A member of Pakistan’s 2017 Champions Trophy winning squad, Rumman Raees appeared to be well on the road to establishing himself in the national side when he was hit by a series of injuries which put a halt to his career. The 28-year-old who has represented Pakistan on 17 occasions since his debut in 2016, recently made a comeback to competitive cricket for Islamabad United during PSL 5.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Rumman spoke about the highs and lows of his career, his battle with injuries and how he almost gave up playing cricket, his ambition to make a comeback to the national side and why Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah need encouragement not criticism.
By Amir Husain (14th September, 2020)
PakPassion.net: In 2017, it seemed that your international career was about to take off. Tell us in your own words what went wrong?
Rumman Raees: The boost I got from my performances in 2017 to 2018 made those years the highlight of my career, but sadly, it all went wrong soon after that. Usually cricketers speak of the highs and lows of their career after playing for many years but for me, this stage came very early and was a pretty depressing part of my life. This happened when during a game in PSL 3 against Quetta Gladiators, my knee got stuck in the wet ground whilst fielding which caused me a knee injury and I had to sit out the rest of the tournament. At that point, it seemed that this was my only problem and I had hopes of getting fit soon, but I was very wrong about that.
PakPassion.net: Was the knee injury your only hurdle in making a comeback?
Rumman Raees: That knee injury took about 8 months of rehabilitation to fix completely and just when I thought that was all behind me, I was hit by another problem. During PSL 4 after I had played 8 games, I started to get some issues in my back with 4 discs – L4, L5, S1 and S3 - being dislocated. Fast-bowlers have always had to deal with dislocated discs but what really threw me was that when I had MRI and X-rays, it came to light that I had developed a Synovial cyst within my L4 and L5 discs. This cyst was about 4-5 cm long and was causing me immense amounts of pain. The situation became so bad that for six months I even needed assistance in simple daily tasks and thankfully my mother and wife helped me out with that. I would get numbness in my legs and I would lie on one side of my body for most of the day which was very painful and depressing.
PakPassion.net: What advice did you get from the doctors?
Rumman Raees: This was a time of great mental stress for me but as they say, the worst times sometimes bring out the best in a person and that is what happened. Faced with this terrible situation, I developed the willpower to fight against all the odds which helped me make a comeback in PSL 5. But to get that to stage, I had to battle my way through many uphill struggles – one of which was the advice of the doctors after my back surgery in 2019. The medics told me it would be better if I either reduced or gave up playing cricket altogether. This was because there was a real danger that if I continued playing and pushed myself harder, I could end up possibly being paralyzed as my discs were so badly dehydrated that they could cause real damage to me. Things got to a stage that I was pondering announcing my retirement from cricket, but I held back from taking such a decision as I wanted to give myself another chance.
PakPassion.net: How did you overcome these hurdles and what’s the situation now?
Rumman Raees: I decided to take matters into my own hands and worked on reducing my weight. Of course, the amount and type of gym work I could do was limited by my condition as I wasn’t allowed to pick up any weights. This was a problem for me as picking up weights is an essential part of training and what is needed to become a world-class athlete, which was similar to what I had done in 2016-2017. However, I did what it took to get myself into shape and to achieve my goals and made a comeback in PSL 5. I now intend to use whatever time I have left to play cricket to represent my country, my domestic team and my franchise in the PSL.
PakPassion.net: What kept you going in those dark days when you were injured and your career was in doubt?
Rumman Raees: My hair was black in 2016 and in 2020 it’s very close to becoming white due to the stresses I have faced in my life! I had become very depressed during my injuries and had become irritable towards my family. My problem was that I was lying around watching cricket on television and feeling frustrated about the fact that from being a member of the Pakistan side, I had been reduced to an onlooker just following the game on television. On top of that I was unable to play any league cricket which was very disheartening for me.
But throughout the dark days, I knew that in the same way I got so much attention and hype in 2017 and then fell by the wayside, there would come a day when I will be back to my best again. And here I must thank the people around me such as my family and Nadeem Khan, Coach Azam Khan and my trainer Hanif Malik – all of whom motivated me and kept me on an even keel during such trying times. Thankfully, I made my comeback in PSL 5 and now I am named in the Sindh First XI squad for the upcoming National T20 Cup, so things are looking much brighter.
PakPassion.net: You must have had a lot of negative comments directed at you during the time you were away from cricket – how did you handle that?
Rumman Raees: Yes, a lot of people told me that there was no way I could make a comeback after my injuries but it’s in my nature to disprove people when they speak in that way about me. I don’t make it a matter of ego and turn on others but instead look to improve myself. During the height of the COVID-19 crisis in Pakistan, I was involved in a lot of charity work and a few people even took that opportunity to say that it seemed I had given up cricket and was now just busy with charity work. The fact was that there was a need for such charity work in those days and I took on the challenge and the moment I got a chance to say so, I explained to all that cricket was still very much on my mind and that I would continue to do my utmost to restart my international career and finish my career on a high note.
