Eyeing Australia tour after World Cup for Test comeback - Shadab Khan

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The leg-spinner has hailed Pakistan coach Rehan ul Haq for his creativity to uplift the players mentally
The leg-spinner has hailed Pakistan coach Rehan ul Haq for his creativity to uplift the players mentally © Getty

An all-rounder par excellence, Shadab Khan at 24 is at the peak of his powers. That he has been entrusted with Pakistan's vice-captaincy when some are yet to find their feet in international cricket is a testament to his rapid rise on and off the field. A natural leader, an explosive batsman, a spin wizard and a gun fielder - these attributes make Shadab a national treasure.

In a freewheeling talk with Cricbuzz, he opens up on Pakistan team dynamics, culture, media, mentor Rehan Ul Haq, test cricket ambitions and the MLC.

You are arguably one of the best T20 cricketers in the world, along with Rashid Khan. Do you think your absence from the IPL has affected the recognition of your abilities?

I don't know if I am the best T20 cricketer going around yet, but I aspire to be one. But yes, it does add to the hype and reputation of a player if he performs well in the IPL. It is one of the factors, but at the end of the day in my opinion, as a player, your performances in international cricket are more gratifying than anything else and performances in international cricket should be recognised.

How is your personal equation with Rashid Khan. It's interesting your career trajectories started at the same time and both of you are at the top of world right now. Do the both of you analyze each other's games?

Yes, we played in the U19 World Cup together. Then he immediately debuted in international cricket, and I followed suit the year after. He is the best bowler in the world currently. I do pick his brains when we meet. I try to read his mindset about the game because he plays everywhere and performs everywhere. I was struggling in 2020 and early 2021, and since he's followed me right from the start of my career, he pointed out the drop in intensity in my run up to the crease, which he felt was way higher during the early phase of my career. I worked on that aspect and fortunately, it yielded results.

Rehan Ul Haq has played a huge role in your development when you got onboard with Islamabad United. Tell us about how Rehan has been instrumental in your cricketing education?

He has played a huge role. He's played the role of an older brother whenever I have struggled as he had a fair idea of the challenges and pitfalls in the life of a professional cricketer in Pakistan. As a youngster who is just finding his feet, you need someone to confide with. I haven't seen someone with an energy as positive as he possesses. We have a healthy chemistry between us which helps. I want to share an incident here. When we were down and almost out of 2022 T20 World Cup after the loss to Zimbabwe, believe it or not he actually sent me a speech that he wanted me to narrate after I win the Man of the Tournament trophy. I was perplexed to see that text. He knew how miniscule the chance of even advancing out of the group stage was let alone winning the trophy and me claiming the MOT trophy. But he insisted to keep the faith. And if we had crossed the final hurdle, I believe I wasn't very far from that trophy. His belief in me is greater than my belief in myself.

Even apart from cricket he has played a great role in grooming my personality. On his insistence, we always communicate with each other in English. It is a global language, and it helps you to get the word out on big stages. The way he looks out for everyone is admirable and is something I learn. For instance, Ruman Raees injured himself playing for us at IU. That kept him out of the game for a while. Rehan bhai was well aware of the financial challenges a cricketer faces being out of action for a couple of seasons and he offered him the role of the bowling coach Rumman has an astute cricketing mind. This is what commands loyalty from your players.

He is now the manager of the Pakistan team. Tell us about the work he has done behind the scenes that has helped the team?

The mood in the dressing was good even when Mansoor Rana was around, but Rehan bhai is young, belongs to this generation and is a bit creative as well. Recently he had pictures of every individual depicting their best moments in the field planted next to their seats in the Karachi dressing room. Reminiscing those moments gets you charged to emulate those performances again.

Islamabad United has redefined the norms of playing T20 cricket in Pakistan under your leadership. What is stopping Pakistan's white-ball side from undergoing such change?

The rest of the team management and I, at IU, wanted to develop modern-day players. With that thought in mind, we picked the best overseas talent so that our youngsters can feed off of them, so that as and when they play international cricket, they don't have to alter their game in a big way. As the management we are ready to accept failures that come in our way because we realise the perils of high intensity and high strike rate approach and back our players by giving them a sense of security. As far as why Pakistan team hasn't adopted that approach, it's probably because we don't have the silverware for it to be endorsed from all corners. We haven't been champions for a while so maybe that is the reason there is not a lot of talk to adopt that approach.

