Regarded as a top batting prospect when he burst onto the international scene in 2013, the twenty-nine-year-old Sohaib Maqsood has struggled to establish a place in the Pakistan Limited-overs teams, despite scoring nine-hundred and fifty-six runs in forty-six international appearances.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Sohaib spoke about the reasons for lack of success at the international level, the experience of leading a talented Pakistan A side on the tour of Zimbabwe and looked forward to playing the next season of the Pakistan Super League for his new team Peshawar Zalmi.
By Amir Husain (10th November, 2016)
PakPassion.net : How do you feel about your progress so far in international cricket?
Sohaib Maqsood : It’s been good in patches and not that great at other times. I suppose that is why I haven’t played that much international cricket. But one thing I have done is learn a lot from the experience I have had so far. My focus is now to do well in domestic cricket so that whenever my comeback happens, I will give a better account of myself.
PakPassion.net : How have you found international cricket compared to the domestic version? Was the jump a tough one?
Sohaib Maqsood : I don’t believe that move was very tough for me. The main difference between both levels of cricket is the intensity and pressure that one encounters. From my experience, I would say that the playing conditions are more favourable in international cricket for players than those encountered in domestic cricket. Of course, the quality of bowling and fielding is much higher in international cricket but batting conditions are also better at that level. Apart from that, how you fare in international cricket is dependent upon how you handle the crowd pressure and the stress of representing your country at that level. From my experience, I can tell you that when playing against another country my heart was beating much faster, but then that is something every player feels at some point. It’s all down to the way you handle pressure. Those who adjust to the pressure better tend to have a smoother ride when transitioning between international and domestic cricket.
PakPassion.net : Is the absence of crowds in domestic games that much of an issue for emerging players?
Sohaib Maqsood : That is a big problem for newer players as they aren't used to huge crowds and become uneasy when they face thousands when playing international cricket. On the positive side one must remember that the crowd gives you feedback which is great for your self-esteem. A player just doesn’t feel appreciated or fails to see the value of his innings unless he plays in front of a packed house.
PakPassion.net : How much of a role do cricket coaches play in helping a player transition from domestic to international cricket?
Sohaib Maqsood : They play an important role for sure. I suppose it was my good fortune that when I started off in international cricket, we had Dav Whatmore as our head coach. He was extremely easy going and made things comfortable for me. Forget playing against other teams, sometimes playing alongside senior players is a tougher challenge. All your life one idolises these players and now suddenly you are face-to-face and working with them; playing in the same team with household names from your own country has its own pressure. Thankfully, I did not feel that pressure as the environment was such that I was made to feel at home and I would go as far as saying that the start to my international career was the best part of my career.
PakPassion.net : So, what went wrong after that promising start to your international career?
Sohaib Maqsood : There are many reasons for that. To start with, if you look at my record in domestic cricket, you will note that I would normally play at the one-down position in the long and short formats of the game. When I came into the Pakistan team, I played my first two ODIs which were against South Africa at the number three position and scored fifties in both games. After those games, I was moved around a bit in the batting order. Whilst I can’t blame anyone bar myself for my performances, the fact is that I could not adjust that well to the changes in my batting position in the subsequent games. I suppose the issue is that if you are used to playing at number three then you have a different method to pace the innings as opposed to when you are batting at a later position. What I am doing now in domestic cricket is to go back to my preferred number three position and get myself back into contention for selection in the national team. The idea is to make a return to the team as a better player than I was before.
PakPassion.net : Was shot selection another factor in your fall from grace after a promising start to your international career?
Sohaib Maqsood : Absolutely no doubt that my shot selection was a problem which caused my downfall. However, as I said before, if a batsman is used to playing in the top-order, his shot selection is completely different from someone playing in later positions. I have played most of my cricket in UAE conditions where batting at the number three position is totally different from the number six position. So yes, my shot selection was at fault but that was probably because I wasn’t used to the position I was being asked to bat at. That is why usually around the thirty or thirty-five score I would play rash shots which were probably the demand of the hour as the team needed such hits. This obviously caused problems for me and resulted in below par scores for myself.
PakPassion.net : Since you were struggling in your batting, did you not receive any advice from the Pakistan team coaching staff to rectify these problems?
Sohaib Maqsood : There is always advice from the coaching staff at hand and they do try and help you out. But, I do believe that the underlying problem is the same issue of batting position for me. I have played twenty-six ODIs so far and I have probably batted at each position starting from number one to seven. In fact, I have also batted at number eight which will give you an idea of how much I have moved around in the batting order. In Asian conditions, this type of shuffling in the batting order can have dire consequences as all your previous training for playing in one settled position can go out of the window. Suddenly, shots that would give you good value at the top of the order are of no use in the lower order and so on. Having said that, the blame for not capitalising at times when I did have a good start to my innings lies squarely on me.
PakPassion.net : Did comparisons with Pakistan’s famed batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq add more pressure on you?
Sohaib Maqsood : I wouldn’t say that there was any pressure due to that comparison; in fact, I was honoured and motivated by the fact that I was being compared to one of Pakistan’s best batsmen. I knew that I was not in the same class as Inzamam but I suppose people made that connection as I used to play at the same club in Multan. My way of walking and height probably also fuelled that idea that I was an Inzamam lookalike. That is where the similarity ended as I could never be the same player as him. Obviously, such comparisons can be helpful but at other times they prove to be tough for your progress. Whilst I have never spoken to him about this matter, he did call me over to discuss issues with my batting and gave me some good advice. He felt that I should focus on demonstrating my skills by way of good performances during the domestic season. I totally agree with him and just like I made my way into the Pakistan team on the back of some excellent domestic performances in the past, I would like to follow the same path again. That is the only way back to the Pakistan team. I am hoping that I can top the tables in at least one of the domestic tournaments this season and get noticed by the selectors again.
