Likened to Sachin Tendulkar for his style of batting by Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur, Asad Shafiq continues to defy his critics by putting in superlative performances in Test matches. The latest example of his talent coming in the recently concluded Test series against England where Asad's innings of 109 at The Oval proved to be crucial in helping Pakistan draw the series. Since his debut in 2010, his tally of over two thousand and eight hundred runs in forty-five Test matches scored at an impressive average of almost forty-three runs has undoubtedly made him a mainstay of the Pakistan Test batting line-up.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Asad spoke on a variety of topics including his team's preparations for and success during the tour of England, influence of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan as his mentors, the comparison with Sachin Tendulkar by Mickey Arthur and his hopes of succeeding in the Limited-overs formats in future for Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (28th September, 2016)
PakPassion.net : What were your expectations and aims going into the Test series against England?
Asad Shafiq : I had a good idea of what to expect from England given that we had played against them twice in UAE not so long ago. We knew what our capabilities were and the aim was to utilise those capabilities in England and play with confidence. What was really beneficial was the army camp in Pakistan and then the fact that we arrived in England a few weeks ahead of the Test series. These two things when combined meant that mentally and physically we were ready for the challenge of facing England. The training in England before the Test series was a major boost to the confidence of all the squad and it helped paint a clear picture of what to expect and also helped us get used to playing with the Dukes cricket ball and adjusting to how that ball would behave in English conditions.
Ahead of the series I spoke with a few people who actually frightened me about what I will encounter in England and the fact that the ball seaming and swinging around will make things very difficult for me. There again, others who I spoke with gave me confidence and said that if your preparation is good then you have nothing to worry about and also that if you play to the best of your abilities and with confidence then everything will be alright.
PakPassion.net : How difficult was it to bounce back from the two defeats at Old Trafford and Edgbaston?
Asad Shafiq : I went into the Lord's Test brilliantly prepared and bursting with confidence having made runs in the warm-up matches. The ball was coming nicely onto the bat and that continued at Lord's. My first innings at Old Trafford was good but then I flopped in the next three innings and you have to just appreciate that the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes are very good bowlers and they seize on any weakness of a batsman. I was struggling against the inswinging delivery and my bat position to those deliveries was incorrect and the England bowlers worked on that flaw. So then after I made a pair at Edgbaston I sat down with Younis Khan and we spoke at length about how I had batted and the errors that had crept into my batting. It wasn't an easy conversation as it had been a very difficult week for me but it was a very beneficial chat for me as my performance at The Oval showed.
PakPassion.net : How did the idea of you batting higher up the order at The Oval come about?
Asad Shafiq : Mickey Arthur approached me and asked me if I had batted up the order at number three in the past and how I felt about it. I said to him that I had been batting higher up the order all my life and had opened or batted at number three throughout my career, for teams in Karachi and for my departmental team. He said to me that he wanted me to bat at number three and he felt that was the right position for me. I said to him that I was fine with that and happy to do that for the team and I had no fears about batting at that position. It worked well as I made a century which the team and I needed.
PakPassion.net : Going forward, do you feel that the number three position is your best batting position in Test cricket?
Asad Shafiq : I've always felt confident and comfortable batting at number three because this is the position where I have played the vast majority of my cricket. I'm used to batting at number three against the new ball so I'm quite happy batting at this position in future if that's what the team and management want from me.
PakPassion.net : You are now approaching three thousand Test runs and have been in the Pakistan Test team since 2010. How has the journey been for you so far?
Asad Shafiq : The journey has been a good one. It's had its ups and downs, with some good series and some not so good series, but I have always tried to be consistent and to ensure that my form doesn't fluctuate too much. By and large I have managed to achieve that. You cannot score runs in every match but what I want from myself is consistency and that has been my aim. I'm a batsman who likes to analyse my mistakes and scrutinise them and to work on my weak points. I've learnt a lot from these six years in international cricket both in cricketing terms and as a human being. Looking ahead, I aim to continue to develop as a cricketer and to continue learning in the future.
PakPassion.net : There's a sense of serenity when you are at the crease. Is that what you want to portray when you are batting?
Asad Shafiq : Yes I do and this is me in a nutshell off the field also. If you speak to my friends and the people who have known me for a long time they will say that I am the sort of person who doesn't want to be in the limelight or want to be the centre of attention. I don't make friends that easily and with my batting I take my time to get my innings started, in the same way I take my time to become friendly with people. The serenity is there also in my private life and I am not someone who wants to grab the headlines; I would rather spend my free time with my family. As a professional cricketer you get very little time with your family and I like to make the most of that precious time.
PakPassion.net : There are some cricketers who crave headlines and live their life in the public eye and on social media. You don't seem to be one of those cricketers?
Asad Shafiq : We are playing cricket series one after the other. In between there is practice and domestic matches and training. You get so little time with your family members that I feel it's absolutely imperative to ensure you spend that spare time wisely. I'd much rather be at home with my family than spending my evening and spare time on social media. I also don't want to feature in news headlines or appear on television channels all of the time. I have a presence on social media, but I rarely use it.
