An integral part of Pakistan's Champions Trophy winning bowling unit, Junaid Khan silenced his critics by taking eight important wickets in a series of excellent performances during the tournament. With a total of 94 wickets in 62 ODI games, Junaid's welcome return to the fold as a dependable wicket-taker could not have come at a better time for Pakistan as they look forward to the 2019 World Cup.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Junaid spoke about his team's fantastic journey to lift the Champions Trophy after their disappointing start with a defeat against India, the feeling of being part of an impressive fast-bowling unit featuring Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali, the return to his outstanding form of yesteryear and looked forward to his stint with Lancashire this season.
By Saj Sadiq (10th July, 2017)
PakPassion.net : Were you disappointed at being left out of the Champions Trophy opener against India?
Junaid Khan : There is no doubt that I wanted to play in all of the Champions Trophy matches. That is only natural for a professional sportsman. The opening match was against India and that added an extra spice and after doing well in the warm-up match against Bangladesh where I took four wickets I thought I was going to be picked for the match against India. In addition I have a good record against India and that was another reason why I thought I would be picked and I was surprised when I was left out. However looking back now, perhaps it was good luck for me to miss the opening match. Mickey Arthur said to me that he felt that they wanted to do something different and he felt that Hasan, Amir and I were of a similar pace and all three of us relied on swing, but the team needed the extra pace and bounce of Wahab Riaz against India. He also said to me that I would be playing in the match after India which was against South Africa.
PakPassion.net : Morale was rock-bottom after the defeat to India, how did you and your team mates lift yourselves after that heavy loss?
Junaid Khan : I think we were a little undercooked going into the match against India. We didn't really have a proper practice match. The warm-up game against Bangladesh had a very small boundary on one side and the practice match against Australia was rained-off. But having said that we flopped big time in the tournament opener against India. The batting didn't click and the bowling was not good in the latter part of the Indian innings with 72 runs being conceded in the final four overs. In addition, our fielding was below par and all-in-all, it was a match to forget. However things changed drastically when we played against South Africa. In that game we knew that the start was important and so it happened that we got an early wicket and that really lifted us and set us on our way.
PakPassion.net : What did the coaching staff say to the players after the loss to India?
Junaid Khan : Mickey Arthur made it clear that he felt we had talent but we needed to show that talent and utilise the skills we possessed. He asked all the players to show the world their ability and to play every match as if it was their last match of the tournament and everything depended on it. He said play with passion, play without fear and play your cricket with aggression. What was also reminded to us was that our World Cup qualification depended on a good performance at the Champions Trophy. The coaches really lifted the morale of the players after the defeat to India and told us to forget about the loss in the first match and focus on the upcoming matches.
PakPassion.net : Were there a few nerves for you ahead of the match against South Africa?
Junaid Khan : I was ready for this match as I had already been told that I would play against South Africa once the India match was over. Yes there were still a few nerves around as I hadn't played in the tournament and there was pressure on me as I was replacing an injured player and I knew I had to perform and cement my place in the team by not only bowling economically but also by taking wickets. I had plans in my mind for Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock and wanted to bowl with variety and ensure the batsmen couldn't settle at the crease, and thankfully things went well and according to plan.
PakPassion.net : When did you feel that Pakistan could actually win the Champions Trophy?
Junaid Khan : I felt that we were destined to win the Champions Trophy when Thisara Perera dropped Sarfraz Ahmed's straight forward catch at Cardiff. That match against Sri Lanka was huge for us, our bowling clicked with Mohammad Amir and I bowling well in tandem at a crucial stage of the match and it was during that match that I felt we could actually win the tournament. The Champions Trophy tournament was in the month of Ramadan as was the 1992 World Cup and it seems that both times, the prayers of our fans were answered.
PakPassion.net : It must have been exciting to be part of that fast-bowling trio with Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir?
Junaid Khan : We were undoubtedly the best fast-bowling trio in the Champions Trophy. Whether it was with the new ball, in the middle overs or bowling at the death, it was fantastic to be a part of this bowling unit. If we didn't take too many wickets with the new ball then we ensured that we kept the run-rate down. Then in the death overs apart from the opening match against India we did very well. The effectiveness of our bowling can be gauged by the fact that a big-hitter like Ben Stokes batted for 60 plus deliveries and did not hit a single boundary. I think we were a different proposition to other bowling line-ups at the Champions Trophy and that really worked for us. The combination was an excellent one and it was really enjoyable to be a part of this team.
PakPassion.net : It must be interesting and enjoyable having a character like Hasan Ali in the dressing room?
