Sami Aslam made his Test debut against Bangladesh in April 2015 but it wasn't until Pakistan's 2016 tour of England that the world took notice of his abilities as an opening batsman. During that tour, Sami's credentials as a solid Test opener for Pakistan were firmly established with scores of 82 and 70 in the 3rd Test against England at Edgbaston. His overall Test record of 13 matches where he has scored 758 runs is one that marks him as one to watch for the future.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Sami Aslam spoke about the progress of his Test career, the reasons behind Pakistan's disappointing Test series loss to Sri Lanka, why he feels that he is also well-suited for the shorter formats of the game and his aspirations to establish a permanent place for himself in the Pakistan side.
By Amir Husain (9th January, 2018)
PakPassion.net: How do you feel about your performance so far in Tests where you have an average of 31.58 – are you satisfied with the progress you have made?
Sami Aslam: To be honest, my Test batting average should have been much better than what it is now. However, in my defence, I would say that I've had to play on some very tough international tours of England, New Zealand and Australia, so it wasn’t that easy for me. Regardless of the difficulties I have faced, I am not satisfied with my Test performances so far and there is room for improvement.
PakPassion.net: You are yet to make a Test century, although you have come close a few times. Is this an issue of mental pressure?
Sami Aslam: I do not think that there is any issue with me not able to handle pressure in international cricket. Against England in the 3rd Test in 2016, I was unfortunately run out on 82 when I feel I was playing really well at that point. In the match against the West Indies in the Day/Night Dubai Test in 2016, I was out for 90 after playing a poor shot and then on the tour of New Zealand I lost my wicket for 91, but then I was trying to play aggressively as we were making a bid to win the 2nd Test in Hamilton. So, I do not think there is any question of a mental block as far as my approach is concerned. I have a great track record in Under 19s and at the List-A level with an excellent conversion rate and I am quite used to playing under pressure. I suppose poor shot selection and some bad luck is to blame for my inability to score a Test hundred which is something I am also very disappointed about.
PakPassion.net: You must have been disappointed with the outcome of the Test series against Sri Lanka?
Sami Aslam: The manner in which we lost the Test series against Sri Lanka in the UAE with a 0-2 margin was hugely disappointing for all of us. Whilst this was our ‘home’ series, the fact is that even we as hosts have to adapt to the conditions in the UAE as pitches are not similar to the ones we have in Pakistan. In fact, the pitches in the UAE suited the style of the Sri Lanka bowling attack which gave them an advantage in the final analysis.
PakPassion.net: Was there added pressure on the Pakistan batsmen as the series against Sri Lanka was the first for a long time without Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan?
Sami Aslam: I don’t believe that there was any extra pressure on our batsmen due to the absence of the two legendary players. Misbah and Younis were indeed big names of Pakistan cricket, but then we also have players in the current team who have the ability to plug the huge gap left by their retirements. Of course, it will take a little time to fill the vacuum created by the departure of these two great batsmen and I really don’t think we felt any stress during the Test series against Sri Lanka because of their absence. We all played our normal game, but we were not able to play as well as we wanted to and therefore lost the series.PakPassion.net: This must be a great opportunity for the less experienced players to step-up after the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan?
Sami Aslam: This is an absolutely great opportunity for us younger batsmen to make a name and establish ourselves in the Pakistan Test team by putting in solid performances. Obviously, it is important that a player should be able to establish himself in the team and not put himself in a situation where he has to hope and work hard to make a comeback, as that can make life very difficult for the player. In my case, I was dropped for the tour of West Indies after the Australia series and coming back for the home series against Sri Lanka was like making a debut once again which is something I do not want to repeat again. It would be great if I can put in good performances that ensure that I am not constantly in and out of the Test side and instead have a permanent place in the team which in turn will allow me to build my career as well.PakPassion.net: Do you feel you have done enough so far to have guaranteed a permanent spot in the Pakistan Test team in upcoming series?
Sami Aslam: If I look back at my Test career, I can see that I did really well against England in 2016 then had excellent series versus West Indies and New Zealand that year. Unfortunately, I failed to perform in the subsequent series against Australia and was not considered for the 2017 tour of West Indies. On my return to the Test side recently against Sri Lanka, I had some good starts to my innings and played well. I am really hopeful that I have done enough to ensure selection during the upcoming England series this summer. PakPassion.net: Do you feel that the tour of Australia taught you some lessons which you can use to improve yourself in the future?
