Anwar Ali spoke of his experience in international cricket, reminisced about the 2006 Under-19 World Cup and looked forward to resurrecting his international career on the back of good performances in the upcoming Pakistan Super League.
By Amir Husain (20th January, 2017)
The 2006 Under-19 World Cup holds a special significance for ardent followers of Pakistan cricket. It was in the February of that year that a young fast-bowling all-rounder captured the imagination of a cricket mad nation.
Anwar Ali was eighteen years old when his bowling performance for Pakistan Under-19s against arch rivals India in the final of the of the Under-19 World Cup brought a historic thirty-eight run victory to the nation. His own contribution was a fantastic five-wicket haul along with seventeen runs and it appeared that a new star was fast rising for Pakistan.
Fast forward to 2017 and Anwar Ali’s promise of a glittering career seems a distant memory as he struggles to earn a recall to the national team, managing to make just thirty-eight international appearances after his debut in October 2008.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Anwar Ali spoke of his experience in international cricket, reminisced about the 2006 Under-19 World Cup and looked forward to resurrecting his international career on the back of good performances in the upcoming Pakistan Super League.
There is no doubting the fact that a move from domestic cricket to international cricket requires a lot of hard-work and can be a challenging experience as well. Whilst Anwar Ali may not have made as many appearances for his country as he would have hoped for, he is clear about the learning aspect of his association with the Pakistan team as he explained “I've enjoyed playing international cricket and I think I've done quite well and have learnt a lot from the experience, but it's a very tough environment. To play for Pakistan is a very tough and demanding ask. It's a huge challenge as there is a lot of competition for places and there are three or four players fighting for each slot in the team.”
Sarfraz Ahmed and Imad Wasim are two Pakistan players who were in the same Under-19 World Cup winning squad as Anwar Ali. Whereas both Sarfraz and Imad continue to establish themselves in the national team, Anwar Ali has had to fight an uphill battle to make himself known at the highest level. Anyone else in his position would struggle to carry on but Anwar draws inspiration from his record as a Pakistan player and feels that he has never been lacking in terms of the efforts he has put in for his country.
“It's fair to say that my start in international cricket in the fifty-over format went well especially given that it was against South Africa in their own conditions when they were at the top of the rankings. It was a tough challenge but it went really well and I put in a solid performance with bat and ball in that match. I did put in some good performances for Pakistan but my consistency was lacking. I did well against Sri Lanka in the T20I series against them in 2015 and made forty-six off only seventeen balls in Colombo. I've always given my all and I'm proud that nobody can question my effort and commitment for Pakistan.”
With the recent dismal performance in Test matches on the tour of Australia, there has been a general outcry about the lack of a solid fast-bowling all-rounder as an important member of the unit. To many, a player like Anwar Ali would fit that bill with ease at least in the shorter formats of the game, but the fact is that the Pakistan selectors have ignored this type of player in favour of the slower bowlers. Whilst this may be disheartening for Anwar’s future in the Pakistan team, he is convinced that he has the wherewithal to take up this role in the team as he commented “It's fair to say that the Pakistan team these days relies on spin-bowling all-rounders rather than pace-bowling all-rounders, but credit to those players as they have performed well, but I believe that I am still the best pace-bowling all-rounder in Pakistan and I feel that I can make a strong comeback for Pakistan.”
In many ways, the young Anwar Ali of 2006 was the quintessential Pakistan pace-demon; full of energy and armed with pace and able to bowl unplayable deliveries at his whim. Whilst some of his colleagues as well as some of his opponents in the famous final game against India Under-19s went to construct successful careers, Anwar Ali seems to have fallen by the wayside. However he remains hopeful of better days in the future.
“I will always be remembered fondly by Pakistan cricket lovers as the bowler who bowled the huge inswingers in the Under-19 World Cup of 2006 and that's really pleasing for me. Those were memorable times and an unforgettable period in my life. Of course, I hoped that those inswingers would have stayed with me throughout my career, but it wasn't to be. I started playing four-day domestic cricket for Karachi and bowled some very long spells and as a consequence I suffered a serious side-strain which meant that I had to change my bowling action. Unfortunately, when I changed my bowling action, the inswingers were lost, but in the past few months I have been working hard on my bowling and on my fitness and I feel that there has been a major improvement in my bowling and people will now see a new-look Anwar Ali with the ball.”
Despite missing out on a regular place in the national team, Anwar has continued to loyally contribute in First-class cricket for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) whom he joined in October of 2007. Historically speaking, the PIA team has featured some very well-known names of Pakistan cricket in the past but he feels that there is a dearth of new talent coming through for his team and action needs to be taken immediately by PIA to rectify the issue before its too late.
"PIA had some great players in the past like Wasim Akram, Moin Khan and Saqlain Mushtaq and were one of the top teams in Pakistan domestic cricket but we aren't producing the calibre of player we need to. I captained PIA this season and you can only work with the talent available. The youngsters just aren't coming through like they used to at PIA. What we need to do is to invest in our grass roots cricket at PIA and then that will enable us to develop the young talent."
The talent and skills that marked Anwar Ali as a promising future prospect for Pakistan in 2006 was built upon some solid performances but time marches on. With every passing season, as newer players come on to the scene, Anwar Ali’s chances of making a comeback to the national side diminish further but surrender is not a word in his vocabulary and he continues to work hard. He knows that the eyes of the world will be on players in the upcoming PSL tournament and this would present an ideal opportunity for him to showcase his skills and gain the nod of the selectors, “I'm 29 and definitely not past my best. I feel that my performances in domestic cricket this season have been very good. I feel that I am in good rhythm and in good form with both the bat and ball. I'm targeting the Pakistan Super League to show people that I am not past my best and can still play a role for Pakistan in international cricket. I want to be the best all-rounder at this tournament. The PSL provides all players with a great opportunity to impress the selectors and I have set myself some targets and goals with a view to returning to international cricket. The main thing is that my team Quetta Gladiators do well, but from a personal perspective I aim to have a good tournament to enhance my reputation and to make an international comeback”, he concluded.