Regarded as one of the top off-spinners in domestic cricket in Pakistan in recent times, 26-year-old Sajid Khan is the 5th highest wicket-taker with 25 wickets to his name in this season's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Sajid spoke about his outstanding performances this year in domestic cricket for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the disappointment of not being selected by any franchise for PSL 5, the difference between the standard of cricket in the current and previous seasons, why he holds Saqlain Mushtaq, Nathan Lyon and Mohammad Hafeez in such high regard, and his aspirations of playing for Pakistan in the future.
By Amir Husain (17th December, 2019)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about your interest in cricket and how your career progressed?
Sajid Khan: I started playing tennis-ball cricket when I was in year seven in school. I have two elder brothers who also had an interest in cricket, and I used to play with them, but I wasn’t very interested in cricket at that point. All that changed when I got to participate in a school tournament where I played hard-ball cricket in year seven which I really enjoyed. I then joined the Malik Sports Cricket Club in Peshawar to play proper cricket and have since been associated with them for about 12 years now and have also been the captain of the club for the past 5 years. I also progressed through the regional Under-16 level, and then on to regional Under-19s for Peshawar. All this while I had to juggle my studies and my love of the game but thanks to The Almighty, it has all worked out well for me. Along the way, I also played Under-23 cricket for Peshawar Region, went to the UAE for 2-3 months in 2015 to work and play cricket there, played league cricket in the UK for Whiston Parish Church Cricket Club in 2018 scoring 558 runs and taking 28 wickets, and also participated in the Shpageeza T20 Tournament in Afghanistan in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
PakPassion.net: How was the experience of playing for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in this season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy?
Sajid Khan: Thanks to The Almighty, this season has been great for me but then even last year, I did exceptionally well where with 34 wickets, I was amongst the top-10 highest wicket-takers. In fact, I also did well in batting last season, scoring 289 runs as well which made a lot of people say that I would be picked up by one of the franchises for PSL in 2019 or would be part of a Pakistan A tour but sadly that did not happen. When the new domestic system was put in place this year, I was convinced that I would be selected for the first XI of one of the six teams but that didn’t work out either. Thankfully, I was named for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa second XI but for the first few games, I was put on drinks duty which was strange for one of the top-performers of last year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. However, when I was finally given a chance to play, I took 5 wickets in my first game against Central Punjab and in the next game against Balochistan, took 13 wickets in the match and scored 92 to help my side win the game. I suppose based on my performances and the fact that players like Mohammad Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed and Imran Khan sr. had been called for national duties in Australia, I was asked to play for the first XI. This was a new environment and there was the pressure of playing in the first XI for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but I impressed all by taking 8 wickets in that game and then continued performing well after that. With God’s Grace, I am now at number 5 in the top wicket-takers list for this season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
PakPassion.net: Moving from the second XI to the First XI must have been a tough experience for you?
Sajid Khan: It was a big leap in terms of expectations and the difference in quality of cricket between second and first XI team games was huge. The first XI for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has some seasoned international players like Fakhar Zaman, Usman Khan Shinwari and Junaid Khan so playing alongside them was a great experience. But it also showed me that I had the capability to play top-level cricket and that motivated me a lot. On top of that, the exposure that a player gets at the first XI level is amazing. Every day when play ended, the player who performed well that day would be asked to appear in a press conference where TV cameras and journalists would see you in person and that would raise your profile. It’s also very encouraging for all players to know that we have been told that those performing well in domestic cricket would be rewarded in some way with a call=up to the national side or into the PSL, so to be given a chance to play in the first XI is also very beneficial for players in the long run.
PakPassion.net: Were you disappointed by the fact that you were not picked by any PSL side for the 2020 edition of the tournament?
Sajid Khan: It's interesting that we are told that no proper off-spinner has come to the fore since the days of Saqlain Mushtaq and Saeed Ajmal. I am 26 years old and have been performing since the last year so it puzzles me that there was not even one side in PSL who could have used the services of an off-spinner like myself. A proper off-spinner is a must in most sides around the world but seems that this is not the view of some teams in PSL which is very odd.
PakPassion.net: How difficult is to bowl with the Kookaburra ball for spinners this season?
Sajid Khan: In the previous seasons, we used to play with the Grays ball and that used to be quite good for spinners and batsmen alike, then we had a stage when we used the Dukes ball which was great for bowlers but this season we have the Kookaburra ball. With this ball the margin for error is very little and if a bowler errs in line or length then he will be hit for runs. To bowl well with this ball, you need to have immaculate control over line and length and a bowler needs use variations if he is to succeed.
PakPassion.net: How different is the standard of domestic cricket this year in comparison to last season?
Sajid Khan: There is a huge difference between the current system and the one that was in action before this year. Previously, if you didn’t perform well in a game and you lost your place, you could hope to be back in the side after 2-3 games. Due to the quality of competition in the sides, this is not the case now. You could be out of the first XI side for a long time if you do not perform well as your replacement could easily out-perform you and establish a place for himself in the side. And if this continues, you would be demoted to the second XI where God Forbid, if you do not perform then you could be carrying drinks for the rest of the season and then you are up against the top players from Under-19s who could take your position. One other point I would like to bring up is that a lot of players are now without teams compared to previous years and the pressure to perform to keep your place in the sides is immense. However, the system is good, and it will take a couple of years before its true benefits will be obvious to all. I am hearing that a few departments may also make a comeback in domestic cricket which could be an interesting development as well.
PakPassion.net: What is the reason for the lack of off-spinners in Pakistan?
Sajid Khan: I believe the only reason for the absence of quality off-spinners in Pakistan cricket is due to the general lack of importance given to this style of bowling. Look at how the likes of Nathan Lyon are treated by their sides. They are given the freedom to bowl with confidence but in our teams, the off-spinner is forever under the radar and has to look to be a good batsman to become a batting all-rounder if he is to survive in the side. This is the reason players are more interested in becoming leg-spinners, fast-bowlers or batsmen. I hope more off-spinners will come through in the future for Pakistan but from what I have seen so far, there are very few off-spinners around which is depressing.
PakPassion.net: Which off-spinners have you generally followed and admired?
Sajid Khan: I have been a great fan of Saqlain Mushtaq, Nathan Lyon and Graeme Swann throughout my career and I regularly view their videos to learn from them. And I really admire Mohammad Hafeez as well as I also consider myself an all-rounder and he fits my idea of a perfect spinning all-rounder.
PakPassion.net: Do you consider yourself an all-rounder?
Sajid Khan: My performances with the bat this season haven’t been that great to be honest, but last year I did exceptionally well as a batsman too. Whilst I am an off-spinner, to me, it’s all about what is needed by the team and when the side needs me to get runs, I can do my share as an all-rounder.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel you are ready to play for Pakistan if you are selected?
Sajid Khan: I am hundred percent ready to represent my country if called by the selectors. Of course, there will be ups and downs in ones career as was the case recently when I wasn't named for the Pakistan Test side against Sri Lanka. I am sure the selectors had their reasons for not picking me and my job now is to work hard, as I have been doing for the past few years, and continue to improve myself with the hope that I will one day become a part of the Pakistan national side.