Sami Aslam: There is absolutely no comparison to what a cricketer can learn by playing in a high-profile series such as those against Australia and England. The example of the current England Test team in Australia playing in the Ashes is in front of you where they struggled to compete against the hosts. In my case, whilst I did not score heavily in Australia, I did spend a lot of time at the crease which was an excellent experience in itself. So, in the first Day/Night Test in Brisbane, even though I scored 22 runs, I was the sixth wicket to fall having spent 135 minutes at the crease. What I realised was that during that series I played a little too defensively so I was missing out on scoring opportunities due to being too worried about losing my wicket. What I learnt was that if one goes into one’s shell than top bowling attacks, such as the one I played against which included the likes of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will dominate you. But during that first Test at The Gabba, I did play 100 balls in the first innings which shows that I do have the ability to play against quality bowling attacks. I feel that I put that learning from the Australia tour into practice during the recent series against Sri Lanka where I did play more aggressively. The improvement in my cricket is not only visible in Tests but also in the shorter format where in the Pakistan Cup I have performed very well. I am already feeling a lot of improvement in my batting, especially in the variety and range of shots that I am able to play now.PakPassion.net: How do you feel the experience of playing world-class bowlers in England and Australia has helped you improve your batting?
Sami Aslam: I have now played in some tough environments such as England, New Zealand and Australia, with South Africa the only place where I have yet to play. Along the way, I have faced top bowlers such as James Anderson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. When one has faced such good bowlers under tough conditions then it teaches you a lot about what international cricket is all about. I do not think one can play cricket in more testing conditions than I have done so far and I am happy to say that I have picked up many important lessons from these experiences which will allow me to improve further. PakPassion.net: You seem to receive criticism for your overcautious approach. What do you have to say in response to this criticism?
Sami Aslam: I believe this criticism stems from those who have seen me play in domestic cricket where I was under pressure to consolidate my spot in the team, especially after what happened to me post the tour of Australia. I became overcautious in my approach. In such situations, one does become a little defensive in your approach and this was a mistake on my behalf. Of course, I have learnt a lot from this mistake and I now know that the best way to play is to play one’s normal game and all my followers will see a much more improved cricketer in me, in the near future. PakPassion.net: Is Pakistan domestic cricket a good breeding ground for preparing young cricketers for the demands of international cricket?
Sami Aslam: In my view, the domestic four-day game is one of the most difficult forms of cricket in Pakistan. To say that it’s easy to score runs in Pakistani domestic cricket is totally incorrect. We have low scoring matches which sometimes end in two days and the ball used is Dukes which makes it very tough for batsmen to score runs. Also, players from Pakistan are able to perform in England which means that there really is no problem with our domestic cricket standards. If there is an issue, it is the gap between domestic and international cricket which is because of the pressure one faces when representing one’s country. We also have a lack of A tours to places like Australia and England. Such tours can help in building the confidence of our batsmen and reduce the jump between domestic and international cricket. Of course, there are other differences when one plays international cricket, such as better quality pitches and the bowling is also of top quality too.PakPassion.net: Apart from the four-day version, what impression do you have of the other domestic tournaments being played in Pakistan?
Sami Aslam: If you look at the National T20 Cup that took place recently, you will have been really impressed by the quality of cricket being played in such tournaments. Then you have the Pakistan Cup where you have the top 5 teams from the country competing in a closely fought tournament. We are also in the middle of the One-Day Cup (Departments) where once again, it is clear that cricket of a high standard is being played all-round. PakPassion.net: It must be a little frustrating to see your contemporary Babar Azam playing all 3 formats for Pakistan, but you have not been given more chances for the ODI team?
Sami Aslam: I am puzzled myself as I feel that my statistics in T20s are very good where I have a strike rate of 116.99. In List-A my average is in excess of 50 where I have scored 8 hundreds and 18 fifties so that clearly shows what I am capable of in the One-Day format. In fact, I would say that my style of batting is most suited for the One-Day format due to the way I play. My international debut was against Bangladesh in 2015 in an ODI game where I scored 45 off 50 balls but was not picked again until the series against England in 2016. I then played 3 One-Day games on the tour of England in 2016 in which, unfortunately, I was unable to perform. I do feel that I haven’t been given enough chances to demonstrate my abilities in the One-Day format, but hopefully that may change in future. As I said before, I feel I am a good One-Day player and have been performing very well whenever I have played in any One-Day tournament in domestic cricket. I am working hard on my game and I am still young so I'm confident that I will be able to establish a permanent spot in the Pakistan ODI squad as well in future. PakPassion.net: It seems that PSL franchises don’t want to pick you at all. Why is that?
Sami Aslam: There’s not much I can say about this except for the fact that a day before this year's draft, I scored 91 not out and I thought I would get a chance. I was totally surprised by the fact that I was not picked by any franchise for the PSL. I suppose, all that is left for me to do is to continue performing in the same way I did in the National T20 Cup, but I will admit that I am puzzled that I have been ignored for selection by PSL franchises every season. PakPassion.net: Looking ahead, what are your aims and targets?
Sami Aslam: From the time I started to play for Pakistan Under 19s, my aim was not just to represent my country at that level but instead I was totally focused towards playing for the national team at some stage. I did really well during my Under 19 days for Pakistan and was the best performer on many tours. My aim now is to play so well that I create world records similar to what Saeed Anwar achieved during his career. Apart from that, I want to establish a permanent spot in the Pakistan Test team as an opener, not simply for the sake of playing in the national team, but also to put in some memorable performances for my country.