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Fahim Ashraf spoke about his passion for helping Pakistan attain greatness and his experience of playing for HBL in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam trophy and the National One-Day Cup.
 
By Amir Husain (18th January, 2017)
 
The Pakistan Test team's unenviable fall from the giddy heights of being regarded as the world’s number one team to its current standing at the number five position has brought much despair to its devoted fans.
 
Apart from the obvious and spectacular batting failures, the need for a fast-bowling all-rounder was dearly felt throughout the series against Australia. The lack of a quality player to fill this key role in any international team was cited as an important shortcoming in the Test squad which played in Australia.
 
Whilst it is a matter of grave concern that the chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq has found it near impossible to identify candidates for the all-rounder role in the Pakistan Test team, it is also encouraging to see that there is talent such as that exhibited by the twenty-three-year-old Fahim Ashraf which augurs well for the future.
 
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Fahim spoke about his passion for helping Pakistan attain greatness, his experience of playing for Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam trophy and the National One-Day Cup and his hopes of being selected for the tour of the West Indies later this year.
 
Most youngsters who begin to play cricket are overawed by the promise of future fame but in Fahim’s case, cricket is just another way to serve his country as he remarked “My interest in cricket was really sparked by watching the 2007 World Twenty20 although my initial interest was towards joining the Army as I saw that as a way of serving my country. My father and elder brother studied law but I always wanted to do something big for my country so I decided that cricket was my path to that goal.”
 
Fahim’s rise to fame has been a steady journey through various levels of school and regional cricket but throughout his career so far, he has sustained a level of performance which seems to earmark him for future success. From his First-class debut with Faisalabad in 2014 where in six matches he scored two-hundred and fifty runs and took nineteen wickets to his move to National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) where he impressed all with two-hundred and seventy-one runs in eight matches whilst taking twenty-three wickets, Fahim has continued to set the bar high in to his current stint with HBL.
 
“I debuted in First-class cricket for Faisalabad in 2013 and played for them for two years during which I was made their captain. I had a fantastic season with Faisalabad and then in 2015 I joined National Bank (NBP) as I was told that one would get good chances to play in that team. The only problem there was that most of the key players like Kamran Akmal, Zia-ul-Haq, Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Nawaz were missing due to a variety of commitments and there was a real danger that the NBP team would be relegated. I thought to myself that I needed to be playing cricket at the highest domestic level and this may not be possible if I continued playing for NBP. This is the reason I joined Habib Bank in the 2016/2017 season.”
 
The 2016/2017 First-class season proved even better for Fahim as he continued his upward trajectory with twenty-eight wickets in eight games as his side HBL reached the finals of the high-profile Quaid-e-Azam trophy and subsequently won the departmental edition of the National One-Day Cup. He may have done the hard yards but Fahim knows that he would have struggled had it not been for the help of his HBL coach Kabir Khan.
 
“I give a lot of credit for my good performance this season to our coach Kabir Khan. He is the kind of person who goes out of his way to impart confidence to his players. He told me that I was in the team because of my skills and the team had the potential to be champions. He was of course right as we were finalists for the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and won the National One-Day Cup for departmental teams.”
 
Of course, the National One-Day Cup was a magnificent success for the HBL team and for Fahim, this was an excellent way of showcasing his talent to the world as he was declared the best bowler with nineteen wickets to his name. This is a tournament Fahim recalls with great pride and the final of the tournament where he guided his team to victory has a special place in his memory as he explained “The final of the departmental tournament was a special occasion and Kabir Khan really inspired us to do better. He told us that despite being tired having played so much cricket in the tournament, this was the time to stand-up and be counted and to know that people will remember us if we win the final of the tournament. I bowled well to pick up one wicket but when we started batting, we seemed to be doing well initially until Fakhar Zaman had to retire. Our captain Ahmed Shehzad then stepped up and played a fantastic knock but then we had a mini-collapse and it appeared that we would fall short of the 233-run target. Before I went out to bat, Kabir Khan told me to play the way I was most comfortable with. I had made up my mind that I would not give my wicket away and in the end Zohaib Khan and I got us to the target with relative ease; I remained not out on thirty-four.”
 
Whilst fifty-over cricket has its own charms, the fact remains that a cricketer’s true progress can only be gauged in the longer and more intense four-day format. The secret to Fahim’s success in this format thus far has been based on a simple theory of playing strokes he is good at and bowling balls which have the greatest percentage of success.
 
“My philosophy in the four-day game is pretty simple. The way I play is that I never hold back my natural stroke-play but then I am also careful about playing according to the needs of the team. I also believe that if you hold back on your best shots, then you will not be able to score runs which doesn’t help the team either. The same thing applies when bowling. If one bowls their normal wicket taking delivery more, then one is likely to get better results.”
 
Like many other players knocking at the door of selection for the national team, Fahim has a deep desire to serve his country and help his team to success. His performances with the ‘A’ team as well as in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and the National One-Day Cup seemed to have raised expectations for his inclusion in the series against Australia but that failed to materialise, leaving him rather disappointed. However, he is now looking forward to Pakistan’s next overseas challenge in the shape of the tour of the West Indies in late March as he remarked “I have played in two ‘A’ tours; one against England Lions in the UAE in early 2016 and the other in October 2016 against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. Whilst the matches against England Lions were competitive, the Zimbabwe tour was tougher as we were pitted against their senior players. Given my excellent performance on the 'A' tours and the current domestic season, I like many others was hopeful of a berth in the Pakistan squad for Australia but was a little disappointed when this did not happen. I am now looking forward to ensuring that I continue working hard and am able to convince the selectors for a place in the squad bound for the West Indies in March of this year. I hope I'm picked for the series against West Indies”, he concluded.