Twenty-seven-year-old opening batsman Shan Masood was selected for the Pakistan Test side in 2013 on the back of consistent performances in domestic cricket. Impressing with 75 runs on international debut against South Africa, Shan has played 9 Tests and has a high score of 125 which was made against Sri Lanka in 2015.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Shan spoke about the importance of fitness in cricket, his journey to international cricket, his strengths and weaknesses and his aim to return to the Pakistan team after a tough tour of England in 2016.
By Amir Husain (18th March, 2017)
PakPassion.net : Seventy-five on your international debut - you couldn’t have dreamt of a better start to your international career?
Shan Masood : If you look at the debut, it was against South Africa which was the number one Test side in the world at that time. They had some top-ranked bowlers in the shape of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. Then there were some outstanding cricketers in the side such as Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis as well. But I do wish that I was the kind of a player then that I am now because after having scored seventy-five against the top-bowlers, I lost my wicket to JP Duminy. Of course, I say this with no disrespect to Duminy but as a cricketer you do want to set high standards. I do think that it would have been a much better debut then as I am sure that there are things which I can do better now than what I could do in that particular game. Make no mistake, it was a great experience but if I had the opportunity to do this again I would have crossed the line and made a hundred that day.
PakPassion.net : Moving on to 2015, when you made that century against Sri Lanka in Pallekele, it seemed that you were all set for a long and fruitful international career but what happened after that?
Shan Masood : It did look like that and I recall that game very well as that game in Pallekele was my first game after being out of the Pakistan Test team. Before that I had been overlooked for the tour of Bangladesh so by the time I played Test cricket again in Sri Lanka, nine months had elapsed. The significance of that innings in Pallekele was that I myself thought that this was the start of something big and consistent but Test cricket isn’t that easy. It demands consistency day in day out. After that, I did score a fifty later on that year against England in Dubai. But again, you need to be consistent in Test cricket as there is also great competition for places in the team. If you are not consistent then you will find yourself out of the reckoning and then it will be a struggle to regain a place in the team.
PakPassion.net : What are the issues in your batting that are preventing you to move on with your career?
Shan Masood : As a cricketer you never stop learning until you stop playing the game. So, even if you look at that innings in Pallekele where I got one-hundred and twenty-five, I still thought that there were a lot of flaws in that innings and a lot of adjustments were needed. There were aspects of my game that needed to be corrected and I did that later on in my career. Sometimes, it can also be the sequence of events which affect one’s progress. For example, the 2015 England series was three months after that Sri Lanka tour and then the 2016 England tour took place after another lengthy nine month gap. Having said that, one should not be looking for excuses but I will admit that it’s been a mixed bag where I have had a few technical issues that I have had to work on and there have also been mental pressures which haven’t made my job easy. The stresses I speak of are caused by situations where I am playing Test cricket after long gaps and as a new player trying to cement a place in the side, this can make life difficult. The pressure is always there where you think that if I don’t perform, then someone else will take my place. The competition for places is truly very tough.
PakPassion.net : Is the inability to play in home conditions a big disadvantage for young Pakistani cricketers?
Shan Masood : I am convinced that this is a real issue. If you look around at the good international batsmen of today, you will find that they tend to score more runs at home than they score away on foreign tours. This ability to score runs at home comes from the experience of playing in those conditions. If we had played twenty odd Tests in Karachi, Lahore or Multan then who knows, even our records would have been much better. But then again, we know the circumstances and the situation and there is no point looking at what could have been and so on. We now play in the UAE and there are some nice batting wickets there and it's up to us now to get on with it and do our job as batsmen as well. If we wish to play consistently for Pakistan then we should also work on scoring consistently as well.
PakPassion.net : How challenging was it to face the likes of Jimmy Anderson in England last year?
