18th January 2009
I'd like to say thank you to Saj's brother-in-law from Kenya for putting us in contact with Mohammad Talha and to Mohammad Talha for doing the interview.
I conducted this interview with Talha last week, Talha came across as a very dedicated cricketer with a lot of belief in his ability.
PakPassion.Net: Who were your cricketing role models when growing up?
Mohammad Talha: Waqar Younis was my favourite player, I used to love watching him tear up the pitch with his pace. I'm a natural outswing bowler myself and I used to be a big fan of Aaqib Javed, I studied many of his videos to try and learn how to swing the ball like he did. These days I watch a lot of Brett Lee to try and see how he lands his feet and what he does to generate so much pace but my favourite has always been Waqar Younis.
PakPassion.Net: Are there any other cricketers in your family or are you the first?
Mohammad Talha: I'm the only cricketer but my brother Nasrullah plays handball for Pakistan. His team won gold in the last championship held in 2008, Nasrullah is also a very good all round cricketer. He's a fast bowler who can bat as well but he plays handball now. I also have two cousins Uzair and Sohaib who are also international handball players.
PakPassion.Net: Where did you start your cricket and how did you get to where you are today?
Mohammad Talha: Like a lot of young Pakistanis I've been playing tape ball all my life, it was a big passion of mine. Then in 2003 I went for the u16 trials in the Faisalabad region and I got selected. I remember that at the time I didn't have the stamina to bowl long spells because I was so used to playing tape ball cricket, it was a real shock to my system but I slowly adjusted and went on to play u19 cricket. Then in 2005 I found myself at the NCA with coaches like Aaqib Javed, Mansoor Rana, Ijaz Ahmed, Muddaser Nazar and many others there to help me develop...
PakPassion.Net: ...you must have impressed Aaqib a lot because we did an interview with him at the time where he said that you would be a future superstar of Pakistani cricket.
Mohammad Talha: Well Aaqib bhai has helped me a lot throughout my career, during that stint at the NCA it was Muddasser bhai and Aaqib bhai who I learnt a lot from. After some time at the NCA I was sent to India to play in the Afro-Asia u19 cup but I got injured...
PakPassion.Net: ...what sort of injury did you have?
Mohammad Talha: It was a back problem that took me out of the game for over a year, I only resumed my cricket in 2007. When I returned I joined Rashid Latif's Port Qasim team where i took a load of wickets and Rashid bhai was so impressed with me that he spoke to Aaqib and Wasim (Akram) about me returning to the NCA. He felt I had a chance to get into the national team. At the time Wasim and Aaqib were holding a camp for fast bowlers in the Gaddafi stadium and they invited me to join them there, I ended up clocking 145k which made me the fastest bowler there and so I returned to the NCA. They did a lot of work on me at the NCA and then they sent me on the academy tour of Kenya and Zimbabwe where I took over 20 wickets. When I got back I joined the Punjab team to play in the 4 day Pentangular Cup, Shoaib Malik was the captain and when he saw what I could do he told me that if I keep working hard and performing then I would be in the Pakistan team before long. I just want to add that I'd really like to give all the credit for my return to Rashid bhai, he really backed me after my return from injury and it's thanks to his faith in my abilities that I'm playing first class cricket at the highest level right now.
PakPassion.Net: You're from Faisalabad, can you name any other promising youngsters from your area?
Mohammad Talha: Our keeper Mohammad Salman is amazing, plus there's Saeed Ajmal who's already in the Pakistan team, then there's Hamza Zaheer and Mohammad Laeeq. Laeeq played for Pakistan in the u19 World Cup. There's also a 19 year old fast bowler called Zahoor khan.
PakPassion.Net: How fast is he?
Mohammad Talha: He's not really an express bowler, he bowls somewhere in the 80mph region.
PakPassion.Net: What made u want to be a fast bowler.
Mohammad Talha: I started playing cricket when I was very young, my older brother encouraged me and we used to play tape ball cricket together all the time. He'd always tell me to bowl as fast as I could and that's where it started from!
PakPassion.Net: How important is speed to you?
Mohammad Talha: I want to be a 145k+ bowler. I dont want to get slower, I just want to get faster and faster.
PakPassion.Net: What's the fastest you think you'll be able to bowl?