PakPassion.net : How beneficial has it been for you to have had Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan around as role models and mentors?
Asad Shafiq : I've been blessed and have been very lucky to have played the vast majority of my Test cricket alongside Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. It's an honour to be playing in an era when these two greats are around. Younis Khan is such a fantastic personality and you can learn so much from him on and off the field. He is a true professional as is Misbah-ul-Haq. Their training schedules, their diet, their professionalism is second to none and being around such men can only improve you as a cricketer and as a person. If I have any cricketing issues or things are not going right then the two people that I always turn to are Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
PakPassion.net : As cricketing cycles go, it won't be long before you are amongst the next role models and mentors for the upcoming generation of Pakistan Test batsmen?
Asad Shafiq : Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have been the mainstays of Pakistan cricket for so many years and have carried the Pakistan batting on their shoulders for such a long time. It will be very difficult to replace such great cricketers and match their achievements but we have to try and that is where the responsibility falls on my shoulders and the other senior batsmen in the team. We need to ensure that we build on, and continue the great work these two legends have done for Pakistan cricket and ensure that we give our all for the cause and not let their great work go to waste.
PakPassion.net : Your performances in Limited-Overs cricket have not mirrored your achievements in Test cricket. Is that something you wish to put right now that you have been selected for the ODI series against West Indies?
Asad Shafiq : It's an area of my game that I am very keen to rectify. Recently at the National Twenty20 Cup I performed well and I hope to continue that in the future. Cricket has changed and I know that I have to match the modern day methods of batting in the Limited-Overs formats especially with the higher strike-rates for batsmen. It's good to be back in the ODI squad and I feel that I have improved in the last twelve months in both fifty and twenty over cricket and I have been working very hard to sort out the issues that affected my batting in the shorter formats. It's been about improving in the Limited-Overs domestic tournaments and I feel I have done that. I had to make adjustments and improvements to my batting in these shorter formats and I knew that I had to improve as a cricketer in these formats as I simply had not been good enough to hold a place in the Pakistan team in these formats. I feel that I have made changes to my batting in Limited-Overs cricket and in the last twelve months the signs have been good. I feel that I am ready to play Limited-Overs cricket again for Pakistan and I'm thankful to the selectors for giving me another opportunity.
PakPassion.net : Mickey Arthur recently said that your batting reminded him of Sachin Tendulkar. That is quite a compliment isn't it?
Asad Shafiq : To compare me to a player who was the reason I started to play cricket and a player whose videos I would watch all day is truly special for me. It's a very positive message from Mickey for me and it's made me feel very proud. During the Test series in England Mickey was saying to me that he thought technically I am a good batsman and that I could get even better if I batted higher up the order. He always spoke very highly of me in England and that was a real boost for me. I feel that I am improving as a cricketer under the tutelage of Mickey. As a cricketer I'm very happy and proud to be mentioned in the same breath as the great Sachin Tendulkar and I'll take these comments forward with me.
PakPassion.net : What's it been like to work with Grant Flower and do you feel he has helped with some aspects of your batting?
Asad Shafiq : Most certainly. I feel that I have improved technically since I started working with Grant. He's a very hard working and committed coach. He watches the batsmen very closely in practice and in match situations and enjoys discussing the art of batting with us. He's a very detailed coach and an analytical coach who is good at spotting mistakes and is always prepared to help and make suggestions. I honestly feel that I have improved as a batsman since he has become the batting coach.
PakPassion.net : Looking ahead to the West Indies Test series, what are your aims for this particular series?
Asad Shafiq : Our tactics in the UAE are clear and are a tried and tested formula. We look to pile up high scores and then get our spinners to do the business later on in the match. As a unit our batsmen have produced the goods in the last five years and we will be hoping to repeat this. It's challenging for opposition teams to come to the UAE and play against Pakistan because we are used to the conditions and our tactics tend to be successful out there. However you can never write the opposition off and I'm sure the West Indies will present a tough challenge for us.
PakPassion.net : Looking further ahead, the tour Down Under presents you with the challenge of facing the Australians at home for the first time. Are you looking forward to that challenge?
Asad Shafiq : I am so excited about the tour of Australia. When I was about to tour South Africa people said that I will struggle and I proved them wrong. Then this year some critics said that I would fail on the tour of England and once again I proved those people wrong. The way I see Australian wickets is that you get value for your shots and the tour of England has given me a huge lift and I hope that I can go to Australia and perform well there also.
PakPassion.net : What do you wish to achieve as a cricketer before you retire?
Asad Shafiq : I never look too far into the future or set myself any specific targets. I tend to look ahead to the short-term rather than the long-term. My aim has always been to perform well for my country and be consistent. I have always said to myself that I need to maximise my talent and to fully utilise my skills. I don’t want to finish cricket in future and feel that I underachieved. I'm nearing three thousand Test runs but the target I have set myself is to reach seven thousand or more Test runs before I retire.
Thanks to Stem Sports and Uzayr Raja for his assistance with this interview