Shan Masood : To be honest, it was just the second innings dismissal at Old Trafford where I was out-done by the bowler and felt all at sea. But apart from that in my other three innings on that 2016 tour of England, I took my time at the crease and got through the new ball but then gave it away later. We did get the better of the English conditions that summer, with the weather and pitches being very favourable for us. It was a fair contest all in all so I am not saying that there was something extraordinary happening for the bowlers or it was a really challenging task for the batsmen. In my case, it was all about me making tactical and technical errors that got me into trouble once I had seen off the new ball. For example, in the first innings at Old Trafford, I was doing well on thirty-nine and then played a shot which ended up in the slips. Apart from that one innings in Manchester, I had some really good opportunities to make good scores but I made a few mistakes for which I had to pay for eventually.
PakPassion.net : Is fitness amongst cricketers undervalued in Pakistan cricket?
Shan Masood : As far as fitness is concerned, in my view it is more than just the physical aspect and its clearly not about preparing for the Olympics or something like that. Fitness is more about gaining mental strength. You can gain that mental strength through fitness as it allows your body to go through the rigorous demands of international cricket. For instance, when you are under pressure and fatigued, what helps you is a fit body which helps you cope with such situations. Fitness also allows you as a batsman to play a vast array of shots or simply be quick between the wickets. It allows you to be a better cricketer and be mentally strong. This is exactly what we don’t get about fitness. In Pakistan, we consider this to mean having a good body shape or physique whereas, the real purpose of fitness training is something completely different as I have explained before. Fitness allows you to be a better fast-bowler, spinner or a wicket-keeper. These are some of the many benefits of being fit and this is something we don’t really grasp as concepts in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net : There are many fans out there who feel you have been selected due to connections; What do you say to them?
Shan Masood : My only message to all such fans is that given the vast number of ways in which people can express their views be it on the internet or social media, it’s best not to talk about anyone if you don’t know them personally. If you don’t know the person you are talking about, his past or what his future will be then you don’t have the right to speak about them. People need to try and understand the person they are talking about and see what he has had to face. Coming from an educated background or a well-off family does not mean that life is easy. I am in a type of line of work where people like me are not readily accepted so the pressures on me are doubled. Now in order to play, I have to adjust to the pressure of the environment of Pakistan cricket and I do my best to fit in and I do consider myself the same as anyone else. I don’t consider myself privileged and as such have gone through the same route in Pakistan cricket as any other player in the setup.
All I am concentrating on is to try and become a better cricketer every day. My journey has not been tough but enjoyable. But at the same time, I have had a lot of pressure to deal with in terms of being accused of using connections to find a place in the Pakistan team. I am of the belief that anyone playing for Pakistan is worthy enough to do that job. It’s a professional game and a professional business; I don’t think any amount of connections can help you in that. If that were the case, then I would probably have had a more consistent run in this side; I would have been picked more often and not dropped from the side. I know that people will still talk so my humble request for Pakistan fans is that it’s best to know the person before making judgements on him. Don’t just believe what you read in articles or see reported on social media.
PakPassion.net : The PCB Chairman has indicated that we need more educated cricketers in Pakistan cricket. Do you feel that lack of education hurts Pakistan cricket?
Shan Masood : Education is very important for not just cricketers but for all people. It’s not about equipping you to get a good job but it teaches you about how to go about your life. For me, education has also helped me with my cricket as well. The real problem with us in Pakistan is that we do not have a coherent or proper system where people can go to school and play cricket. Its either you go to a good school and then to a good university abroad, or you spend most of the day at the cricket ground trying to be a cricketer. I have had to study and play cricket and study abroad as well. But then again, its allowed me to see things from a better perspective. When we talk about my fitness, this phenomenon came about for me by going to a good university in Durham and then Loughborough to learn about sports sciences and I thought why can’t I apply such concepts to myself? Let me reiterate that if we can strive towards a system of education and sports going side by side, then this can make a huge difference for Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net : How tough has it been, as a promising Pakistan cricketer, to watch the Pakistan Super League on television and not be part of it?
