After a meteoric rise in International cricket which has seen Mohammad Abbas take 84 Test wickets, including four 5fers and best figures of 5/33 against Australia in 2018, the pace bowler finds himself dropped for Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe. However, he has kept himself in contention for a national comeback by putting in solid performances for Hampshire in the 2021 edition of the County Championship.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Abbas spoke about the importance of playing in the County season for his chances of making an international comeback, the reasons behind his lacklustre performance in Tests during series against England and New Zealand, steps being taken by the PCB to reduce injuries amongst bowlers, Pakistan’s current pace-bowling resources and what fans can expect of him when he eventually makes a return to the Pakistan side.
By Saj Sadiq (26th April, 2021)
PakPassion.net: How did the opportunity to play for Hampshire in this year’s County Championship come about for you?
Mohammad Abbas: There is no domestic cricket being played in Pakistan at the moment as our season has come to an end and whilst I was in the NCA camp, I was offered a chance to play for Hampshire this season which I readily accepted. For me, it’s a great opportunity to play in a quality domestic cricket competition and as we saw in my performance against Middlesex where I had match figures of 9/39, it has allowed me to re-discover my rhythm and will also help me restore my form as well, which in turn will hopefully lead to a comeback in the national side.
PakPassion.net: To take so many wickets, so early in the County season, will have given you a much-needed confidence boost?
Mohammad Abbas: This is absolutely true as starting the season of any major domestic tournament or league with such a good performance gives you a huge boost in confidence. I am very grateful to the Almighty that I have been able to achieve this and it is my hope to continue with this form to help Hampshire win more games, and also to repeat these performances at the international level whenever I am asked to make a comeback for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Having played for Leicestershire and Hampshire in County Cricket, what can Pakistan domestic cricket learn from the County circuit?
Mohammad Abbas: I feel that there has been a significant improvement in domestic cricket in Pakistan in the last 2 seasons due to the reduction in the number of domestic teams, and that has somewhat matched what I have seen in England in terms of the quality of competition. However, where we obviously lag behind England is in the area of facilities such as grounds and pitches. But I am happy that things are steadily improving in Pakistan and that can be seen by the fact that more matches are being televised and the quality of broadcasts has also improved. So, whereas 2 years ago there were just 2 TV cameras in place at grounds, the recent season saw up to 6 cameras being used for coverage of the games. Also, it was pleasing to see international venues being utilized for domestic games which is a great improvement in terms of playing surfaces that are available for matches.
PakPassion.net: You must be disappointed that in the last 4 Tests, you have only managed to take 6 wickets?
Mohammad Abbas: Yes, it is true that I have struggled in the recent past but in cricket you always have ups and downs. Sometimes you perform well taking 5fers and 10fers as a bowler and at other times you can remain wicketless due to no fault of yours. Likewise, if you are a batsman, you can be out for a duck on one day but next day, score a big hundred without any real change to your technique.
But then, it wasn’t just me who didn’t do too well in terms of performance as when we look at the recent performances of the team as a whole, we can see that we didn’t do that well either. Whilst overall we played good cricket on the tour of England, it was due to just one bad session at Old Trafford that we lost the match and consequently the series as well. In the same way we started off well during the New Zealand series, but we lost the 1st Test after it appeared that we had done the hard work needed to draw the game. Then in the 2nd Test on that tour, we batted well, bowled well in the first 2 sessions then collapsed in the 3rd session. I suppose as a team when you don’t do well, then its logical that players are affected, and mistakes start to happen too.
Personally speaking, I don’t think I have bowled that badly although I didn’t take as many wickets as I had expected. As a fast-bowler I know that once you have bowled 10-12 good overs, and then when you get wickets it injects new energy into you. But when that doesn’t happen, you feel let down and your body language as a sportsman also suffers. My performance was therefore affected by lack of wickets although I do feel that I didn’t bowl that badly in the past few months.
PakPassion.net: What were the exact reasons for not picking up wickets in the recent past?
Mohammad Abbas: A lack of wickets can happen when your luck abandons you or when catches are dropped, and if sometimes you do take a wicket, it turns out to be a no-ball. All these things are part and parcel of cricket because when it’s your day, you can even get a wicket off a full toss.
PakPassion.net: You must have been disappointed after not being chosen for the tour of Zimbabwe?