In the 2021 T20 WC, you almost made it to the final after that historic win against India, in the 2022 T20 WC you almost won that final and made it to the Asia cup finals as well. However, even today TV commercials in Pakistan are dominated by the '90s players. Do you think this Pakistan team can come out of the shadows and the hangover of the '90s team?

Whatever a team has achieved in the past is history, how you are playing currently is what matters. All of our players play all around the world and they do have the right exposure now. Things changed for the better after that elusive win against India in the World Cup. None of our past teams laced with superstars weren't able to achieve that. We might not have superstars in our team but it's a team game, not an individual game. We play very good as a team because we back each other, we are happy with each other's performances, we want our brothers to achieve. It helps when your intentions are fair and no one wishes ill for the other. We aren't just colleagues who'll meet on the field and wither away. We are good friends among each other so much so that we don't need friends from outside.

You are a very experienced and astute leader now. Why is Pakistan failing at crunch moments in the field after being on the top in the finals. Is there something you would do differently had you been the leader?

You have to boss those key moments in the pressure games to win. We have been erring in the field in those moments. Things could have been different had we played some smart cricket in the World Cup final. We are a good team but to be the champions, we will have to put in the sacrifices and do something extra.

Is there something you would do differently had you been the leader?

I always think about how I can make the team win. I like to be at the forefront in pressure situations. I'm experienced enough and have enough belief to handle them myself. That is important because if a youngster fails in that situation, then it can be catastrophic to his career in our part of the world. God forbid if things go wrong, I can soak in the consequences in the aftermath. I know how to cope with it. The social media criticism can take a toll on a youngster and it's better if I handle that.

Now that you have touched upon social media, do you think that certain sections in the Pakistan media are unrelenting in their scrutiny? It might not affect the way experienced cricketers like you go about your business, but how hard is it for youngsters to deal with it?

Its the age of social media. As soon as the match is done, you want to go on social media and check out what people are talking about you. I have seen many players who aren't able to keep mentally stable for some time, however they do get back to normal. Social media and the media tend to be a bit harsh on some players. They don't realise that for someone to become an international cricketer, there are 15 years of blood and sweat behind him to reach where he is. People tend to overlook those struggles over one mistake. Some players aren't able to absorb that mentally. Our media should support our players instead of supporting players from elsewhere. It takes time to make a player, there'll be plenty of failures before you make a player out of someone. So, the media should support us.

Pakistan have had two dismal WTC campaigns. You were the natural successor of Yasir Shah after he was omitted. You have also shown you can be quite a handful with the bat in test cricket. It feels you are that X-factor that the Pakistan Test side misses. What is keeping you out of Test cricket? Would you want to play the Test series down under? Have you had discussions with the selectors?

When I played 5 back-to-back Test matches, I thought I was getting myself into the rhythm of Test cricket. As I mentioned earlier, it takes time to make a player. I was a natural at white ball but becoming a red player takes time and I hadn't even played that many first-class games. When I thought I was slowly getting into my groove as a red ball cricketer, I got dropped and then got stymied by injuries. But I do want to play Test cricket and am ready to play first-class cricket to stake a claim. I'll be eyeing the Test series in Australia after the World Cup to make a comeback in the Test side.

There has been a lot of hue and cry over the way Jonny Bairstow was dismissed at the Lord's test. As the vice-captain of the Pakistan white-ball team, what is your opinion on the whole saga? Would you have recalled Bairstow if you were the leader on the field at that moment?

It depends on the situation. Probably we as a TV audience are not privy to what had been going around in the field from the time he came into bat. In my understanding, he was getting out of the crease before the over was called a few occasions before he was stumped as well. If it is in the law and if it benefits your team, then you should go for it. It was a smart move as they were in the danger of losing the game. But I also feel the batsman at least deserves a warning. But the law should always prevail.

Saqlain Mushtaq being the world class spinner that he is, how has he helped you in developing your game and opening new horizons. In what ways does he keep challenging you?

I was out of form in 2021. I decided against going to CPL that year. I headed to the National High Performance Centre to work with him for a week. Such was the mental impact of working with him that I started believing I am the number 1 bowler around. A week before that I was totally out of sorts and short on confidence. And then when he came on as a head coach it helped our spinners immensely. Me and Nawaz have gained a lot from him tactically and technically.

You have been a globetrotting T20 superstar. It is your first time playing in America. How has your reception been so far from the owners and the franchise?

The reception has been very warm. It's heartening to see a huge South Asian diaspora here. We had a meet and greet session and a coaching clinic in San Francisco where people turned out in numbers. I expect the same in Dallas and hopefully fans turn up to watch us play.

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