wonders for my country. I feel I have natural talent and have been performing well with dedication over the last two years but all I need is a proper opportunity to prove myself and once I am settled in the side, I will hope to be once again playing match-winning innings for my country.

The win for Central Punjab in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this year must have been very satisfying for you?

It was an absolutely amazing achievement for the Central Punjab side to win the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this year and we are all very satisfied with our team’s performances. It was a little tough to regroup the side after the National T20 Cup and focus on the 4-Day competition. However, I am proud to say that we managed to pull it off and what was particularly pleasing for me was that I captained the side for 8 games during our successful campaign. The PCB need to be congratulated for their efforts to breathe new life into this competition and I am sure the benefits of the new structure will be visible to all in the next few years.

Given the ups and downs of your career to date, what are your realistic short-term and long-term goals?

All I have wanted to do since I was 15 years old has been to play for my country and do wonders for my side. In doing so, I will continue to make a name for myself and also help take Pakistan to newer heights and once I am in a position to do so, I wish to inspire the not so fortunate and the newer generation to follow my example in serving the nation. These are my aims for now and will remain so for the rest of my life.

This interview first appeared on Pakpassion.net