The hard-hitting Pakistan all-rounder, Faheem Ashraf, recently shot to instant fame in a game against Sri Lanka when he became the first Pakistani bowler to take a hat-trick in a T20I. His talent had already been recognized during the victorious Champions Trophy campaign and he continues to re-emphasize his credentials as a potential successor to one of Pakistan's top all-rounders, Abdul Razzaq.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Faheem Ashraf spoke on a number of topics including his dramatic rise in stature since the warm-up game against Bangladesh in the Champions Trophy, his emotions and the advice he received when he achieved the hat-trick against Sri Lanka, how he feels about the confidence that the Pakistan coaching staff and especially Azhar Mahmood have in his abilities and why he feels that Pakistan will be strong contenders for the title in the 2019 World Cup.
By Saj Sadiq (24th November, 2017)
PakPassion.net: These past few months must feel like a dream for you?
Faheem Ashraf: Yes absolutely. A few months ago, only my coaches, team mates and friends really knew about me. Hardly anybody had heard my name, but now due to the Almighty many people have heard of me. The warm-up match at the Champions Trophy against Bangladesh and then the recent hat-trick against Sri Lanka have really boosted me and made people recognise my name.
PakPassion.net: Many people said, “Faheem who?!” when you were named in the Champions Trophy squad. Did you feel you had a point to prove during that tournament and thereafter?
Faheem Ashraf: That tournament will live in the minds of all of the squad forever. Many people did not know who I was when my name was announced in the squad, but the warm-up match against Bangladesh made people say Faheem Ashraf instead of Faheem who?! When I was about to go out to bat against Bangladesh at Edgbaston, the coaching staff said to me, go out there and just play your natural game and don't worry about the scoreboard. The pitch was true and I went out there and played my natural game and that worked. We were in a bad position, but we turned it around and eventually won when all seemed lost. I guess you could say that was the turning point for me.
PakPassion.net: To have been asked to make your international debut in a high-profile match against Sri Lanka at the Champions Trophy must have been quite nerve-wracking?
Faheem Ashraf: I went out there with the mindset of treating it like any other match. My team mates and the coaching staff told me to go out there and enjoy myself and just do my best. The confidence in the team throughout the tournament after the first match was sky-high. I was satisfied with 2 wickets against Sri Lanka, but I felt I conceded a few too many runs and my run-out is definitely one to forget. It was a match that we looked like we had lost, but that self-belief pulled us through and it was a sensational match to make my Pakistan debut in.
PakPassion.net: Describe what it was like to become the first Pakistani bowler to take a hat-trick in a Twenty20 international?
Faheem Ashraf: It's difficult to describe my emotions during and after the hat-trick but it was an incredible moment. I had no idea until after the match that I was the first Pakistani cricketer to complete a hat-trick in a Twenty20 international. I still cannot believe I did it and it's only when people mention it to me that I actually believe it happened. I wasn't sure if I would be bowling in the latter stages of the innings but then I realised that Usman Shinwari was injured and that I would be required to bowl one more over towards the end of the innings. Initially I just wanted to keep it tight and restrict the opposition and just focus on dot balls. Shoaib Malik came up to me and told me to keep bowling the right length for that wicket. He asked me to bowl on a good length and not bowl short. For the first wicket I bowled a slower ball and Hasan Ali took a superb catch. For the second wicket I took on board the advice of Shoaib Malik and bowled a good length delivery. For the hat-trick delivery Imad Wasim told me to bowl a good length inswinger and the batsman will be leg before or bowled and that's what happened as the batsman was out lbw. PakPassion.net: You speak about playing your natural game with the bat. What do you feel is your natural game?
Faheem Ashraf: I feel that I am no mug with the bat and that I have an array of strokes that can work for me. I play positively and feel that I go out into the middle looking to be positive which is my natural game. I'm working on a few things regarding my batting and there are improvements required, but I'm happy with the progress that I am making with the bat. However I want to be more consistent with the bat and not just regarded as a lower-order hitter.PakPassion.net: You seem like a cool, calm and mature man when out on the field. Is that the real you?
Faheem Ashraf: Yes, that's the way I am. There is no drama, I don't like big celebrations when I take a wicket and to me it's all about going out there, performing and then looking ahead to the next match. The previous match is history as soon as it's over. The way I think is that you look ahead to the next match and aim to improve yourself as soon as the previous match is over. PakPassion.net: You seem to bowl a heavy ball at times and vary your pace really well. Do you feel you can bowl faster than what you are bowling at the moment?
Faheem Ashraf: I firmly believe that variety is the key to a successful bowler. I can bowl a heavy ball which is my effort delivery, but I also bowl a lot of slower balls and cutters. My style of bowling is where I try to keep the batsman guessing and not bowl too many similar deliveries in any over. As far as pace is concerned, I guess the stronger I get, there is every chance that I will be able to bowl faster, but at the moment that is not too important for me. I really enjoy working with Azhar Mahmood, he has so much knowledge of the game and he really gives me a lot of confidence. Even when you have not had a good day, he will try and boost you up and motivate you; he's a great guy to have in the Pakistan dressing room. PakPassion.net: In a recent match you came out to bat, hit your first and second ball for six and made it look like you were playing a game of cricket with your friends in the local park?
