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Usman Salahuddin spoke about his batting success at the First-class level, his experience of playing with the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) side and his aspirations for a future berth in the Pakistan team.
 
By Amir Husain (14th December, 2016)
 
The topic of dwindling batting resources in Pakistan cricket has been one which has been discussed often in recent times. The sad state of affairs as reflected by Pakistan’s recent batting performances in New Zealand are good indicators of the problems faced by the Pakistan selectors when choosing batsmen who can hold their own at the international level. 

The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan’s premier First-class tournament, thus represents an ideal opportunity to gauge the quality of potential talent which if groomed correctly can help solve Pakistan’s batting problems in the future.

In this regard, the name Usman Salahuddin represents an ideal example of a batsman who the Pakistan selectors would be keeping a keen eye on as they look to the future.

Side-lined after making his international debut against the West Indies in 2011, Usman has busied himself trying to prove his worth to national selectors by putting in some stellar performances in the current edition of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

Whilst his talent as a batsman was never in question, his statistics in the tournament deserve attention where he amassed eight hundred and forty-three runs in ten games. His success in the current season is further highlighted by the fact that he also scored three hundreds and five half-centuries at a fantastic average of seventy. If that is not enough to impress than also consider the fact that Usman has faced over two thousand deliveries which is the highest number faced by any batsmen in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Usman spoke about his batting success at the First-class level, his experience of playing with the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) side and his aspirations for a future berth in the Pakistan team.

With the fourth-highest number of runs in the tournament behind Kamran Akmal, Asif Zakir and Imam-ul-Haq, Usman Salahuddin can rightly feel proud of his achievements this season, remarking that “I thank the Almighty that he helped me perform so well in the recent Quaid-e-Azam Trophy tournament. I'd set myself some targets before the competition started and I was determined to hit those targets.”

Whilst Usman’s achievements may appear easily attained given his talent, the fact remains that changing teams and then being thrust into the limelight due to absence of senior players must have put immense strain on the twenty-six-year-old’s shoulders.

“I joined National Bank of Pakistan this season for a fresh start and I knew there would be pressure on me, as a lot of experienced and senior players like Kamran Akmal had left NBP. I knew that the emphasis would be on me to perform and make a lot of runs to ensure that we were competitive. I saw it as a challenge to lift the team and to support and guide the young and experienced players we have in the NBP squad. My focus was to go out there and bat long innings and be the mainstay of the NBP team. What really helped me and was advantageous was that I played club cricket in England this year and as the club professional the pressure is on you to score the bulk of the runs and that was the same situation in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Fortunately, I was able to handle the pressure and have a successful season and help NBP into the Super 8 stage of this prestigious tournament.” 

So, what is it that sets Usman apart from many other aspiring batsmen in Pakistan who wish to make a mark and be noticed by the national selectors? One important aspect of Usman’s game is his ability to soak and handle pressure which given Pakistan’s recent batting woes must be welcome news for many. Aside from standing tall in tough situations, Usman’s batting this season has also been a prime example of what consistent performances can do for the confidence of any batsmen.

“I feel that one of my strengths is the ability to handle pressure and as well as that I feel that I have added consistency to my batting. The reason for that is that I have worked really hard on eradicating mistakes that I was making when batting previously. In addition, I think that I have added maturity to my batting. This season in domestic cricket has been the best of my career and I am very proud of my efforts. I made runs when my team was in trouble and had lost early wickets, I made runs against the top teams and against the top bowlers in conditions that really favoured the bowlers. I've also focused on ensuring that I have tried my level best to see my team home and be there at the end of the innings instead of falling short of the line when batting. I've always believed that you prove yourself as a batsman when you lead from the front and guide your team to victory and remain there till the end of the match and ensure that your team has won and that happened several times this season.”

Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali recently spoke about the importance of “spending time in the middle” as a key quality for a good batsman. If that is what sets apart good batsmen, then Usman’s stay at the wicket during the ten games he played in the tournament was not only crucial to the success of his team but also demonstrates the strengths of the batsman which is a great sign for his future prospects.

“My aim when batting has always been the same and that is to make sure that I don't give my wicket away cheaply. If a bowler gets me out with a good delivery then that's fine as that can happen, but what I never want to do is to play a loose shot and throw my wicket away. I try and bat to my strengths and play shots that I feel comfortable playing. I like to take my time and settle into an innings before playing my shots. I faced the most balls in this season's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and I think that proves that I have the patience and skills to play long innings.”

Usman’s team NBP did not make it to the final of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy but he knows that his success in the First-class version of the domestic season can only lead to more success and he is already looking forward to the National One-Day Cup to prove his worth, remarking, “I'm hoping that I can continue my good form this season in the National One-Day Cup which starts on 17th December. It's a different format but I'm confident and in form so I've set myself some targets for this tournament also and I hope that I can hit those targets also.”

For a long period, Pakistan have relied upon the stability promised and provided by the two stalwarts in the shape of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. With the end of their careers a real possibility in the near term, the selectors will be looking hard for possible replacements and if Usman’s recent performances are any yardstick, they may not have to look too long or far. Usman is hopeful that the selectors will give him a chance when the two outstanding players decide to move on “Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are legends and irreplaceable and have played some fantastic and match-winning innings over the years, but I hope that when they do retire from international cricket then the selectors do give me a chance to show my skills. I will not let anyone down when I get the chance to play Test cricket for Pakistan and my dream is to serve Pakistan cricket for many years,” he concluded.