PakPassion.net : What was the experience of leading the Pakistan A team during the recent tour of Zimbabwe?
Sohaib Maqsood : I enjoyed the experience of captaining a young and talented side. A few players were experienced but the majority were young players from the Under 19 team and there were some who had played just one season of First-Class cricket. A lot of people thought that playing against Zimbabwe A would be easy but it was anything but that. Apart from playing in their home conditions, the team we played against was almost the same as their senior team which is currently playing against Sri Lanka. The Zimbabwe A batting was very strong and the matches we played against them were very competitive. No match on that tour was easy; we won the One-Day series by three games to two which shows how closely fought these games were. Here, I would like to mention Zain Abbas and Fakhar Zaman who batted well on the tour. But if there is a find of the series, it must be Shadab Khan. He had very little experience before this series and yet he was outstanding in bowling, batting as well as fielding which was a matter of pride for the team.
PakPassion.net : Did captaincy on the Zimbabwe tour take a toll on your own performance?
Sohaib Maqsood : To be honest, I am disappointed that I did not put in the types of batting performances which I would have wanted to do. I couldn’t play any long innings but I enjoyed leading a side of such talented players. I do not think that it’s the pressure of captaincy as such because I have captained regional, departmental and A teams before. When I go in to bat, I don’t think about captaincy but concentrate on what I can do as a batsman. On this tour, I do feel I was in good form but unfortunately could not convert the fifties into hundreds in the One-Day matches. I guess there were a few matches where our top three played most of the overs so I couldn’t get a chance to perform as such. Apart from that the management of the team also deserves applause for making it so successful for the whole squad. I do think that such tough A tours will be very useful for producing top quality players for Pakistan in the future.
PakPassion.net : How disappointed are you about missing out on a PCB central contract for 2016-2017?
Sohaib Maqsood : I am not disappointed by this exclusion at all. These contracts are performance-based and probably my performance was not good enough to have been included in that list. This is not the end of the world. The main goal for each player is to qualify with one’s performance for inclusion in the national team. My aim is to perform so I can do the same and the central contracts are not a consideration or an important issue for that goal. For the moment, I will be focusing on ensuring that I contribute towards the success of my UBL team in domestic cricket. A place in the national team can only happen if I do well in domestic cricket.
PakPassion.net : What are your aims for the ongoing domestic season?
Sohaib Maqsood : The domestic season is an ideal time for any player who is not in the national team to perform and show what he can do. The current season is a lengthy one and there will be plenty of opportunities to prove one-self. I am working very hard and, with the Almighty’s help, will perform to the best of my abilities to give myself the best chance of making a comeback in the national team in the future.
PakPassion.net : Coming to the Pakistan Super League, you must be pleased that it provides that platform for players to improve themselves for the benefit of Pakistan cricket?
Sohaib Maqsood : I think this is where a tournament like the PSL has great importance to our cricket. It will benefit our players financially and give international exposure to our domestic players. There are obvious advantages for players to play alongside some top names of international cricket. The example of Sharjeel Khan is for all to see. Once he had been through the experience of the high intensity games in PSL which were played in front of a large audience, he has moved from being a specialist for Twenty20 to a player for all formats. It’s not only him but Mohammad Nawaz has also gained confidence from playing in such a tournament and the feeling it provides is nothing short of what one can experience whilst playing in international games.
PakPassion.net : You must be looking forward to the PSL yourself with your new team Peshawar Zalmi?
Sohaib Maqsood : As you may recall I played for Lahore Qalandars in the inaugural edition of the PSL in 2016. The set-up of the team was great and the management was excellent too. Despite all the support we had, it is sad that we did not perform that well as a team. Personally, I am disappointed that I did not get a proper chance to play for the team during the tournament. I only played two games in which I scored twenty-two and fifty-seven respectively. So, I played just two games from a total of eight that Qalandars played in the tournament. What was most distressing was that I was side-lined from my own country’s league team at a time that I was still being considered for playing international cricket. In a sense, it was more disappointing than being dropped from the national team.
Moving on from that, I am very comfortable with my new team Peshawar Zalmi as I know Mohammad Akram who is their head coach. I have known him from the time he was bowling coach for the Pakistan team and I have a good understanding with him. Similarly, I have played a lot of cricket alongside Shahid Afridi and the fact is that Zalmi are one of the top sides in the PSL. Moving to Zalmi was a personal choice as remember, I moved from Qalandars via the ‘trade’ route. I could have chosen to change teams via the draft process but then you don’t have control over which team you go to. It was my choice to play for Zalmi so this worked out well. What was also pleasing was that when a team takes you on like that, they are doing that for a good reason and they must have a role in mind for you.
In my discussions with the Zalmi management, I was told that I would be given ample opportunities to play which was obviously good for my self-esteem. Apart from that, in Shahid Afridi I have someone who has in my time with the national team always praised me for my good performances and supported me during times when I have not been doing too well. I am sure he will also support me at Zalmi and for my part, I will do my utmost to ensure that I can repay everyone for their trust in me.
PakPassion.net : What does the future hold for you?
Sohaib Maqsood : For any player, the only goal is to play for the national team as long as possible. Whether that happens is down to one’s performances. My job is to continue improving my performances and fitness which is the only way forward for me. In that sense, the domestic season is an ideal time for me to focus and work on my game to ensure that my domestic team, UBL, become champions. This alone will define whether I will figure in future series for Pakistan or not.