Regarded as an outstanding bowling all-rounder, 24-year-old Zafar Gohar has represented Pakistan once in an ODI against England in which he impressed with 2 wickets on debut. Subsequently, an unfortunate shoulder injury resulted in an unwelcome break for Gohar but he has since recovered completely and recently scored a maiden first-class hundred in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Gohar spoke in detail about his shoulder injury, his impressions of the changes to domestic cricket, Ian Bell's role in arranging his stint with Warwickshire to play cricket with their 2nd XI, why he feels that he is ready to take on the role of a Test leg-spinner in the footsteps of Yasir Shah and his aspirations to represent Pakistan based on his own maturity.
By Amir Husain (4th October, 2019)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about the injury that kept you out of cricket for almost a year.
Zafar Gohar: About two years ago, I had a problem with my left shoulder caused by a SLAP shoulder injury. I needed to have surgery to fix this problem in the UK and for that I would like to thank Dr. Zafar Iqbal who arranged the correct treatment with a surgeon in Liverpool. That period of injury and treatment was a pretty difficult time for me as I could not play any cricket during that phase of my career. The injury was sustained during a domestic game for my department and in general they provide all medical coverage for players for treatment within Pakistan but I just didn’t want to risk my career and decided to take a foreign route to fix the problem using specialist help in the UK. This was my bowling arm and any slight mistake in surgery would have had a disastrous effect on my career so I could not take that chance. The only two places which are well known for such surgery were either UK or Australia but because Dr. Zafar was recommended to me by Haris Sohail, I decided to speak to him and get treatment in the UK. He provided me with very good guidance and helped me through the whole process and thanks to this surgery and treatment, I am completely pain free and have recovered from this injury. I played 4-day cricket last year and am also taking part in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this season and there really is no problem with my shoulder anymore.
PakPassion.net: What are your impressions about the recently introduced changes in the domestic system in Pakistan?
Zafar Gohar: It's logical that when 16 teams are reduced to 6 in a tournament, then the level of competition will reach a higher level. If one looks at our Central Punjab side, almost 14 players have represented Pakistan at the highest level of cricket. This is a much tougher environment as compared to the previous years, but I find the competition this time around to be a healthy one and the whole experience is most enjoyable as a player. This season and the new system represents a new challenge for all of us but the level of excitement is the same as before as each player, regardless of what system he is playing in, will want to put into practice all the preparation and training they have done in the year. Of course, all things in life can do with improvement and I am sure there will be areas of improvement in this new system as well which will become obvious later. The main aim is for all changes to help and improve Pakistan cricket and Insha'Allah, that is what we will see in the future.
PakPassion.net: Would you say that the current pitches in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy can be best described as ‘bowler’s graveyards’?
Zafar Gohar: If the pitches were such an issue then, we wouldn’t have bowled out Balochistan twice in 4 days on this surface, would we? Another factor to note is that the ball used for Pakistan’s international cricket assignments, the Kookaburra, is also being used in our domestic games now. The Dukes ball which was previously used in domestic cricket would assist medium pacers a lot and that would result in low-scoring games as batsmen would find it difficult, but that is not the case now. But this isn’t to say that bowlers are getting no help from this ball. Regardless of the type of bowler you are, you need to put in more effort with this ball in these conditions and you will get your rewards. In our recent Round 3 match against Balochistan, our spinners and our fast-bowlers got wickets and were equally effective which shows that there is still a lot of help for bowlers as long as they are willing to put in the effort.
PakPassion.net: How does the change in the type of ball from Dukes to Kookaburra effect you as a spin bowler?
Zafar Gohar: With the Dukes ball, there are more stitches in the middle so it’s easier for the spinner to bowl with it. With the Kookaburra ball, a spinner has to put in a lot of effort to bowl a good delivery. But the fact is that regardless of whether you are a fast-bowler or a spin-bowler, there is a lot of hard work to be done when bowling with the Kookaburra ball.
PakPassion.net: How much importance do you give to your batting and how does it feel to have scored your maiden first-class hundred?