Mohammad Talha: Insha Allah (God Willing) I believe that I have the ability to cross 150k, I've already hit 146k in a camp so hopefully it will be a possibility. It's down to me to put in the effort and hard work to achieve those sorts of speeds, it's one of my goals to cross 150k.
PakPassion.Net: Insha Allah you will and if you're going to be striving for pace then I'd advise you to concentrate on strengthening your back muscles so that you prevent any avoidable injuries in the future.
Mohammad Talha: Thanks, I've been doing a lot of gym work since I got injured in the Afro Asia Cup and I've also changed my action which was causing me a lot of problems previously. Im working very hard to keep myself fully fit all the time.
PakPassion.Net: I did an interview with Mansoor Rana and he said that the last time he saw you, you had a very mixed action and that you couldnt survive in professional cricket with that action.
Mohammad Talha: Yes that's right, my old action used to cause me a lot of pain and I would get injured frequently. I really have to thank Aaqib bhai who worked with me to change my action, it's with that new action that I've been clocking these new speeds and avoiding injuries too. I havent had any problems since I got this new action, with my old action I'd be doubled up in pain after every other match and it was hard for me to maintain but thank God for this new action. It's been two years since Aaqib changed it for me and Alhamdulillah (Thank God) I haven't had any problems since then.
PakPassion.Net: That's really good news, back problems are every fast bowlers biggest nightmare.
Mohammad Talha: Yes just look at Mohamamd Zahid, he was such a great bowler but since his back problem he's never been the same again.
PakPassion.Net: Which coaches have you got the best advice from?
Mohammad Talha: I've really appreciated the advice Wasim Haider has given me and after him I've been lucky to be able to call on Aaqib and Wasim (Akram) Bhai too.
PakPassion.Net: What did you learn from Aaqib?
Mohammad Talha: He taught me the art of getting batsmen out. He explained in great detail how Wicky and Wasim used to work the batsmen over, how they used to get the batsmen out. He showed me how to swing the ball and how to judge the batsman. I learnt how to work out what shots a batsman is looking to play and what his strengths and weaknesses are.
PakPassion.Net: And what's the best advice you got from Wasim Akram?
Mohammad Talha: Wasim bhai told me not to get caught up in the speed trap, he said that if I maintain a good line and length then the wickets will come automatically.
PakPassion.Net: What about your hero Waqar? Have you had the chance to meet him or be coached by him yet?
Mohammad Talha: No, no coaching yet. We met when I was playing in the Hong Kong Sixes, he came down to congratulate and praise me for the way I won the game against the All-Stars and India.
PakPassion.Net: What did you talk about?
Mohammad Talha: It was more of a quick introduction, a meet and greet. He was very busy with his commentating duties, hopefully there'll be another chance in the future.
PakPassion.Net: You came third in the Pepsi speed competition, tell us about your experience in that. Where did you hear about it and what made you take part?
Mohammad Talha: They were advertising it locally and all over the TV too, as soon as I heard about it I knew I had to go along. I went to the Faisalabad trials and was the fastest in my region, then they sent me to the final where i came in 3rd. It was a very good experience for me and I really enjoyed it. I remember at the time they were looking for a 90mph bowler and I could only manage 85mph but that's changed now.
PakPassion.Net: Have you taken part in any other speed competitions?
Mohammad Talha: No, not yet. Just the Pepsi one.
PakPassion.Net: What's the fastest you've ever been clocked at?
Mohammad Talha: I clocked 146k in the Asia Cup camp last year.
PakPassion.Net: Who else was at the camp?
Mohammad Talha: Sohail Khan was there, he loves taking a panga (challenge) with me.
PakPassion.Net: What do you mean?
Mohammad Talha: (laughs) Whenever he sees me he always throws out a challenge. He says 'Come on Talha, lets see who can bowl faster. Dont hold back, let's see who clocks the highest speed. Let's see what you've got' but it's meant in a friendly joking way. He's a really fun guy to be around.
PakPassion.Net: Who else was there?
Mohammad Talha: Mohammad Aamer who is also a very good fast bowler, he clocks in the 140ks too. And Mohammad Ali was there too but he's unfit at the moment.
PakPassion.Net: How fast was Ali?
Mohammad Talha: He wasn't that fast, I think he clocked around 137k but not much more than that. The only 140k+ bowlers were me, Sohail and Aamer.
PakPassion.Net: What about Wahab Riaz?
Mohammad Talha: Yes you're right, he's in our speed band too. He can bowl over 140k as well.
