A veteran of over 100 international games, Imran Farhat scored over 4000 runs for Pakistan in all three formats of the game. The left-handed opener faced some of the toughest bowling attacks of his time and offered a good account of himself against bowlers of the quality of Shaun Pollock, Daniel Vettori, Mitchell Johnson and Muttiah Muralitharan to name a few.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Farhat spoke about the reasons behind the declining standards of domestic cricket in Pakistan, looked back on his own international career and offered his views on young Pakistani opening batsmen Shan Masood and Imam-ul-Haq.
By Amir Husain (3rd November, 2017)
PakPassion.net: How has your association with HBL been and do you see yourself playing for them in the future?
Imran Farhat: It’s been a great experience playing for HBL. The main thing is that I started playing cricket as I was passionate about it and I will also end it with the same passion one day. On top of that, I have had no problems with my fitness this year which is what any player needs to have to play on for a long period of time. As long as I am fit, I will continue playing and enjoying myself at HBL.
PakPassion.net: What do you feel about the standards of opening batsmen in Pakistan?
Imran Farhat: I believe that the way modern-day cricket is moving along, it requires a change in the batting style for opening batsmen which, quite frankly, I am not seeing in our batsmen at all levels including in Tests. Basically, in today’s game, it’s all about playing out the good ball but being very severe on the bad balls. I am afraid our newer batsmen are not able to put this into practice. I blame that solely on Twenty20 and One-Day cricket as that robs the batsmen of the type of patience you need to play as an opener at the highest level where you have to bide your time and then pounce on any bad delivery that you get.
PakPassion.net: Have you seen any improvements in our domestic cricket over the years?
Imran Farhat: To be honest, things have only become worse over time. Our pitches in the last 5-6 years at the domestic level have deteriorated into a laughable state and when it’s not the pitches, then we have issues with the quality of cricket balls. This year there is an improvement in the quality of the balls but the pitches are not up to standard. The whole entertainment aspect of cricket is derived from the quality of batting but for that you need good pitches, or else you will not be able to develop batsmen. Bowlers have an advantage that they can adapt in all conditions but the batsmen do not have that luxury as it just takes one bad shot to end their innings.
Good quality pitches are exactly why India is producing such good batsmen which is the same case in Australia and elsewhere. In Pakistan we have unprepared pitches and if they have been prepared, they will have huge amounts of grass on them which is of no use at all for the batsmen. In such circumstances, when you lose the toss, you also lose the match and if some batsman survives this, it’s more due to good fortune than anything else. Veteran players can probably survive on such pitches but the newer ones have little chance and have an uphill battle to score runs. In terms of technique, the younger batsmen are really unable to develop themselves on such pitches and most of their runs will be scored using ‘slashy’ shots. So 90% of the runs will come from areas behind the stumps which may work in domestic but will give them issues at the international level.
PakPassion.net: But how can this situation ever be improved?
Imran Farhat: Look the fact is that apart from the main stadiums, the smaller grounds are being overused. There are 8-9 cricket academies and a huge number of nets being conducted in the smaller grounds so pitches and ground are being ruined. We have pitches where one ball is going past the batsman’s ears and the next ball is not higher than his toes! The PCB needs to understand that first-class cricket is the heart and soul of a player in Pakistan. This type of cricket is the basis on which all players construct their careers so first-class cricket needs special attention as it is important for the future of cricket in our country. The Board needs to ensure that the same pitches that a player will encounter at the international level are offered to him at the domestic level. That is the only way we will produce quality batsmen in this country.
PakPassion.net: You seem very forthright with your views on Pakistan cricket?Imran Farhat: Ever since a young age, I have prided myself on being frank in my views. I am never going to sugar-coat my views and the PCB or anyone who cares to listen will get my honest views on the improvement of the game in Pakistan as I have been around for a while and have had enough experience to advise on the betterment of the game.PakPassion.net: Recently we saw some issues with HBL players after a match. Surely more security is needed for the players?Imran Farhat: Our people are very fond of their cricket stars and most of the time we as players oblige them by shaking hands or taking selfies with them. But on some occasions, the players want to leave in a hurry after practice but our path is blocked by over-eager fans which can lead to unfortunate incidents of the type we saw recently. It was my car in which Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Gul were travelling and really was not the fault of any player. We had met as many people as we could but then it came a point when people were pulling our shirts and so on which lead to frustration on our behalf. All this could have been avoided if better quality of security arrangements were in place but sadly that was not the case. PakPassion.net: Did the recent Mankad incident during the game between Peshawar and WAPDA shock you?Imran Farhat: The pressure to win games is so high that it is no wonder that such short-cuts, even though legal, are being pursued by cricketers in games. Fact is that the PCB has little to do with this as they don’t have anyone to supervise these games and keep an eye on the performances of the umpires as well who really should be in control of the match. Coming back to the incident. To me, these incidents are more a case of players acting in desperation due to insecurities than anything else. All players are looking to do something special so that the team management can take notice and keep them in the team for the next game and this looks to be one such case.PakPassion.net: Looking back at your career for Pakistan how do you feel about it?Imran Farhat: My nature is that I am never happy with myself even if I do well and that is the kind of training I have had from my teachers so I am always looking for perfection. I have always been taught that there was no short-cut to success; in fact when