Zafar Gohar: Batting has always been an important part of my game. I played as an all-rounder during my Under-19 days and it was with my batting that helped Pakistan win the semi-final in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup against England. In the previous first-class season, I batted at the number 3 position for Lahore and scored two fifties and had a few scores in the 30-40 range as well. In this year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy where there are fewer teams and the competition is very tough, my hard work with the bat paid off with that hundred against Balochistan. My reputation in my team as a good batsman had been built based on my performances from last year and it was rated very highly in the pre-season camp at the NCA as well. So, thankfully I have been able to justify the faith in my batting and I hope and pray that I can keep on batting well in the future as well.
PakPassion.net: You must be very happy with the performance of the Central Punjab side in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, do you feel they can go all the way and win the tournament?
Zafar Gohar: Whilst we have been playing really well in the first few rounds of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the truth is that we cannot rely on the fact that we have some top international players in our line-up. We have big stars in our line-up but there is still a little matter of actually performing on the field of play. We have 10 rounds to play in total and I am confident and hope that we will be able to continue to play to our potential and take it from there.
PakPassion.net: How was the experience of playing for Warwickshire 2nd XI this year and your association with Ian Bell?
Zafar Gohar: The experience of playing with Warwickshire 2nd XI was amazing and made all the more brilliant because of the presence of Ian Bell who is a legend in his county and one of the most well-respected players to play for England. This is why I feel playing in the PSL is so important for our players. In my case, Ian Bell was at the PSL and he saw me play there and obviously rated me very highly, and then said to me that whenever I come to England and needed to play or need practice, I should contact him and he would help me play for Warwickshire 2nd XI. He was true to his word and once I was there, he got me to play with the side and also train with them which has really helped me in improving my game.
PakPassion.net: How important is the insistence on good fitness as emphasised by new Pakistan Head Coach-Chief Selector, Misbah-ul-Haq?
Zafar Gohar: Fitness is an important aspect of any sport and not just cricket as it's impossible to compete with any top international side without being fit, regardless of how much talent and skills you have. I pay a lot of attention to my fitness and I am very happy that Misbah is insistent on making sure that all Pakistan players, whether at domestic or international level, do the same for themselves as ultimately that will help Pakistan become a better side.
PakPassion.net: Given all the talent that you have, is it not strange that you have only represented Pakistan once?
Zafar Gohar: The solitary ODI that I played against England in Sharjah in November 2015 is a memorable one as I took two wickets on debut and also scored 15 runs. I then played in the PSL but after that, I was not picked by Pakistan. In the meantime, I developed this shoulder issue and so things didn’t work out for me. I feel that I have learnt a lot since the time I last represented Pakistan and that process hasn’t stopped as I continue to work on improving myself and I hope that I will be a much more mature player after playing domestic cricket for a few years.
PakPassion.net: Do you see yourself as a viable option who could potentially replace Yasir Shah in the Pakistan side?
Zafar Gohar: Any player like myself would be more than happy to represent and perform well for one’s country at the highest level of cricket. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Yasir Shah is a star bowler for Pakistan in Test cricket. He is a source of great inspiration for younger bowlers and even during the recent Quaid-e-Azam Trophy where we played against his Balochistan team, and just like he did during the pre-season camp, he continued to talk to me to give me tips and advice about bowling. He has always given me advice about the right mindset to have when bowling in different conditions and to different batsmen. I have always found him to be a kind and nice person and he is always willing to transfer his experience to others which is very useful for someone like myself. As far as my replacing Yasir Shah is concerned, let me say that in every era of Pakistan cricket we have had some great spinners representing Pakistan. So, from the late Abdul Qadir to the times of Saqlain Mushtaq and then to Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, Pakistan has been blessed with quality spinners. I also hope that whenever I get the chance I can, just like Yasir Shah and many others, establish my name in international cricket and also be recognised as a successful bowling all-rounder.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel you are mature enough to once again represent Pakistan at the international level?
Zafar Gohar: I have been playing in the PSL for the past four years where, I am glad to say that, I have learned a lot from my association with Islamabad United. The competition, in the PSL and within the Islamabad United side, has been intense and provided me with some good learning experiences. I feel that with each passing period of play over the years that I have been playing, I have become a more experienced player. When I represented Pakistan in the one ODI in 2015, I was still a little raw as I had just come from the Under-19 system but even then, I was able to take two wickets and score some runs for Pakistan. Now it’s been almost 5-6 years since my Under-19 days and since then I have also participated in a domestic cricket where competition is always tough and I have gained lot of experience as well. So, I feel that I have what it takes to make a comeback in international cricket.