PakPassion.Net: We dont hear much about him anymore, do you know where he is these days?
Mohammad Talha: He plays for National Bank, the same QEA team as me. He's doing well, he was one of the ones who got a central contract when they announced them recently.
PakPassion.Net: So apart from the bowlers we've already mentioned are there any other bowlers in domestic cricket that can bowl 140k+?
Mohammad Talha: None that I can think of, at the moment I think only Sohail, Aamer, Wahab and myself are in that speed bracket.
PakPassion.Net: Do you know a young fast bowler called Mohammad Naved, he's been quite impressive recently. If you have seen him then how fast do you think he is?
Mohammad Talha: Mohammad Naved? No, I havent heard of him. Perhaps he is that fast but I couldnt say until I've seen him.
PakPassion.Net: What about Junaid Khan?
Mohammad Talha: He's not an express bowler, he bowls in the 130k region. He's more of a line and length bowler and he's got a very good domestic record already. Anwar Ali is another good bowler to watch out for, he gets good swing and has been performing well too.
PakPassion.Net: We've heard a lot about your yorker, how good are you with it?
Mohammad Talha: I based my yorker on Waqar Younis's yorker, I try to bowl it like he did. I love using my yorker at the end of an innings, it's my main weapon. If you keep shining one side of the ball then by the end of the innings it starts to reverse and if you can exploit that reverse with a good yorker then you become very hard to play. When the tail comes out to bat I rain yorkers down on them like I've seen Waqar and Wasim doing. It's the most effective delivery against the tail, very hard for them to play a good yorker. I also love using my bouncer.
PakPassion.Net: A fast bowler who likes yorkers and bouncers, what a surprise!
Mohammad Talha: (laughs) I know other deliveries too. At the NCA Mudassar Nazar used to tell about the tactics Waqar, Wasim and Imran used to use. He told me what their gameplans were and how they targeted batsmen. I learnt a lot and I always try to include it in my own gameplan.
PakPassion.Net: Would you say you're better with the old ball or with the new ball?
Mohammad Talha: My captains have confidence in my ability with both, I open the bowling and I bowl at the death. I always aim to take at least a couple of wickets with both the new and the old ball.
PakPassion.Net: You mentioned reverse swing earlier, how good are you at it?
Mohammad Talha: I try and copy the way Wicky bhai used to get the old ball to swing, if a bowler has pace then reverse swing is deadly. I think my speed helps me to reverse it more.
PakPassion.Net: What's been your best spell of bowling so far?
Mohammad Talha: When I took 6 wickets for Punjab against NWFP in the Pentangular 4 day game but unfortunately we still lost that game.
PakPassion.Net: We saw highlights of your bowling in the Hong Kong Sixes, was that your normal runup and action or did you alter it for the HK sixes?
Mohammad Talha: No that was a shorter run-up and a different action, it's close to the way I bowl in tape cricket and Hong Kong sixes was similar to playing tape ball cricket. My normal runup is 9 steps...
PakPassion.Net: ...how many yards would you say that is?
Mohammad Talha: I'm not sure, maybe around 26 yards? But you're right, I was bowling differently in the Hong Kong sixes to the way I do in normal cricket.
PakPassion.Net: Your death bowling in the HKS was amazing.
Mohammad Talha: Thank you, my captain Faisal told me that I would be bowling the last over in all the games and that it was down to me to win the game for the team. Faisal told me that he had confidence in my ability to win games and I was also confident that I could do it. My bowling won us the games against India, Sri Lanka and the All Stars, it was all down to my yorkers. Bowling in the HKS wasnt easy because you only get three fielders and if the ball isnt spot on then it would go for a six.
PakPassion.Net: What about in limited overs domestic cricket? Are you always expected to bowl at the death?
Mohammad Talha: I played for Punjab in the last Pentangular one day tournament with Shoaib Malik as my captain. I would bowl around 6 overs with the new ball and then Malik told me that he'd use the rest of my overs at the death. I was the top wicket taker in that tournament.
PakPassion.Net: What were your impressions of Malik's captaincy?
Mohammad Talha: I really like playing for him because he gives his bowlers a lot of confidence, he's always there to give you encouraging words. He told me that I was his ace bowler, that I was the one that was going to win the game for Punjab. If I had a bad over then he'd tell me to forget about it and to concentrate on what the match situation is now. He'd say Talha you're the one who's going to get these wickets for me, you're my match winner.
