Hailing from the small town of Daska in Punjab, 22-year-old fast-bowler Ali Shafiq briefly became the toast of the fourth edition of the PSL when in his debut game for Multan Sultans against the two-times champions Islamabad United, he picked up the Player of the Match award.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Shafiq spoke about his journey to play first-class cricket, his dream debut for Multan Sultans and the unfortunate injury which cut short his participation in PSL 4, the disappointment of not being included in any team for the 2019 Pakistan Cup and his aspirations to play for Pakistan.
By Amir Husain (2nd April, 2019)PakPassion.net: Tell us about how you started to play competitive cricket and whether you had support from your family?
Ali Shafiq: Like most youngsters in Pakistan, I started off playing tape-ball cricket. And like most parents, my parents were dead-against my taking on cricket as a career and wanted me to become a doctor or to join the Army. But all that changed once I started to play regional Under-19 cricket and they became more favourable once I made my first-class debut. Being from a rural area in Punjab, opportunities to play hard-ball cricket were limited so I had to wait until I was 17 when in 2013/2014, I first played for Forward Cricket Club. Thankfully, my patience was rewarded quickly as after 3-4 games for the club, I was spotted by the Sialkot Under-19 Coach who invited me for trials. I was then selected for the Sialkot Under-19s and started playing for them in 2013 where I picked 32 wickets in that season and then followed it up in 2014 with a tally of 29 wickets in District and Regional Under-19 tournaments.PakPassion.net: How did you end-up making your first-class debut at KRL?
Ali Shafiq: My performances in Regional Under-19 cricket opened doors for more opportunities as I was then picked by Habib Bank Limited for playing in List A games in 2016. With some excellent senior fast-bowlers in their ranks such as Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Faheem Ashraf and Amad Butt, it was very difficult for me to get games for HBL. So, I was very lucky that KRL made me an offer to join them for the 2017/2018 season which I accepted, and I duly made my first-class debut in October 2017. Since then I have now played 13 first-class games in total for KRL and taken 57 wickets since my debut. I could have played more games, but I was called away for the Pakistan A versus England Lions series in UAE, so I missed a few matches.PakPassion.net: Did you find the jump from Regional Under-19 to List A and first-class cricket a big one?
Ali Shafiq: To be honest, moving to first-class cricket was an eye-opening experience for me as until then I had no idea about the pressures and intensity of such high-quality competitive cricket. But what helped me get adjusted to this level of cricket was attending a month-long preparatory training camp with KRL where I took part in practice sessions and practice games. The benefits of this camp became very clear to me when I played in my debut first-class game for KRL where I picked up 8 wickets. At this point, I must thank our coach Jaffar Nazir and my captain Saeed Anwar jnr for their invaluable support and also Sadaf Hussain and Yasir Ali for helping me gain confidence throughout my stay with KRL.
PakPassion.net: What would you describe as your best wicket-taking delivery?
Ali Shafiq: In any form of cricket, what I aim to do is to bowl the ‘hard-length’ where the idea is to hit the top of the off-stump with every delivery I bowl. I can also bowl slower balls and as well as bouncers, but I feel that the ball that bothers the batsmen the most is the one which where I try and hit the top of the off-stump.PakPassion.net: Who are your role models in cricket?
Ali Shafiq: I have been a great fan of Waqar Younis’ bowling since the time I started to play hard-ball cricket. In fact, my Player of the Match award in PSL was against his side, Islamabad United. He met me that day and really appreciated my bowling skills which I will remember for a long time. In the current crop of bowlers, my favourite is Jasprit Bumrah as I really like the accuracy with which he can bowl, especially in death overs where he is almost unplayable. Given the pace of cricket nowadays, it isn’t easy for any fast-bowler to bowl in death overs but the way Bumrah bowls with accuracy is simply amazing.PakPassion.net: What was the experience like of playing for Pakistan A in the series against England Lions?
Ali Shafiq: To be selected for the Pakistan A side was great and the experience of playing against a top-quality outfit like England Lions in the UAE was simply amazing. I had been used to bowling with the Dukes ball in Pakistan but in UAE I had to bowl with the Kookaburra in totally different conditions to what I had been used to at home. On top of that I only had one practice session before the start of the unofficial Test but still managed to take 2 wickets in the first innings, which included the wicket of Ollie Pope for a duck. So, in terms of experience, this was a great opportunity for me as it gave me a glimpse of what top-level cricket is like where I had to bowl to the likes of England international batsmen like Sam Billings. What I quickly learnt was that whilst you could sometimes get away with wayward balls back home, against quality international batsmen, there was absolutely no room for error, and they made you pay dearly for any loose deliveries. So, maintaining the correct line and length whilst bowling at this level was very important.PakPassion.net: Were you surprised at being selected by Multan Sultans for the PSL 4?
Ali Shafiq: I was told about my selection in the PSL drafts during the Pakistan A series against England Lions. To be honest, I was half-expecting to be picked by a PSL franchise but was nevertheless overjoyed when my name was confirmed for Multan Sultans and I was really excited about the tournament. For a person from a rural part of Punjab, the feeling of being part of something so big such as the PSL was difficult to explain. To start with, the brotherly behaviour of Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik towards a newbie like me is something I will never forget. Initially, I was a little hesitant to speak to them but all that changed once I realised how approachable they were for advice by a junior player like myself. This sort of feeling was common within all the youngsters in the squad and the management made sure that no extra pressure was put on us as we were told to approach games with confidence and not apprehension.PakPassion.net: Take us through how you felt after a dream debut in PSL.
Ali Shafiq: To take the award of Player of the Match in my PSL debut was another dream come true for me. When I was asked to play in that match, the first thought that came to my mind was that this was a great opportunity for my career, and I should do whatever it takes to make sure that I do something that will help me get established in this side. Thanks to the Almighty, I performed really well in that first game against Islamabad United. To tell you the truth, it took me almost a day before the true importance of my achievement sunk in as this was something one imagines will happen but doesn’t expect to become reality. What also made it most memorable was the support and appreciation for my efforts that I got from Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Shan Masood during this game and that is really what gave me a lot of confidence. PakPassion.net: Your injury in the PSL must have been devastating for you?
Ali Shafiq: In my second game in the PSL against Quetta Gladiators I slipped and suffered a hamstring injury which ruled me out of the tournament completely. It was a huge disappointment and I felt devastated as I was really looking forward to making good progress and to help my side in the tournament but sadly that was not to be. Thankfully, I have now recovered well enough to start training again and did long sessions with English coach Ian Pont who came to Punjab to work with our players.PakPassion.net: Were you disappointed at not being selected for any side in the 2019 Pakistan Cup?
Ali Shafiq: To not be selected for any of the sides in the Pakistan Cup is a huge disappointment for me. In fact, we had a few emerging fast-bowlers who put in excellent performances during PSL this year and none of them found a place in any side for the Pakistan Cup which is incredible. As for myself, I was convinced that given my performances in domestic cricket and the PSL, I would be selected but was shocked to see that I was not included. It could be that the PCB is unaware of my recovery from injury but then no one asked me about it also, so this is confusing and disappointing to say the least.PakPassion.net: Do you feel you have the skills and talent to play for Pakistan in the future?
Ali Shafiq: Not being included in the Pakistan Cup is a shock to the system but then I am only 22 years old so have a fairly long way to go before I lose hope. So the plan now is to simply work as hard as possible and to get a level of skill which will get me noticed by the national selectors. My aim is to then continue improving my game and to make sure that whenever I represent Pakistan, I do so for a long time and with my best efforts.