"If you want to achieve your aims, you have to be brave" : Sarfraz Ahmed
by Amir Husain
DateLine: 30th March 2015
Our thanks to www.PakPassion.net as exclusive source
When Pakistan's retiring ODI skipper, Misbah-ul-Haq, termed the presence of his courageous wicket-keeper as 'Oxygen' for the team, he was not exaggerating. Ever since his ODI debut against India in 2007, Sarfraz Ahmed in his association with the Pakistan team has defied his doubters with some prolific performances where in just 13 Test matches, he has built up an average of 43.78, with 3 centuries to his name.
Whilst his utility as a wicket-keeper batsman is a source of great comfort for Pakistan in Test matches, it is also true that Sarfraz has instilled new life in to Pakistan's struggling batting line up in ODIs where in 39 matches he averages 28.77 with a highest score of 101 not out. His dogged determination and a willingness to succeed against odds was also instrumental in Pakistan's passage to the quarter-final stage of the 2015 World Cup where he batted at the top of the order and also performed his wicket-keeping duties with distinction.
Marked by many as one of the future leaders of the Pakistan cricket team, the twenty-seven year old Sarfraz Ahmed spoke on a variety of topics with PakPassion.net, including his take on Pakistan's performance as well as his own form during the 2015 World Cup, his views on a wicket-keeper's role in a team as a specialist, his ideal batting position and his experience of leading the Under 19 team to victory in the 2006 World Cup
PakPassion.net : You obviously missed the first few matches at the World Cup. It canít have been an easy time to be sat on the sidelines whilst the team struggled?
Sarfraz Ahmed : Playing or not playing and being included in a squad or not included is out of a playerís hands. I was just honoured to have been at the World Cup and included in the squad of 15 players for Pakistan. As far as selection of the team went, the team management picked what they thought was the best eleven players for each match and they thought they had the right combination for each match. I just waited patiently for my opportunity and was happy when my chance finally came.
PakPassion.net : Teams were comfortably scoring over 300 throughout the World Cup, yet Pakistan struggled for large parts of the tournament to even score 250, why do you think that was?
Sarfraz Ahmed : We had a young squad at the World Cup and nine of the players were making their debut at a World Cup. It was an inexperienced squad that tried its best and gave itís all. It wasnít down to a lack of effort, the boys tried their hardest. Also what didnít help was that we had some matches in New Zealand and some in Australia and going backwards and forwards doesnít allow you to get used to the conditions and you have to continually adjust to the change in conditions.
PakPassion.net : Critics have labelled the Pakistan batting approach as defensive and overly cautious. Do you think that is a fair assessment of the mindset and approach at the World Cup?
Sarfraz Ahmed : Everybody is entitled to their opinion and thoughts and I respect their opinions. Former players give a lot of opinions and ideas and those comments are generally appreciated, but as a player you have a game plan that is set out and that game plan has been carefully thought out. I donít think we were too cautious during the World Cup but yes I agree that our batting could have been better.
PakPassion.net : When you finally got your chance at the World Cup, you gave the impression of a seasoned veteran playing in his fourth or fifth World Cup tournament?
Sarfraz Ahmed : There were quite a few butterflies and nerves and some tension when I went out to bat against South Africa. It was no small matter playing in such a huge match, a big occasion against one of the best bowling attacks in the world. The ball was moving around a bit and conditions were helpful to the seam bowlers. I played and missed a bit at some deliveries initially but then settled down to play my natural game and started to get more confident with my footwork and shot selection. It was one of those occasions where I just needed to give the team a solid platform and thankfully after some initial scares I managed to do that.
PakPassion.net : You mention your footwork, have you always walked down the pitch to fast bowlers who are bowling at 150 kph or is that something that you have recently got the taste for?
Sarfraz Ahmed : If you want to achieve your aims, you have to be brave. You have to be positive and not go into your shell. My coaches and senior players have always taught me from a young age to play cricket in a positive manner and that is something that I have tried to do throughout my career. The innings against South Africa was an example of that positive approach and Iím just grateful to the Almighty that my debut at the World Cup was successful and that we beat South Africa. My cricketing philosophy has always been to be positive and that will always be the case.
PakPassion.net : There were mixed reactions on Pakistanís quarter-final elimination from the World Cup. Whatís your assessment on what the team achieved in Australia and New Zealand?
Sarfraz Ahmed : The morale was down after the first two defeats, but then the team management lifted the morale of the boys and we sorted out some issues and moved forward. We put a good run of wins together including an excellent win over South Africa. Unfortunately we fell short of defeating Australia after we made some mistakes, but thatís part of the game. It hurts that we lost to Australia and we couldnít move onto the semi-finals as nobody enjoys losing, but all I can say is that we tried our best but it wasnít meant to be.
PakPassion.net : How much do you feel Pakistan were unsettled by so many of their bowlers missing the World Cup?
Sarfraz Ahmed : It was a huge setback that we lost so many of our senior and experienced bowlers ahead of the World Cup. Our bowling gameplan was centred around three world class spinners, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi and to have two of those missing was a massive blow to us. Following that we lost Junaid Khan to injury, but despite those setbacks our bowlers have to be praised for their efforts and the outstanding way they bowled.
A lot of credit also should go to Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar Younis in how they got the best out of such an inexperienced bowling attack in terms of international matches.
PakPassion.net : What was it like keeping wicket to Wahab Riaz when he was bowling to Shane Watson in that now infamous spell?
Sarfraz Ahmed : I was loving it and really enjoying it, as I wasnít batting. Iíd only seen such spells of fast bowling on television previously from the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. This was the first time that I witnessed live such a hostile and fast spell of pace bowling. I can say for sure that Shane Watson will remember that spell from Wahab for the rest of his life. Wahab deserves all the praise for that spell as he gave everything for the team and no compliments are enough for him.