PakPassion.Net: Has he spoken to you about playing for Pakistan?
Mohammad Talha: The selectors Abdul Qadir and Saleem Jaffar have seen me. After the Pentangular tournament Malik told me that I could get a chance against Sri Lanka but then the ODIs were reduced to 3 so Im not sure anymore. My name wasnt in the squad that just came out but I'm not letting it get me down.
PakPassion.Net: If Pakistan win the first two games against Sri Lanka then I'm sure they'll debut some new faces in the 3rd ODI and with your recent performances you're at the front of the queue. But on the other hand if the last ODI is a series decider then they probably wont want to take any risks with new faces.
Mohammad Talha: Insha Allah we'll win the series 3-0. (laughs)
PakPassion.Net: (laughs) Insha Allah.
Mohammad Talha: They announced the central contracts but my name wasnt there, I spoke to Malik and he said he was hoping that I'd get one soon. It's nice to have his backing but I'm going to work even harder to make sure I get selected.
PakPassion.Net: You're barely 20 years old, do you think perhaps you're a little too young for international cricket or do you think you're ready?
Mohammad Talha: India took a risk with Ishant Sharma by playing him directly from the u19 team and look at how well he's doing. Even guys like Waqar, Aaqib, Wasim and Imran were in their teens when they debuted for Pakistan. I'm ready to play right now, I hope I get called up sometime soon.
PakPassion.Net: Over the last few years we've had many promising pacers appear at u19 level and then disappear from the radar. What will you do to ensure you dont join them?
Mohammad Talha: The hardest part is getting your name out there, once it's there then it's down to you to keep it there. You're the one who has to perform and take wickets to make the selectors take notice. I plan to give it 100% all the time and Insha Allah everything will work out for me. Whoever works hardest will get the opportunities.
PakPassion.Net: Have you ever been worried about bowling to any batsman?
Mohammad Talha: No I havent. Even when I came up against Younis Khan who is the best batsman in the Pakistan domestic and one of the best in the world, I still didnt worry. I have confidence in my abilities.
PakPassion.Net: Not even Shahid Afridi? Have you ever bowled to him?
Mohammad Talha: (laughs) Yes I have, I faced him for the first time when Punjab took on Sindh in the Pentangular one day tournament. I'd already taken the wickets of Khalid Latif, Faisal Iqbal and Naumanullah the domestic veteran. When Afridi came out, I was going to be the first one to bowl to him and he was in an aggressive mood. He'd been hitting some big shots in the last two games including a century. Malik came over to me and said 'Yes thats Shahid Afridi at the crease but dont worry you're bigger than Afridi, you will take his wicket. He doesnt stand a chance against you' (laughs)
PakPassion.Net: (laughs) And then what happened?
Mohammad Talha: I got him out first ball for a golden duck, he was caught by Mansoor Amjad.
PakPassion.Net: (laughs) Ok moving on, what do u think of the coaching facilities at domestic level?
Mohammad Talha: The NCA is a really professionally run place. It has very good facilities, very good coaches and trainers too.
PakPassion.Net: Do they have a speed gun at the NCA yet?
Mohammad Talha: The NCA has every sort of facility now. They have a speed gun, they have cameras, they can check fast bowlers and spinners actions and correct them. It's very advanced.
PakPassion.Net: How did you enjoy your academy tour of Kenya? Was it just cricket or did you get to go on safari too?
Mohammad Talha: I saw everything, I went on Safari as well. I really enjoyed the experience.
PakPassion.Net: What did you gain as a cricketer from the Zimbabwe and Kenya tours?
Mohammad Talha: I learnt from Aaqib and Ijaz about getting batsmen out. I learnt that if you keep bowling outside the off stump then there's no batsman in the world who will leave all 6 deliveries all the time. At some point he will try and chase one and that's when you get them out.
PakPassion.Net: The match is about to finish. You have two deliveries left, the batsman needs 3 runs. What two deliveries would you bowl to him?
Mohammad Talha: Both balls would be yorkers because its hard to score off a good fast yorker and theres a good chance I'd get a wicket. Sometimes a good slower ball can deceive a batsman too but at the end of the day a yorker is a yorker! You miss, I hit.
PakPassion.Net: Thanks for taking time to talk to us and best of luck with the future. Allah Hafiz.
Mohammad Talha: Thank you and Allah Hafiz.