A veteran of 435 international games where he has scored 11,753 runs and taken 218 wickets, Shoaib Malik has been the cornerstone of many of Pakistan's victories since his debut in 1999. At the age of 38, the Pakistan all-rounder now looks ahead for another chance to serve his country in yet another major event, if the proposed T20 World Cup does go ahead in Australia later this year.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Malik spoke about his memories of playing under the guidance of Mickey Arthur and the late Bob Woolmer, his career highlights including the title victories of the 2009 T20 World Cup and the 2017 Champions Trophy, his views on PCB's changes to the domestic system and his plans to work in the media when he retires from cricket.
By Saj Sadiq (20th June, 2020)
PakPassion.net: How good are Pakistan’s chances if this year’s Twenty20 World Cup takes place?
Shoaib Malik: I believe our chances are very good. In order to win these kinds of events, you have to have a very strong bowling attack and I think we have that box ticked. In addition, we also have a good batting line-up to complement that strong bowling attack. Not only that, but our fielding has also developed and improved over the years, which is important on big grounds. Our fitness is much improved and better than it was in previous years, so overall, I think we will be right up there as a team that stands a very good chance of winning this tournament if it goes ahead.
PakPassion.net: Looking back at your career, what’s been your biggest regret?
Shoaib Malik: I feel that accepting the Pakistan captaincy in 2007 was probably the main regret. It’s hard to say no when you are asked to lead your country but in hindsight, I would have been a much better captain, especially in terms of man-management, had this honour come along a few years later in my career. However, you cannot pick and choose when these things happen.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel you were given a rough deal when you were removed as skipper after only 2 years?
Shoaib Malik: No, I don’t think so. I actually resigned from the captaincy, though I think the Pakistan Cricket Board had already made up their mind by then and wanted a change of captain anyway.
PakPassion.net: What was it like playing under the Late Bob Woolmer?
Shoaib Malik: It’s hard to sum it up in words. He was one of the best coaches in the world and I learned so much from him. But I remember him and miss him equally for reasons more than just technique and cricket. He was a caring man and I will never forget how he supported me when I was struggling with my bowling action. He took me to South Africa and oversaw my elbow surgery, which helped me in the long run with my bowling action. He was not just a coach, but he was also a mentor and father-figure for all the players. I will never forget what he did for Pakistan cricket for the rest of my life. I miss him a lot.
PakPassion.net: What were Mickey Arthur’s strongest and weakest points as a coach?
Shoaib Malik: I didn’t see too many weaknesses in Mickey, and I don’t like to criticise people for their work. Mickey was very consistent in the way he worked and gave extended opportunities to players, which is a good way to strengthen the team and the system. What was important was that players were not playing with the fear of being dropped all the time. Nobody likes to be thrown out the team after a couple of games if you don’t perform. So, with more opportunities given to players come more chances of good, consistent results from the same individuals.
PakPassion.net: What have been the high-points of your career?
Shoaib Malik: Without a doubt, the high-points are the World Twenty20 win in 2009 at Lord’s and the Champions Trophy triumph in 2017 at The Oval. They were fantastic occasions and it was just incredible to be a part of both wins. They are tournaments and days that I will never forget.
PakPassion.net: What still hurts you regarding your career and why?
Shoaib Malik: I guess any time I was dropped from the team was a low point. Whenever I was dropped and felt a little hard-done by, was not a nice feeling. But this is a professional sport and the tough days and low points made me come back stronger. Comebacks and playing all over the world are two things that make you a better player, and stronger and more rounded as a person. I am not unique in this regard as many players experience the disappointment of being dropped when they feel good enough to carry on. It’s probably how you use that experience going forward that matters. Like I said, I have preferred to use it as motivation to come back stronger.
PakPassion.net: Describe the feelings and emotions of winning the 2009 World Twenty20 in England?
Shoaib Malik: I must mention here that I still remember the 2007 T20 World Cup final, which we lost to India in South Africa, and everybody was very hurt. Not because we lost to India but because we were just one step away from winning the trophy. So, when we won in 2009 against Sri Lanka in the final, the captain Younis Khan called up Geoff Lawson, who was in England doing media work, and me and said he wanted us to have a picture taken together with the trophy. That was a lovely gesture by Younis as he never forgot the look of pain on Geoff’s and my faces when we were the coach and captain back in that 2007 final.
