Regarded as a robust top-order batsman, Asif Zakir continues to demonstrate his batting abilities in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy tournament where he is currently the third-highest run-scorer in the competition. With a First-class average of over thirty-seven, the thirty-three-year-old batsman has amassed close to seven-thousand runs in First-class cricket and was part of a twenty-two man squad that took part in a special Army training camp ahead of Pakistan's tour of England in the summer of 2016.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Zakir spoke about the state of domestic cricket in Pakistan, his current outstanding season for SSGC in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, experience of attending the Army training camp at Kakul, the fine example that Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan continue to set for players of all ages and his hopes of playing for Pakistan in the future.
By Saj Sadiq (18th November, 2016)
PakPassion.net : You made your First-class debut back in the 2002/2003 season. What are your memories of your debut match?
Asif Zakir : The Karachi team that I made my debut for back then was a very powerful team. It had Hasan Raza, Farhan Adil, Shahid Afridi, Asim Kamal, Moin Khan, Faisal Iqbal, Saeed-bin-Nasir, Tanvir Ahmed and Danish Kaneria. There were a lot of well-known names in that team and it was literally a team of international players. The match was against UBL in Multan and I scored a half-century in my second innings. In my debut First-Class season I made three centuries and in the One-Day tournament in my debut season I made a couple of centuries. I was then picked for a tour match against the visiting Zimbabwe team and I made sixty-one in that match.
PakPassion.net : How has domestic cricket in Pakistan changed in the many seasons you have played?
Asif Zakir : I think standards in domestic cricket in Pakistan have dipped. When I made my debut and in the first few years that I was playing domestic cricket every team had four or five seasoned international players. Nowadays you only have a few teams who have so many international players in their team. Then there are several teams playing First-Class cricket who are quite weak and have no international players at all and only have one or two good youngsters in their team, with the rest being just average in talent and skills. I don’t think there is any comparison with standards of yesteryear and today’s standards in First-Class cricket in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net : We are seeing some pretty weak regional teams coming up against the very strong departmental teams. Surely regional and departmental teams should be kept apart?
Asif Zakir : Definitely. Previously some departmental players were allowed to go and play for their regions and that made the regional teams stronger but that was stopped. It would be better for Pakistan cricket if the departmental teams played in separate tournaments to the regional teams. The best players will always reach the top as their talent will shine through, but I think keeping regional and departmental teams separate in domestic competitions would be for the betterment of Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net : You’ve been a consistent performer for many years in domestic cricket, but have not been given a chance in international cricket. That must be frustrating?
Asif Zakir : My job is to perform and score runs. As far as selection is concerned, that’s down to the selection committee. I have to be patient and keep on performing and trying to catch the eye of the selectors. I am certain that when or if the national selectors feel that I deserve a chance for Pakistan then they will pick me. Up until then I will carry on with my hard work and keep on piling up the runs.
PakPassion.net : Many believe you are ideally suited to Test cricket. Is that a fair assessment of your abilities and strengths?
Asif Zakir : Yes I think that’s quite an accurate assessment. However if you look at my List A record I average forty-six with eight centuries. I feel that versatility is my strength when it comes to batting and I can change my approach according to the type of match that I am playing in. I think when you have been playing for as long as I have you have that advantage of experience behind you and that can make a lot of difference in terms of your approach and flexibility at the crease.
PakPassion.net : You mention flexibility. Does that also apply to which position you can bat in?
Asif Zakir : When I first started I batted in the top order but in the last three or four seasons I have batted in the middle-order at number four or five and that has been a successful change for me. The number four or five position in the order is ideal for me and it has made a lot of difference to my recent successes.
PakPassion.net : At thirty-three years of age I guess the examples of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan must give you hope regarding international cricket?
Asif Zakir : Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are the examples for all Pakistani cricketers not just myself at the age of thirty-three. They have shown that if you work hard, maintain your levels of fitness and remain professional then the sky is the limit. They are definitely the inspiration for me and who knows when one or both of them retire from international cricket, perhaps I might be the batsman to replace one of them. One can only hope and stay positive and keep on working hard.
PakPassion.net : You were named in the twenty-two man squad of probables for this year’s tour of England but just missed out on a call-up. That must have been agonising?
Asif Zakir : Firstly it was great to be named in the twenty-two man squad for the training camp at Kakul. I was overjoyed for the recognition and at that time I was very hopeful that I would be picked for the final squad for England but unfortunately that didn’t materialise. However that didn’t mean I lost hope. What one has to do is to lift oneself and get back to the basics of scoring runs and performing. After not being picked for the tour of England I have come back strongly and scored a lot of runs in this season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and am amongst the top run-scorers in this tournament after finishing as the sixth highest scorer in last year’s tournament. There is no point in letting my head drop after the disappointment of missing out on the tour of England. Instead I used it as a positive to work that little bit harder and get to that next level.
PakPassion.net : You’ve performed excellently in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this season. What have you done differently, what’s changed?
Asif Zakir : I worked really hard before the start of this season and during this season. Also the Army training camp at Kakul was of a huge benefit to me and really improved my stamina and levels of fitness. I’m lucky that I have a lot of prayers from family and friends with me and that is a great help. Also I have been very focused this season and my goals are clear and ahead of me and those are to play for Pakistan and do well for my country.
PakPassion.net : The Army training camp at Kakul gained a lot of attention after the salutes and tributes from the players. What did you take from that camp?
Asif Zakir : The first couple of days were very tough for all of us but after that we settled down and the training became more familiar to all of us. It was a very enjoyable experience and made a lot of difference to all of us in terms of our strength and also our fitness levels. I think we all thought we were pretty fit, but during that camp we realised we could be much fitter and that is exactly what happened.
PakPassion.net : The set-up at Sui Southern Gas Corporation has caught the attention of many. What’s it been like playing for them this season?
Asif Zakir : It’s a very professional set-up and is getting better day by day. All the players have diet plans, we have professional coaches and the training is excellent. The hotels the team is staying at are very good and we have strict dress codes we have to adhere to when travelling with the squad. Salary levels are good and the players are very satisfied with everything. I think Sui Southern Gas is setting the standards in professionalism in Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net : The Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC) team is a star-studded line up. What’s it like playing in such a team?
Asif Zakir : There are no stars at SSGC. There are no big egos that come in the way and everyone is down to earth. There is no problem that some players feel superior to others just because they are more senior to the other players. We have players who have played for Pakistan and they are great with all of the boys. It’s a great dressing-room to be part of.
PakPassion.net : After your performances so far this season, you must have one eye on an international call up in the near future?
Asif Zakir : Yes I’m very hopeful. My dream has always been to play for Pakistan and that dream is very much alive. I feel that dream is getting closer but I need to continue with the performances. Hopefully if things continue in the right direction then my dream will come true soon.