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In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Usman Salahuddin spoke about his patient wait for another chance to represent Pakistan since his ODI debut in 2011, the golden opportunity to establish himself as a replacement for the retiring Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and also praised the selectors for their efforts to pick top domestic performers.

By Saj Sadiq (8th April, 2017)

The recent announcements of retirement plans by Pakistan Test stalwarts Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have not come as a major surprise to followers of Pakistan cricket. The writing, as they say, has been on the wall for a good few months since the disappointing tours of New Zealand and Australia yielded no positive results.

The imminent departures of Misbah and Younis from the Test scene does pose an important question as they have over the years, pretty much held together the Pakistan batting line-up in very difficult circumstances. 

The selection of Usman Salahuddin for the Test squad bound for the West Indies thus represents an important milestone. Not only is it important for the career development of the batsman but it also offers a great chance for the selectors to test out the talent of the batsman marked by many as a good future prospect for Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Usman Salahuddin spoke about his patient wait for another chance to represent Pakistan since his ODI debut in 2011, the golden opportunity to establish himself as a replacement for the retiring Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and also praised the selectors for their efforts to pick top domestic performers.

Usman’s selection for the upcoming Test series against the West Indies was a welcome surprise for the young player as it appeared that the selectors had finally taken note of his hard work at the domestic level as he remarked, “First of all, I am grateful to the Almighty that I have been given another opportunity to play for Pakistan and have been selected for the Test squad for the West Indies tour. It is indeed a great honour for me to be asked to play for my country. It is equally exciting to be in the same squad as such great players like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and I am sure this will be a great learning opportunity for me as well. I am looking forward to grabbing this opportunity with both hands and establishing myself in the team for good.”

The now twenty-six-year-old made his debut for Pakistan in May 2011 in the ODI format but has been patiently biding his time since that day for another chance to play for his country.

“It was a long wait to make a comeback in the national squad but I was never disheartened and kept on believing in my abilities. I worked hard with the belief that one day I will get another chance to represent Pakistan again. I have been performing consistently well in domestic cricket for the past few years and I was confident that it was just a matter of time before I was asked to represent Pakistan again.”

It would have been easy for a talented batsman like Usman to wallow in self-pity at being ignored by the selectors, but instead he got busy to learn and improve his game with a view to getting noticed by the selectors as he stated that, “I worked hard in the intervening five years since my international debut. I played league cricket in England on seaming tracks, which gave me good exposure in foreign conditions. In the process, I also ironed out my problems against swing bowling which was great. With the experience of playing fast-bowlers in England, I found it much easier to play similar bowling in the domestic season in Pakistan and my performances are a reflection of that.” 

The temptation to change one’s game in the face of demoralizing exclusion from the Pakistan squad must have been a big one but Usman resisted. Instead, he put his faith in the same skills that had brought him thus far and this belief paid dividends as reflected in his domestic performances in the previous season.

“I did not have to make too many changes to my batting but what I did have was the belief and confidence in my own abilities. What also separated this season from others was that all of my runs were against top quality sides featuring some outstanding players. My batting was appreciated by many including such distinguished players such as the Pakistan international, Mohammad Hafeez, who felt that I had improved a lot in my batting this season. In fact, I even single-handedly helped my team National Bank to a five-wicket win against Hafeez’s team (SNGPL) which is the kind of performance that gave me a lot of confidence. It was this particular performance where I was not out on ninety-one which set the tone for the rest of the season.”

To walk into a Test batting line-up which is settled and has, by and large, performed very well in the past cannot be an easy task for any newcomer. Usman has waited patiently for this opportunity and he is clearly not worried about the possibility of a further wait to make a name for himself by playing for Pakistan.

“I understand that the current Pakistan Test batting order, especially as far as the number three, four, five and six positions are concerned is pretty well established. It may not be easy to carve out a position for myself in such a situation but then I tell myself that I have waited five years for this opportunity so waiting a little more doesn’t bother me that much. What matters the most is that the Pakistan team wins its games which will make us all very proud. But, if and when I am given the chance based upon the needs of the team, I will put in more than a hundred percent effort to ensure that my team is victorious. I am not the least bothered about how long I have to wait for a chance to play as at this point, I am very pleased that I am part of the Test squad.”

The losses of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to the Pakistan batting line-up will indeed have an impact which will be felt for a while until suitable replacements are able to establish themselves but Usman is supremely confident that he can make a positive impression when given a chance as he remarked, “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind about the services and effort put in by our retiring greats Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. For me, this is a golden opportunity and if given the chance to perform, my objective would be to play as best as I can so that I can fill the tremendous void that will be created when Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan leave Test cricket.”

The history of Pakistan cricket is littered with names of batsmen who were introduced to the international level but then discarded after being given very few opportunities. This is not the best way to develop international level batsmen in Usman’s view and all he asks for is a decent run for him or any other batsman to establish himself.

“My first objective is to prove to all that my selection is based purely upon my performances and this is not a fluke. But then in international cricket, it is not simply a matter of one or two games where a player should feel that he has to justify his selection. If my chance comes I want to grab it with both hands. At this level of the game, a player needs to be developed into the finished product. Just because a batsman has had one bad innings does not mean that he should be discarded. Any good player needs at least one or two series before one can judge their true worth to the team. One does not need to see a better example of this philosophy than in the case of Saeed Anwar who scored two ducks on his Test debut. How poor Pakistan cricket would have been, had he been discarded after just one Test?”

The Pakistan selection committee under the leadership of the former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has broken new grounds in their efforts to bring in fresh talent based entirely on their domestic performances. This is a fact that a newcomer like Usman Salahuddin appreciates to the fullest as he explained, “I am very pleased with our selectors who have picked the squad based upon merit alone. They were true to their word about giving chances to the top domestic performers which is excellent. I am very thankful to the selection committee for giving me the opportunity after rating my domestic performance. This a great sign for our well-performing domestic players and augurs well for the future of Pakistan cricket.”

Discuss!