PakPassion.net : When you came back home from the World Cup you received a heroís welcome. Were you surprised at that and what was your reaction to the welcome home?
Sarfraz Ahmed : It was a huge surprise and I certainly wasnít expecting it. My neighbours and friends organised the celebrations and the welcome home. My neighbours have always supported me right from when I first started playing cricket and have always followed my career very closely. I canít thank them enough for the welcome home and Iíd also like to thank Pakistan cricket fans around the world for their support during and after the World Cup. Iím really appreciative of all the positive messages that I have received.
PakPassion.net : You were utilised as an opener at the World Cup, do you feel that is your best position in the batting order and one where you will play most of your one-day cricket for Pakistan?
Sarfraz Ahmed : I believe that your best batting position is where you can score runs and help your team win. Iíve never even thought about batting at a certain position, itís never even occurred to me about preferences over where I should bat. My approach is simple and that is I will bat wherever my team needs me to bat. You have to be flexible according to match situations and to what the team needs from you, but I think itís wrong to assume you should bat in one position or have a preference. You bat where the team management wants you to, not where you want to or think you should.
PakPassion.net : You come across as a level-headed, cool and calm individual. Is that the real Sarfraz Ahmed or is that a persona just for the cricket field?
Sarfraz Ahmed : I feel that the most successful cricketers throughout the ages are the ones who keep their cool and remain calm in pressure situations. You are playing at the highest level where one mistake can cost your team a match and if you lose your cool and composure I think that can lead to errors. I get the opportunity to talk to Younis Khan a lot about cricket and he is someone who has also told me that to be successful you need to be level-headed and calm when playing cricket. I just feel that if I am calm on the field then I can control outcomes a little better than I could if I am too hyped-up and putting pressure on myself and others.
PakPassion.net : You led the Pakistan Under 19s to World Cup glory in 2006. What did you learn about captaincy when you were the Under 19 captain?
Sarfraz Ahmed : Those were very good days and the Under 19 World Cup in 2006 will always bring back happy memories. We had a very good combination in our team and it was a great group of boys. We had a very strong team spirit and the atmosphere around the group was very good. I feel that if team spirit is good and if a captain has the backing of the players and the team management then anything is possible. If you are all pulling in the same direction then you can achieve your goals. A captain is only as good as the players around him and if you have that spirit and support then that is half the battle won for a captain.
PakPassion.net : The role of wicket-keepers in limited overs cricket seems to have changed over the years with the emphasis almost being on batting more than wicket-keeping skills. Do you think the modern day wicket-keeper's role is a lot different to days gone by?
Sarfraz Ahmed : No I disagree. I think that keeping wicket has been and still is a specialised job. You are in the team predominantly for your wicket-keeping skills and your batting is a secondary skill. In my opinion you have to first and foremost be a good wicket-keeper and your runs for the team are a bonus in any format.
There is a lot of emphasis nowadays on wicket-keepers batting abilities in the one-day formats but I feel itís important not to get away from the fact that the role of a wicket-keeper is a specialised one. There have been some exceptional wicket-keepers who could bat very well over the years like Adam Gilchrist but first and foremost, and this is something that should not be overlooked is that they could keep wicket at a very good standard. I donít think the role of a wicket-keeper should be devalued and we should not forget that this is a specialised role and not one that you can become good at overnight.
PakPassion.net : Your wicket-keeping form suffered at times last year but at the World Cup you seemed to be back to your best. What do you put that slump in form last year down to?
Sarfraz Ahmed : You always have good and bad days in sport and you always have periods in your career where your form isnít as good as you want it to be. I had a poor spell of form behind the stumps but I went away and worked on some technical aspects of my wicket-keeping with the coaching staff and also with Rashid Latif and Moin Khan who both pinpointed a couple of areas for me to work on regarding my wicket-keeping. Thankfully the work that I put in ahead of the World Cup seems to have paid dividends.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on M S Dhoni and is he someone whose footsteps youíd like to follow when it comes to achievements?
Sarfraz Ahmed : I really enjoy the way he carries himself on the field. Heís always so cool and calm and his decision-making is always so well thought out and mostly his decisions are correct. He has been such an integral part of Indiaís turnaround in international cricket and he has been vital in all of the titles India has won of late. He has been a massive factor for Indian cricket and his captaincy has been excellent. I think that Dhoni provides the cohesion in the Indian team and he gels the players together and that is missing when heís not around. Heís an inspiration for wicket-keepers and captains and I have the utmost respect and admiration for him.
PakPassion.net : Looking ahead to the short term and the long term, what are your goals and what do you want to achieve in cricket? Is establishing yourself in all three formats a realistic goal?
Sarfraz Ahmed : I donít look too far into the future. If you do that, it can come back and haunt you. I know itís a clichť but I really only look ahead to the next match. I donít worry about which format I am selected for and which format I am not selected in. At the moment I just think of the next match, whichever format it is in and whichever match I am picked for. If I start to worry about formats and looking too far into the future then that is just going to put additional pressure on myself and that would not be wise.
PakPassion.net : You recently met the PCB Chairman, can you provide some details on that meeting and whether you were offered a role as captain or vice-captain in any format?
Sarfraz Ahmed : It was really kind of the Chairman to meet me and appreciate my efforts at the World Cup. He was also the Chairman when we won the Under 19 World Cup when I was captain and he has always been very supportive.
As far as captaincy or vice-captaincy is concerned that is not my problem and that is something for the Board to decide. My job is to play cricket and that is what I am focusing on and whoever is made captain or vice captain will always have my support.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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