Afghanistan’s super star batsman Mohammad Shahzad shared his experiences and Stories with Cricketcountry during his interview.Let’s read and see what was the whole discussion.
CricketCountry (CC): India and Afghanistan are cricket-crazy nations. How big is the step to play in Greater NOIDA for Afghanistan?
Mohammad Shahzad (MS): It certainly is a big step for us to come and play in India. Both the countries have immense zeal for the game. Afghanistan fans believe in their team and don’t lose hope, and so do the Indians. These are our home conditions and we will hope to win the ODI series (Afghanistan eventually won 3-2) and continue our consistent run.
CC: World cricket is becoming more welcoming towards Afghanistan. What has caused the turnaround?
MS: Day by day, we are improving. We have defeated Test nations, be it Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies in ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016. The team is improving each day. By playing against Test nations, the experience rubs on us and we talk about it in the dressing room. Inshallah, we will continue to rise.
CC: Afghanistan and Ireland are eyeing Test status. Afghan fans say the beauty of T20Is is their nation’s rise in the format, apart from the game comprising of 4 hours. How do you see this mindset and what prominence Test cricket holds in a T20-dominated era?
MS: It (Tests) holds a lot of value for us. Our fans enjoy watching the game getting over within 4 hours. They love seeing the ball sailing over the ropes on consistent levels. It gives them entertainment but we, as a unit, understand the importance of playing in whites. It holds challenge for bowlers and batsmen. Test matches give a clear picture about a player’s credentials. Bowlers are under the scanner to bowl in consistent lines and batmen have to play out for longer periods. We have played a lot of First-Class matches. We (Afghanistan) won an Intercontinental Cup and ended up losing in the final on one occasion. Inshallah, we are very close of acquiring a place in Tests.
While talking about the coveted Test status, Shahzad got a little more animated. It pretty much sums up what significance the format holds in their camp. Test cricket decreasing in popularity, is it?
CC: Shorter formats’ results depend on middle overs, both with bat and ball, and slogging in the end. Is this an area Afghanistan specifically work on? What is the mantra for your team’s success?
MS: In T20Is, and even ODIs, one good over changes the complexion of the game. We do work on the middle overs. But our fielding is an area of concern. Our main bowlers, Rashid, Nabi and Dawlat Zadran are bowling well together. If we understand the match situation, there will be no stopping us against any side.
CC: Afghanistan have got the better of Ireland in recent times. The Irishmen started with a bang but have now experienced a dip in form. Where do you guys overpower them?
MS: In my opinion, they lack backup options. Few of their players have retired. On the other hand, our younger players are showing improvements. Rashid Arman in particular has been impressive. We defeated Ireland in their den before winning here. Our youngsters are playing well alongside the experienced players. We are playing together for a long time and are not shuffling our line-up.
Apart from Hameed Hasan, there is no major injury in our camp. Plus, we are Pathans and are well equipped of playing with injuries. We tend to prolong ourselves on the field for the sake of our country.
CC: Biggest achievement for Afghan cricket so far? Few upsets or rise from ashes?
MS: I believe only the win against West Indies should be referred as an ‘upset’ because it is certainly not easy beating world champions. We have defeated Zimbabwe in many close encounters. A month back, we restricted Zimbabwe for 52 (talking about the fifth and final ODI versus the African side in January). That is why I believe we are improving day by day. To add to it, we are also playing a lot of cricket together. The more we play against bigger sides, the experience rubs on our shoulders and makes us a better side.
CC: Afghanistan have a troubled past with war and other calamities. Look at the recent Kabul hospital attacks. How has cricket helped in binding the nation and in its rebuilding?
MS: Cricket is the only thing which drives our nation. It gives us immense pleasure and joy. Talking about these attacks, these things happen in any part of the world; be it in Germany, USA or UK. But our cricket remains unaffected because we play the game for our country and give it our all. We do not concentrate on such things which our not under our control. The focus remains on the game itself. We play for peace, happiness and recognition. Our people forget about the miseries from these attacks whenever we win.
CC: How has been the journey into international cricket?
MS: I started playing cricket at a very young age. I took up professional training since 2000, so it has been 17 years. Cricket has always been my favourite sport which I have followed whole heartedly. In my earlier days, I was an avid follower of Ricky Ponting, Moin Khan and Nayan Mongia. I admired Ponting’s batting and the latters’ wicketkeeping. I began playing with tape balls before taking up intensive training with hard ball. This went on for a while before I reached here and am now sitting in front of you (smiles).
CC: Your earliest memory of the game?
MS: In 2005, I used to play for my school. There was one incident I remember significantly. We were playing a 45-over game and I came in at No. 3. About 5-6 overs were gone. I went onto score an aggressive 234-run knock (including 34 fours and 19 sixes). This is one of the fondest memories and I was very pleased with my efforts. That particular innings instilled a lot of confidence.
CC: When did you start professional coaching? Did you ever think you would represent your nation?
MS: When I was small, I eagerly wanted to play (Glenn) McGrath but he retired by the time I came in. I used to play cricket all day all night, despite being beaten up by parents. I knew that this is what I wanted. I never imagined I will represent the nation, but knew I wanted to contribute to this game.
CC: Who is your inspiration on failing?
MS: On eve of any match, I tend to watch (Virat) Kohli and Dhoni’s interviews and knocks. I even look up to my old knocks, the one played in Desert T20 final versus Ireland, to remain in good shape and mindset. We all follow the footsteps of big match players and try to replicate them as hard as possible. I just wish to continue trying.
CC: Role model or idol?
MS: (MS) Dhoni. I always admired him, since the inaugural edition of WT20 in 2007. Not only his captaincy, wicketkeeping or batting, I like his way of handling things and remaining cool in all circumstances. He has remained cool in my interactions with him. Thus, he is my favourite.
CC: What steps are Afghanistan cricket taking in hosting games in their own backyard?
MS: Yes, there is a tournament called ‘Sixer’, referred as ‘Shpagiza’. It is a T20I tournament which is conducted in Afghanistan in August. Many international players have graced their presence. Be it Kamran, Umar Akmal or Sikandar Raza, we have got such stars and are even looking forward to attracting bigger players in future. The board is taking steps to ensure bigger teams to play in our backyard. We are also trying to develop as a cricketing nation with better standards in domestic circuit and security.
CC: Lastly, who would you like to thank for your success and fame?
MS: I would sincerely like to thank my ustaad, Alam Zaib, who trained and guided me in his academy. Also, I will thank my parents who believed in my game. I did nothing else apart from playing cricket, but they always backed me up. I would always thank those who contributed in my growth