PakPassion.net: How hard are you working to make a comeback to the Pakistan side?
Rumman Raees: To be very honest, if we look at the sort of injuries and the break from cricket I have had, I feel that the chances of making it back to the Pakistan side appear to be nil. This is human nature as one starts doubting their own abilities if they haven’t performed on a cricket field for a while. However, I do know that to get myself back on track for a comeback I will need to put in a lot of hard work which I am happy to say I am doing now. This involves taking care of my diet and given the issues with my back and the fact that I cannot lift weights, I am focussing on swimming a lot to get myself fit for future challenges. Not only am I working on fitness, I am also looking to bowl as many overs as possible as that is vital practice for any fast-bowler. The idea being that I will be in prime condition if I am asked to play back-to-back T20s, One-Dayers or even 4-Day games – all of that will help build my case for a future recall to the Pakistan side.
PakPassion.net: How difficult was it to make a comeback in PSL 5, especially considering the fact that you had played no domestic cricket before that?
Rumman Raees: I was still completing rehabilitation for my injury before the start of PSL 5. I had trained very hard for the preceding six months and had tried very hard to find a place in any domestic cricket tournament before the start of this year’s PSL, but unfortunately no places were available for me in any team. All I could do was play some low-key club games until the start of the PSL. So, my first real competitive game of cricket since March 2019 was the Islamabad United match versus Quetta Gladiators in February 2020. Considering this was my first game in many months, I bowled well and was relieved to know that I didn’t feel too fatigued after that match. During that game, I was constantly praying to the Almighty to get me through the game without any mishap and thankfully my comeback passed off without any problems. My performances in the PSL this year helped me reach the conclusion that I had recovered well enough to continue playing in future.
PakPassion.net: What is the reason behind your insistence to continue playing despite advice to the contrary from the doctors?
Rumman Raees: It’s is true that I have been told in no uncertain terms by doctors to either stop playing cricket completely or play very few games in a season to lessen the load on the body. But my view is that if I follow this advice, it will be unfair to my domestic side and will also put a burden on my cricket career. The decision I have taken is that I will continue working hard and not disappoint anyone else, regardless of the consequences. If I am selected to play for any side, they will expect my full commitment and will not want someone who plays a few games only. I know that this is risky for me and could affect my life, but I am convinced that since I am doing this for the right reasons, the Almighty will help me through this. Cricket is not only my bread and butter, it is also my passion and I will take whatever risks I have to play the game as long as I can.
PakPassion.net: What is the reason for so many injuries to Pakistani players in recent times?
Rumman Raees: It’s true that apart from my injury, we have seen players like Hassan Ali and a few others also face injuries which is worrying. If we look at the load being put on bowlers’ bodies in the previous 4-5 years, then it’s clear that we are playing much more cricket than before. Looking at our domestic season, I feel that there is very little time to rest between different formats. So, we have T20s, 4-Day games, One-Day games and then PSL after that. When PSL ends, there can be Pakistan’s international series which the players to have to play in as well.
So, the number of games being played is a lot and it’s possible that we as players are making some mistakes in the way we are training to compete at the international level. In my case, only after participating in the PSL did I realize what it means to correctly prepare for the physical demands of top-quality cricket. I am happy to say that things are getting better and in the last two years or so, the physical condition of our players has improved a lot. We are taking better care of our diets and the new system in place by the PCB of carrying out fitness tests every 2 months is having a positive effect as well. I feel that if we continue like this, the physical fitness of our domestic and international cricketers will only get better.
PakPassion.net: How impressed are you by the emergence of our new fast-bowlers?
Rumman Raees: When I debuted for Pakistan in 2016, I was a little unsure of myself but all that changed as I played more games for the national side and that really helped build my confidence too. I feel that all our new bowlers need a proper chance to develop themselves at the international level. We need to get away from judging the level of players on performances in one or two games. We are currently blessed with a new and excellent pace attack which consists of names like Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain and Haris Rauf. The youngsters are lucky to be guided by the likes of experienced fast bowlers such as Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz which will really help them improve in the future. But we do need to tell the youngsters that we have full faith in them and that we consider them our main strike bowlers and match-winners, as that will boost their morale and help them gain confidence. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah are our wicket-taking bowlers and the more confident they feel in themselves, the more wickets they will take for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: How important is it for a young fast-bowler to get that sort of confidence from his coach?
Rumman Raees: During my time in the Pakistan side and with Islamabad United, I was always told by Sarfaraz Ahmed and Misbah-ul-Haq that they trusted me to win games for them. When a player hears this from his seniors and coaches, it increases his confidence and he feels that he can conquer the world. It doesn’t matter if he is gets hit for fours and sixes, he then has only one thing on his mind which is to take wickets. When I was playing T20Is alongside the likes of Hassan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan we were told by Mickey Arthur and Azhar Mahmood that all we had to worry about was to take wickets and not to worry about containing the opposition because when a bowler worries about conceding runs, then the batsman will simply get emboldened and score even more runs.