I scored 300, I was told that don’t be too happy as you should have gone on to score more. I do feel privileged and honoured at the same time that I was able to play over 100 international matches for my country. During the time when I was in the Pakistan team, the competition was very high for places in the squad and if you made it to the team, then you knew that you really deserved it. If you had to make a comeback to the team, the path was straightforward as you were required to be the top batsman during the season and that was the only criteria needed. All in all, I am satisfied with my career but I could have obviously done better than what I achieved. There were ups and downs during my playing career and there was some unnecessary involvement in politics as well due to my father-in-law’s connection with the PCB. However, I am proud to say that I was only ever selected for Pakistan due to being a top scoring batsman and nothing else. All my comebacks were made on merit and not because someone did a favour to me. As is well known, I was the first Pakistan player to have scored 2 triple centuries in domestic cricket. I have scored good runs against the top teams from the world including South Africa, England, West Indies to name a few. I feel that the players in the current team are lucky that they are able to play in the UAE which gets them easy runs but in my time, I had to play against tough oppositions away from home which wasn’t that easy.PakPassion.net: How was the experience of playing alongside Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan? Imran Farhat: Both of these batsmen were great players and servants of Pakistan cricket. But if I were to compare them in terms of nature and temperament, Younis Khan was far ahead of Mohammad Yousuf. In dealings with younger players, Mohammad Yousuf could be a little distant and arrogant at times. Younis Khan was a polar opposite in that regard but he had a lot of passion for the game. He was almost in his own zone all the time where his aim was to be the best. He fought his way through the system to ensure that he achieved his goal of becoming a legend of the game. Whilst Younis Khan’s attitude towards younger players helped in their development, I can safely say that Mohammad Yousuf did not pay any attention to developing any other player when he was in the Pakistan team. He was generally an unhappy man but contrast that with Younis who always had a smile on his face even though he was completed focused towards improving himself. PakPassion.net: Shan Masood is struggling at the moment so what does he need to do to improve?Imran Farhat: The problem with some players is that they ‘look busy, but do nothing’. So, when there are fitness tests, a player like Shan is seen to be fit and meeting the standards of the team in terms of things like the yo-yo test which gives him the edge. I believe, there is no player fitter than Shan Masood in Pakistan cricket and not many players can compete with him on that account. To me it appears that players like him have the fitness but do not have the skills to go with it which is important. They are unable to dig themselves out of trouble on the cricket pitch and subsequently do not do well for the team. Shan is someone we have seen closely at Habib Bank Limited team where basically he did not do well. He has an advantage of good education and his father is a senior figure in UBL who are one of the main sponsors of the PCB. One thing that one cannot doubt is that he is a hard-worker and we did do our best to improve him as a player at HBL. He of course uses his connections well so that even at practice, he is likely to get more practice time than others. He is by no means a natural talent but circumstances have forced him into the cricket setup in Pakistan. Other players with no connections and limited education background have a hunger to succeed and eventually become big players, whilst Shan does not fall in that category and will always struggle. PakPassion.net: Do you think Salman Butt deserves a chance for Pakistan once again?Imran Farhat: I am totally in favour of allowing Salman Butt to play for Pakistan again. My view is simply based on the fact that if we allowed one such player, Mohammad Amir, to play for Pakistan, then others should be allowed to do the same as well. They have all served their punishment and now are available for selection and are not bad performers. Also, if we go back a little, there were some players who sat on TV and in interviews said that they would not play alongside such players but where are they now? So, it seems that standards can be changed for one person and if that can happen then same allowances can be made for Salman Butt as well who I know has worked hard to bring himself back into contention. PakPassion.net: How well in your view is Mohammad Amir doing in his comeback?Imran Farhat: I feel that there is a difference in the pace as well the body language of Mohammad Amir in his current comeback for Pakistan. You have to remember that there is a certain swagger associated with fast-bowlers but that is missing with this version of Amir and as a consequence he is not as aggressive as before. On top of that, he seems to be bowling from within the crease as he is probably worried about the events in 2010 and that is affecting his pace and aggression. Sure, he is managing to get through with his experience but am afraid he will continue to get worse. Whatever you may say about Wahab Riaz as he tends to bowl no-balls and wides but the fact is that he has aggression and that scares batsmen which is something Amir is lacking. PakPassion.net: You must be pleased with the progress of Imam-ul-Haq?Imran Farhat: We at HBL are very proud of the progress that Imam has made as an opener for Pakistan. Imam-ul-Haq has a very bright future. He has worked hard and that is now showing in his selection for Pakistan. In a sense, he is like me, as we both have relatives in positions of power in the PCB and have had to face unfair criticism due to that. From what I understand, Inzamam was worried that people will accuse him of nepotism for selection of Imam but that should not have been the reason for not playing Imam. Like I said, Imam is a hard-working player who kept control of his nerves during his debut but I also feel he is a good choice for an opener in Tests as well. My advice to Imam would be to put in practice what he has learned so far. There really is no need to think too deeply and try and change his game as that is exactly what got him this far and will help him succeed in the future. This is the same advice I have given to Fakhar and I would ask the Pakistan coaches to work on improving the positives of these batsmen and not emphasise the negative aspects too much or this will have undesired effects on their batting.