Shan Masood : It’s not nice to not be included in any sort of competitive and high quality cricket tournament such as the PSL as you’d rather be playing yourself. But the good thing is that Pakistan has its own league now. It’s finally happening and it’s helping a lot of cricketers. Above all, its producing a lot of new cricketers such as the talented Shadab Khan and Hasan Khan. The players are getting better income and more importantly getting a lot of exposure. We have national players sharing the dressing rooms with international players like Kumar Sangakkara and Darren Sammy. In addition, they are having the likes of such legends as Vivian Richards advising them. In a way, you do feel left out and you do wish you had been picked and been part of such dressing rooms as that would mean the world for an aspiring cricketer. You also know that if you had been included, that would have developed you as a cricketer as well. Hopefully, with the plans for a sixth team in the making, there will be room for many other cricketers. As for me, I will work more towards my limited overs game and fight for a spot in the third edition of the PSL.
PakPassion.net : What, in your view, are the characteristics of a solid opening batsman who can perform anywhere around the world?
Shan Masood : Some examples of excellent opening batsmen that one should follow are those of Alastair Cook and Graeme Smith. I say that because, both players were limited in some aspects but they knew how to churn out runs. Remember that Test cricket is not about looking pretty at the crease. In fact, it’s called Test cricket for a reason as it is a real test of your skills. To be a successful Test cricketer, you need to know your own game well. It doesn’t matter about the opposition or the conditions. If you have the hang of your own game, then you would be an unstoppable force in Test cricket. This format of the game is about phases. There isn’t just one phase during one part of the day but it is multiple phases spread over five days where you have to manage yourself over that period. You need to battle the conditions and have to face mental and physical stresses over five days which requires heaps of concentration levels as well. And this is needed not in one match but in the whole Test series. A good Test cricketer is one who churns out one-hundred and fifty to two-hundred and fifty runs in a game and doesn’t let go of any opportunities. One thing that I have seen the top players do and something us youngsters should also strive for is the fact that whenever they get a chance, they go big. They get the two-hundreds and the three-hundreds so that they have a margin for some error in their next innings.
PakPassion.net : What's it been like playing alongside such players as Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and how much will they be missed when they retire?
Shan Masood : Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan will fit the bill any day for any young and aspiring cricketer who is looking for role models to emulate. Their work ethic be it on or off the field as well as how they literally match any youngster in terms of fitness and in terms of batting is simply amazing. Even the way they live their lives is phenomenal. For them, its cricket 365 days a year and 24x7. I really would not like to think of the time when either of the two will hang their boots up and call it quits because it’s going to be a huge loss for Pakistan. If that does happen, we will need to rebuild again as they have been playing for a long time and since 2010, they have been the backbone of the Pakistan batting. It is due to their presence that the Test side has been so successful during this period of time and have been ranked as the Number One Test side, and also remained unbeaten at home as well.
PakPassion.net : Looking ahead, what are the areas you wish to improve upon and what are your plans and ambitions for the future?
Shan Masood : Let me be the first person to raise my hand and say that I expect more from myself in the future and if I didn’t think like that, I wouldn’t have been playing this game. Obviously, at twenty-seven your body is in its peak condition and you wish that you were an established player in the team and playing in all formats. But, things do not always go according to plan and that is why you always have a plan B. You have to take everything in your stride whether it’s good or bad. To make a judgement about whether my career has been a success or failure can only be done when it is over. So, my point is that whilst I am still playing cricket, I have to give it my all and take things one day at a time. I must try and improve myself as a cricketer every day in whatever aspects I can. If I start thinking about my return to the Pakistan side and pacing everything around that objective, then I don’t think I will do myself any justice. The right thing for me now would be to put my head down and work on being a better and consistent batsman. Hopefully, God Willing, as time goes by if I can put into practice my aims then I will be able to score runs for my country and establish myself to be a part of whatever cricket Pakistan will play in the future.