Pakistan's 3-0 mauling at the hands of the world’s number one Test team South Africa, does not make for easy reading. The manner of Pakistan’s defeat has left many a mental scar on the psyche of Pakistani players and it's supporters. However a Pakistani cricketer who is enjoying individual success in South Africa is Sohail Tanvir who is proving to be an integral part of the as yet unbeaten Highveld Lions squad in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge.
28 year old Tanvir has had mixed fortunes since making his international debut over five years ago. His first outing for Pakistan was in the 2007 World T20 in South Africa. Surprising many with his now trademark wrong footed delivery stride, Tanvir made an instant mark in T20 cricket as he made his debut against India in the inaugural World T20 tournament.
Since then Tanvir has gone on to play in all three formats of the game with varying degrees of success for Pakistan although the limited over version has yielded the most benefit for the Rawalpindi born pace bowler. He has played 50 ODIs, taking 61 wickets at an average of 33, the highlight being a spell of 4-43 to help Pakistan defeat India in Jaipur. Tanvir’s 6-14 for Rajasthan Royals against Chennai during the inaugural IPL sits in the top-five all-time performances in T20 domestic cricket as he finished the leading wicket-taker in the tournament and helped his side win the title.
Tanvir has played 28 T20Is, taking 23 wickets at an average of 29. In his last outing in national colours against Pakistan’s arch rival India, Tanvir’s figures read a dismal 4 overs for 44 runs. He was subsequently not considered for the Pakistani team’s tour to South Africa but has been participating in the ongoing Ram Slam T20 tournament. The Lions have maintained a 100% record after four games and remain one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Tanvir spoke glowingly of his experience of participation in the Ram Slam. “It’s very competitive, there are some good teams here and there is a lot of talent. I believe T20 cricket began here in South Africa so it’s been running for a long time. You can’t really compare it with the IPL because in the IPL you get very big names and four overseas players are allowed in a team. Wherever there are more overseas players you will get more competition. However there is still a lot of local talent here and the cricket is very good in the Ram Slam.”
He continued “The cricket here is very competitive and it’s close to the level of international cricket. A lot of international cricketers are taking part in this tournament. The cricket is not easy at all, it’s of a very high level. More overseas cricketers play in the IPL or the Big Bash, but despite that there’s a lot of competition in this tournament.”
Tanvir’s Pakistani colleague’s struggles with the bat against South Africa in the recently-concluded Test series have largely been attributed to the exceptionally quick and bouncy local pitches but Tanvir believes that the pitches have eased since the early season “Actually we’re currently nearing the end of the South African season so the pitches are a bit dry, so batting has become easier. Earlier on in the season, as we know, it’s quite difficult for the batsmen.”
Whilst Sohail Tanvir may be termed as a star attraction in his own right due to his status as an international star, he is also rubbing shoulders with one of South Africa’s brightest young talents – the 20 year old Quinton de Kock who has been in sublime form in the tournament. Tanvir for his part has very special words of praise for the young wicketkeeper batsman “He’s a highly talented player and I think he will play for South Africa for a long time if he continues like this. He has a huge amount of talent and is even keeping wicket this season. He is a good player for T20s, very aggressive and has a wide range of strokes. He can hit the ball all around the park and you can’t keep him quiet when he's at the crease. He has every type of shot. He has no specific strong area, he is a strong all round batsman. He has the talent, but it’s up to the individual how he continues with it. You shouldn’t say that any player will become a great, you become a great with time.”
Tanvir’s visit to India with the Pakistani team at the end of 2012 could at best be classed as below par however, his recent form for the Lions in the Ram Slam has been excellent and he has picked up 6 wickets from his four matches at an average of 16.33. He is understandably disappointed at not being part of the Pakistan squad in South Africa and added “It’s always disappointing to be dropped, especially as I felt I had the experience on the South African wickets and in these conditions so yes it is disappointing, however I am currently playing cricket, Insh’Allah [God-willing] I will continue to perform. I’m performing well at the moment and am the second highest wicket taker here, so I will keep working hard and performing in order to make a comeback. It’s hard knowing that the team is playing here in South Africa yet I’m not part of it. That’s difficult for any player, but it’s part and parcel of the game. You have to look forward rather than back.”
Despite his omission from the limited overs squad for the South African tour, Tanvir has his sights set for participation in the Champions Trophy and believes his experience of conditions in South Africa will stand him in good stead “The conditions in England are similar to those here in South Africa, they support seam and swing bowlers like myself. I will get the same amount of support there so I’m very hopeful of making a comeback in the Champions Trophy. These decisions are made by the team management and the selectors, my job is to keep working on my form and fitness and continue to perform. Let’s see what decision they take.”
Despite Pakistan’s dismal showing in the Test series, Tanvir has high hopes for his former team mates as they prepare to take on the host nation in a 2 match T20 series which begins on 1st of March “I’ve taken part in net sessions with the Pakistan team here in South Africa and I feel that Pakistan’s ODI and T20 team is quite strong, and I expect them to play competitive cricket in the limited overs series. I don’t expect to see one-sided games and whichever team wins will have to work very hard to defeat the opponent.”
Tanvir also had some words of encouragement for Pakistan's rookie fast bowlers as he felt that they need all the support in the initial stages of their careers but he also singled out Junaid Khan as one who could have made a difference had his fitness not been an issue “They’re all new and in the learning process. I think it cost Pakistan a lot when Junaid Khan became unfit as he was the perfect bowler for those conditions. He has the ability to swing the ball both ways, and here you need a swing bowler more than a pace bowler. Had Junaid been fit, perhaps the result of the 2nd Test would have been different as he could have supported Saeed Ajmal from one end. I don’t think we should criticise anyone so quickly, international cricket is not easy, especially when you are playing against the world’s number one team. We have to give the young bowlers time, let them settle into the international arena.”
With some impressive performances for the Lions in South Africa, Tanvir is still hopeful of a place in the Pakistan squad as he strives to make it back into the international arena in the near future stating that “Pakistan have a break of a couple of months, so I will go back, and if a Super 8 competition takes place again like it did last year, then I will take part in that. I will wait for the announcement of the squad for the Champions Trophy. I’m also aiming to play for an English county this year, hopefully I’ll make it.”
The Ram Slam competition which started on Friday 15 February will conclude on Sunday 7th April and offers the participating franchises an opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.