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Young Pakistan left-armer spoke exclusively to PakPassion.net about competition for the all-rounder slot in the Pakistan team, his experience of playing alongside Saeed Ajmal and his aspirations of establishing a place in the Pakistan team.
 
 
By Amir Husain (20th August, 2016)
 
Pakistan’s spirited performance against a strong England team in the recently concluded drawn Test series has drawn praise from all quarters. Trailing 2-1, Pakistan produced an outstanding display of high quality batting and bowling to draw the series by virtue of a victory in the final Test at The Oval. 

Whilst they rightfully earned kudos for their display of grit during this series, the Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq was the first one to admit that his team selection was greatly hindered by the lack of availability of a quality all-rounder. This is not a new problem for Pakistan who have yet to find a reasonable replacement for the likes of Wasim Akram, Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood who could take the crucial all-rounder spot in all formats of the game.

Amongst the names frequently mentioned in this context, Zafar Gohar impressed all with his debut ODI appearance against England in the UAE but has not been included in Pakistan squads since that game in November 2015. In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, twenty-one-year-old Gohar spoke about competition for the all-rounder slot in the Pakistan team, his experience of playing alongside Saeed Ajmal and his aspirations of establishing a place in the Pakistan team. 

All-rounders Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz both excelled in the first ODI against Ireland and will undoubtedly play an important role in the upcoming LOI series against England. Whilst Zafar Gohar would have been disappointed with missing out on selection for this much awaited series, he feels that the competition for places in the Pakistan squad is beneficial for the team as a whole and will only drive him to perform better in the near future as he stated that “There is always competition for places, not only for selection in the Pakistan side but even in club cricket. This is how it is in cricket where your performance can help you dominate opponents but then there are times they will have the better of you. There is always pressure to keep or gain a place in a side but I am happy for Pakistan that my fellow all-rounders from the Under 19 days like Mohammad Nawaz and also Imad Wasim are doing so well. Whilst my strength is different to both these players as they are batting all-rounders, it still gives me enough motivation to try and better myself to compete with them for the all-rounder slot in the Pakistan team.”

Gohar is well aware that mere intentions are not enough to find a place in the Pakistan team which of late has been starved of a decent all-rounder able to score runs and take wickets when needed. With his domestic batting average not what can be expected from a quality all-rounder, this is an area of his cricket which is work in progress for Gohar as he explained “My batting is definitely an area which I need to improve upon. I know that I have the potential to be a better batsman and I should have paid more attention to my batting in the past. My aim now is to work on that aspect of my cricket and improve my average in the next season which should really have been better already had I taken my batting more seriously.”

For a young cricketer, there can be no better way to learn in his formative years than to have the chance to play alongside top international players. In that respect, Gohar has had luck on his side as he has had the opportunity to play alongside Pakistan’s world-renowned spinner Saeed Ajmal.

“Saeed Ajmal was my captain at ZTBL when I made my debut in a List A game in April 2013. His main advice to me has always been to continue working hard and improve myself as there was no real alternative to hard work. Personally speaking, being close to someone like Saeed Ajmal was very useful for me as I got to see how an international star trains, bowls and conducts himself on and off the field and helped me appreciate the type of attitude that is needed to succeed at the highest level of the game.”

Recognising his potential as a talented all-rounder, one of Pakistan’s top domestic teams, Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC), took on Gohar for the 2015 season where he has continued to flourish. For Gohar, the decision to move teams has borne good results as he scored one-hundred-and-thirty-five runs and picked up nineteen wickets in six games for SSGC.

“Last season I played with SSGC where my performance was excellent and I have really enjoyed the competition in that team. The fact is that in a strong domestic team like SSGC which has a number of international players, you need to compete hard to establish a position in the team which really does wonders for your own game. Competition always brings out the best in a player and in my view, SSGC is the perfect environment for my development.”

For any young player to be called in for a major international series would be a dream come true and when he was called in to replace the injured Yasir Shah for the first Test in Abu Dhabi in late 2015, it appeared that a Test debut was in the offing. As fate would have it, this was not to be. Scheduled to fly overnight to the UAE, Gohar missed his flight due to bizarre reasons which he clarified. 

“I was at fault at that time as I overslept and missed the flight to the UAE. I was under the impression that I could take the next flight in the morning but this turned out to be an incorrect assumption. The whole embarrassing issue was really my fault for which I have apologised already.”

Gohar, however, did not have to wait long to make an international appearance as he was chosen to play in the third ODI between Pakistan and England in Sharjah where he immediately made an impression as he fondly recalls.

“My international debut against England was more than satisfactory and although we lost that game, the match will always live long in my memory. I was able to take two wickets of Alex Hales and Joe Root, both of whom are top names in international cricket and when I batted, I scored fifteen runs. I feel I could have scored more but that was due to the match situation which required some quick runs. The experience of playing international cricket was truly amazing and I am looking forward to the next opportunity to play for Pakistan again.”

And that opportunity may well come soon but Gohar is keenly aware that despite his desperation to make a name for himself in international cricket, the effort required to attain a position in the national team is not an easy one. Unless he demonstrates his abilities in the domestic season, past performance in his debut game would be largely irrelevant. But when the moment does arrive again, an enthusiastic Zafar Gohar will be ready and waiting to grab the opportunity with both hands as he remarked, “The desire to play for Pakistan is strong in me and I am not disheartened by the fact that I haven’t had another opportunity to represent my country since my debut in November 2015. It is quite possible that the Pakistan coaches and selectors do not see a place for me in the team at the moment or find my current performances not up to their standards. This alone gives me enough incentive to work on my game and improve myself which I intend to do in the next domestic season. To be honest, I cannot wait for the domestic season to start and am desperate to show my worth and gain a place in the national team. When that happens, I will try my best to better the previous performance in my debut game and establish myself in the Pakistan team”, he concluded.