Faheem Ashraf: No, it's never that easy. But when the management, senior players and captain are giving you so much self-belief, you are literally flying and believe you can do anything out there. The management, especially Azhar Mahmood said to me that I was capable of great things with both bat and ball and that I should believe in myself and not take on too much pressure. They support me so much that it makes me feel that I am not even playing international cricket as I have so much faith in my own ability after the backing of the coaching staff. In the previous match to the one where I hit the two sixes, I was disappointed with my batting and how I got out and wanted to make amends for it. Shadab Khan helped us win that match, but I felt that I had let my team down in that innings, so I was all set in my mind to show that I can do better than what people saw in that innings. PakPassion.net: Some are already comparing you to Abdul Razzaq. How does that make you feel and is it a fair comparison?
Faheem Ashraf: I think the likes of Abdul Razzaq are fantastic cricketers, great cricketers who are very difficult to replace. I am at the start of my career, I am learning and looking to improve. I think it's good for Pakistan cricket that there are a number of all-rounders coming through the ranks and all competing against each other for places. When there is competition that means that players realise that they can take nothing for granted and that you have to work even harder to keep your place in the side. The confidence given by the team management to me keeps me going and if that helps me get closer to the great Abdul Razzaq then that is a great thing for me and for Pakistan cricket.PakPassion.net: What's it like being part of the current Pakistan limited-overs squads?
Faheem Ashraf: It's a great environment and one that is built on trust and backing each other. There are a lot of youngsters in the squads and a lot of guys who are finding their way in international cricket and we are all helping each other on that journey. The basis of the team is aggression, that is what the captain wants and that is what the coaches want as well. The management back the players and in return the players are performing well as they have that belief and confidence. At the moment in limited-overs cricket we feel like we can beat any opposition.PakPassion.net: What's it like playing under Mickey Arthur, he looks quite daunting on television at times?
Faheem Ashraf: Before I was part of the Pakistan squad I had heard from some of the players that he is quite scary at times. But since I have played under him and got to know him a bit, he's a great guy. He just wants the best for the Pakistan team and he wants 100% from the players. He only gets upset when a player makes the same mistake again and again and where those mistakes have already been mentioned to that player previously. You know where you stand with a guy like Mickey Arthur and that is something that works for me.PakPassion.net: You opted out of playing in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League, why was that?
Faheem Ashraf: I was offered a BPL contract, but I decided to play in the National T20 Cup for Faisalabad region as they have done so much for my development as a cricketer. My region is playing in a major tournament so how could I leave them and head off to Bangladesh? I have come through the ranks at Faisalabad region from the junior teams to under 19s and then to the senior teams and leaving them to go and play in the BPL was not something I could have done. Nothing means more to me than playing for my country or for Faisalabad in any tournament. PakPassion.net: You are currently playing in the National T20 Cup, how is that tournament going, and it must be disappointing to be playing in front of empty stands?
Faheem Ashraf: It's a high-profile tournament and it's a tournament that is very important to the players for national selection and also due to the fact that there are more PSL places up for grabs. But it's very sad that the crowds are so poor. The earlier matches each day see hardly any fans and then the later matches see small crowds. Players want to play in front of decent crowds and I would urge the fans to attend the matches and back the players and all the teams taking part in this tournament. They need to do this to show the world that Pakistan supports all types of cricket, international and domestic. PakPassion.net: You've been selected by Punjabi Legendz for the T10 cricket league in UAE. Is 10 over cricket the future and have you played any 10 over cricket previously?
Faheem Ashraf: I've played some ‘last man standing’ cricket but never played 10 over cricket before. I think it will be fast-paced and entertaining for the fans. There were people who said twenty over cricket wouldn't work and look how popular it is, so let's give this format a chance and see how it goes. I think it will be fun and it will become popular. PakPassion.net: You'll be making your debut in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) next year. That must be something you are really looking forward to?
Faheem Ashraf: It will be an absolute honour for me to share the dressing room with two Pakistani cricketing greats, Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis. It will be fantastic to play under the captaincy of the legend Misbah-ul-Haq and I'm also really looking forward to working with one of the greatest bowlers ever, Waqar Younis. I see the Pakistan Super League as a great venture for Pakistan cricket, but also a big opportunity for the likes of myself to learn from the likes of Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq. I've heard great things about the Pakistan Super League and I'm really looking forward to this opportunity. I won't let anyone down and I hope that my performances will please fans and everyone involved in Islamabad United. PakPassion.net: Looking ahead, which areas of your game do you feel need improving and working upon?
Faheem Ashraf: As a cricketer you are learning every day and you are never the finished article. In any profession you are constantly looking to improve, to better yourself and there should never be any complacency. I am looking to improve in all areas of the game as I feel there is a lot of hard work ahead for me. Just because I have played a few matches for Pakistan doesn't mean I should think I am the finished article.PakPassion.net: You must already have one eye on the 2019 World Cup. How do you feel about Pakistan's chances in that tournament?
Faheem Ashraf: There's a lot of cricket to be played before that tournament but we are a confident side at the moment and hopefully that confidence will continue. It's important that we keep the momentum going. I cannot say we will win the World Cup, but one thing I can say is that if I am selected I will give my all for the country and our aim will be to become Champions Trophy and World Champions.