Junaid Khan : Day by day he is improving and the way he has made an impact in international cricket so early in his career is remarkable. It's a great achievement for him and for Pakistan cricket that a young man like him can come into a tournament like the Champions Trophy and be named as the Player of the Tournament. If he can stay fit then he can have a long and fruitful career for Pakistan. He is keen to learn, eager to work hard and has a real hunger to do well. He is fantastic news for Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net : England were regarded as the tournament favourites, that was some win against them wasn't it?
Junaid Khan : I was confident against England. I know nobody really fancied us to beat them but I had played against most of the England players before and we knew their strengths and weaknesses and I had even played in the same team as some of the England players so that really helped. Amir, Hasan and I talked at length about the England batsmen before that match and of course Azhar Mahmood knew the strengths and weaknesses of the English batsmen as he has played a lot of County cricket, so we were ready for them. I knew Jos Buttler from our days at Lancashire so I had some inside information about him and I told the boys I will get him out, which I managed to do.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan's record against India in ICC tournaments is well known and having lost to the same opponent earlier in the tournament, did you therefore approach the final at The Oval any differently?
Junaid Khan : The difference was in the self-belief which was perhaps lacking when we played India at Edgbaston. Nobody gave us a chance to beat India in the final and that worked in our favour. The media tore us to shreds after the Edgbaston loss but we went into the rest of the tournament with an 'every match is a final' approach. Then we beat South Africa and went past Sri Lanka and when we overpowered England, we just surprised and shocked everyone. It was truly an incredible journey. It was only when we beat England that people started to actually take note of us but even then everyone expected India to defeat us in the final. However that inner-belief was there amongst all of the squad and the coaching staff and we knew that we could do it. Then you also need some luck in such situations and we got that with the no-ball dismissal of Fakhar Zaman and a run-out opportunity which was missed also. These incidents gave us even more self-belief and inner confidence and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
PakPassion.net : Pace, aggression, swing, seam movement, the Junaid Khan of yesteryear looked like he was back?
Junaid Khan : I went on the tour of Australia and I felt that I was bowling better. Then I went to the Caribbean and I felt that I bowled well there especially in the death overs. I also felt really good at the Champions Trophy and I was really happy with my bowling especially in the death overs. The yorkers were there, the bouncers were there and I felt that I was bowling with good rhythm, at a decent pace and whatever I was trying to do was working for me. Also what helped me was that I was playing back-to-back matches and not worried about being dropped after one poor match which had been a problem for me in the past. It boosts your confidence when you know you are one of the main players and not on the fringes hanging onto your place in every match and worried about your place in the team. Confidence plays a huge part in a cricketer's performances and I feel I am always at my best when I am confident and being supported. As I say, if a player knows that he is going to get a run of matches then that really boosts his confidence levels. I feel that I am back to my best and the Junaid Khan of 2013/2014 is now back.
PakPassion.net : This group of players must set Pakistan up nicely for a strong challenge at the 2019 World Cup?
Junaid Khan : The youngsters were superb at the Champions Trophy and that is fantastic news for the future but I feel even the experienced players like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez played an important role in Pakistan's success. The combination has to be right, you need a blend of youngsters and seniors in the team and you need the senior players to guide the youngsters and everyone needs to play their part in the team's success. The signs are very positive and the vast majority of the current squad should be around for the 2019 World Cup. Also, given that the younger players will have two more years of experience under their belts will be another positive aspect going into that tournament. I think this team can only get better and I expect the performances to also improve in future.
PakPassion.net : You have been around international cricket for several years now, where do you feel you are in terms of goals and achievements?
Junaid Khan : My dream has always been to play in all three formats for my country on a regular basis. However I realise that not all dreams come true, so I just want people to respect my efforts and when I retire in future remember me as someone who always tried his best and as a Pakistani bowler who performed well for his country. I am working hard on my fitness and feel a lot stronger nowadays. I have been working hard with the coaches on my effort with the new ball and in the death overs and I feel that the hard work is paying dividends now.
PakPassion.net : You are due to play for Lancashire again this season, a club where the fans adore you and you are remembered fondly. What are your aims for this stint?
Junaid Khan : I had received a couple of offers to play County cricket this season but I could not turn down Lancashire which is a club close to my heart. It's a great opportunity to further my development as a bowler and to work and learn from the great James Anderson and the coach Glen Chapple who I have played alongside in previous spells at Lancashire. Conditions are good for seam bowlers in England and I always enjoy bowling there as the ball tends to swing and seam. I've had previous stints at Lancashire and they were great times as I learnt a lot and it's such a great club to be a part of. My aim is to be a better bowler at the end of this spell with Lancashire.