Younis Khan scored more than 10,000 Test runs in his career and was a great player but this gesture showed how he was also a great man. He could have just enjoyed the moment himself as the winning captain in 2009, but he still had that generosity and respect for Geoff and me in that way which is an abiding memory of that victory.
PakPassion.net: Any special memories of the 2017 Champions Trophy tournament?
Shoaib Malik: In terms of winning that tournament in 2017, yes it was a great feeling to win another ICC Trophy, but I have another memory that is very special to me. I remember after the final at The Oval against India sitting in the dining hall talking to Yuvraj Singh and we were just chatting and he said, ‘Your team-mates are celebrating, don’t miss out on this special moment, you should be celebrating with them.’ It is just a small example of how cricket generates very good friendships no matter where we come from. Yes, we do battle on the field and we try our best to win for our country, but off the field, we can still be friends.
PakPassion.net: Were you a bit nervous about marrying an Indian sports star given the strained relationship between India and Pakistan?
Shoaib Malik: No, not at all. In a marriage, you don’t concern yourself with where your partner is from or what is going on between the countries or in politics. That is not our domain. If you love someone and get married to that person that should be all that matters, regardless of which country you come from. On a wider point, I have many friends who are Indian and I don’t find anything strained because of the relationship between the two countries. I am a cricketer, not a politician.
PakPassion.net: India versus Pakistan, how badly does the world of cricket need those encounters once again?
Shoaib Malik: I think the world badly needs this rivalry to resume, in the same way that world cricket needs the Ashes. Could England and Australia imagine Test cricket without an Ashes series? Both series are played with the same kind of passion and have such a great history, so it is a shame that we don’t play right now. Also, I have Pakistani friends who love to talk about Indian cricketers with respect and admiration. Similarly, I and my Pakistan team-mates are given such love and support when we play in India so it is a rivalry that I would like to see return as soon as it is possible.
PakPassion.net: What’s your overriding memory of playing against India?
Shoaib Malik: From a personal point of view the 2009 Champions Trophy match at Centurion when I was Man of the Match after scoring 128 and the Asia Cup match in Sri Lanka in 2004 where I scored 143 from 127 balls and took the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh are great memories. But I also enjoyed the one-off ODI in Kolkata in 2004 when we chased 293 to win. It was a day before Eid and the atmosphere inside Eden Gardens in that floodlit match was incredible.
PakPassion.net: Who has been the toughest opponent you ever faced and why was he such a tough opponent?
Shoaib Malik: There are so many players who I have enjoyed doing battle against and the fact is that conditions often dictate who can be more dangerous on a given day. But I will say Shoaib Akhtar was the toughest overall. I faced him many times in domestic cricket and he was quick and nasty. I remember one First-Class match in particular, on a green-top wicket, where he made my life very uncomfortable. He bowled, I think, a six-over spell and nearly every ball was a bouncer. As a batsman, you don’t pick certain actions too well and he was one who I found difficult to pick.
PakPassion.net: Cricket for the foreseeable future may be played with no fans present, how do you feel about this and will it work?
Shoaib Malik: Of course, we all like to see packed stadiums and matches that have a buzz from the crowd, which all adds to the spectacle. But right now, the situation around the world is very concerning and we must do what is right for everyone’s health and safety. Hopefully one day and not too far into the future crowds will be back. But for now, cricket needs to be played and if this is what needs to be done to get cricket back on then we must support it and accept it.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the sweeping changes made by PCB in domestic cricket?
Shoaib Malik: The PCB has made some very positive changes in domestic cricket, like going with a reduced number of elite teams and improving the quality of the cricket. The main thing I would like to see changed now is further strengthening of grassroots cricket, especially in terms of school, college and club cricket. So much good work has been done by the PCB to improve the Pakistan team’s fielding and fitness and more in recent years and I just hope this professionalism will filter down to the various levels. With Wasim Khan at the helm, I am confident this will be done. I feel Pakistan cricket is in good hands.
PakPassion.net: What are your plans after you stop playing cricket?
Shoaib Malik: At the moment I am as fit as I have ever been, I’m still very hungry to play cricket and have a few more goals that I would like to achieve before retiring. But when my cricket days do come to an end I would like to work in the media. Maybe have my own show and also do some commentary or studio work.