Mohammad Abbas: Of course, anyone would be disappointed when such a thing happens, but there are positives in such situations as I can now use this time to fix some of the issues I have in my bowling. In fact, the Chief Selector has told me clearly that I am not being side-lined and that a plan will be chalked out between all of us to see how I can improve myself so I can serve Pakistan better in the future.
PakPassion.net: What is the reason for reduction in your bowling speed in in recent games for Pakistan?
Mohammad Abbas: I will go back to what I said earlier which is the fact that when you after bowling 12-15 overs, you haven’t got any wickets, then it’s natural for your spirits to be down and that obviously effects your bowling quality and speed as well.
PakPassion.net: Is there extra pressure on you due to your style of bowling, especially given that Pakistan has a history of producing quicker bowlers like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar?
Mohammad Abbas: The legends that you mentioned are all those bowlers who inspired me to become a fast-bowler. But it really comes down to recognizing your strengths as a pace bowler, and to know whether you have speed or seam and swing as your primary weapon. Once you have a good understanding of your strong points, you can utilize those qualities and then cricket does become easy for you. So, when wickets are coming my way, I continue concentrating on getting more wickets. But when wickets dry up, I look to attack by denying the opposition runs and forcing them to make mistakes which leads to their downfall. To me, this style of bowling and attack is best suited to my game and it has brought success in the past.
PakPassion.net: What were the discussions with Mohammad Rizwan about standing up to the stumps during the tour of New Zealand?
Mohammad Abbas: To be honest, there was no such discussion or disagreement between Rizwan and myself about standing up to the stumps when I was bowling. Everything was planned out to perfection. Also, the fact is that the same ball that will just about rise up to the pads of a batsman in Pakistan conditions, bounces above the stumps on New Zealand pitches which makes it tough for a wicket-keeper to stand up to the stumps.
PakPassion.net: It seemed that Covid-19 positive cases also affected Pakistan’s performance in the series against New Zealand?
Mohammad Abbas: Getting used to conditions in New Zealand takes some time as it is, but to make things worse, we had the added problem of positive Covid-19 cases in our squad. So instead of starting our training within 3 days of arrival, we had to wait 14 days before we could step out for practice. And to be confined to a room for such a long time also has an effect on the mind of any sportsman and his body.
PakPassion.net: Has Misbah-ul-Haq spoken to you about what you need to do to make a comeback to the Pakistan side?
Mohammad Abbas: I had a chat with Misbah at the NHPC before he departed for the tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe and he recommended a few things for me to look at. I had a similar chat with Babar Azam and the messages from both the Head Coach and Captain were positive ones which was very encouraging. It’s up to me now to work on those things that are under my control which is to bring my form back to earlier levels which gave me so much success and to perform well.
PakPassion.net: What impresses you the most about Shaheen Shah Afridi?
Mohammad Abbas: He is a wonderful human being and a player who respects his seniors as well. Pakistan is lucky that they have a bowler like Shaheen who is putting in some excellent performances in all three formats. In my view, he has all the makings of a bowler who will serve Pakistan for a long time. I just hope and pray that he remains healthy and fit.
PakPassion.net: Why is it that a lot of Pakistani fast-bowlers suffer from fitness problems?
Mohammad Abbas: It’s simply a case of the fact that when you play all three formats and put in 100% in every match, then it’s logical that fitness issues will occur. But we are fortunate that the Pakistan team physio, Cliffe Deacon, who has been with us for the past 2 years has worked with our trainer Yasir Malik to change things for the better in this regard. So, we have been given apps on our mobile devices as well as special training watches to monitor our training and bowling loads. These are all very useful aides for us especially when we are over-exerting or workloads are heavier than usual, in which case we get spoken to by the staff.
PakPassion.net: The competition for fast-bowling slots in the Pakistan team seems pretty tough at the moment?
Mohammad Abbas:This sort of competition is great news for Pakistan cricket. We all know that Pakistan has been a breeding ground for fast-bowlers throughout our history and in that sense, apart from the guys currently playing for Pakistan, we also have the likes of Musa Khan, Ali Shafiq and Mohammad Ilyas. All in all, there is a group of 40 such bowlers who are being monitored by the PCB for their fitness and workloads. This is good news for Pakistan as there are decent backups for each bowler which means that if one bowler does not perform, then there is another one ready to take his place in the side.
For me the most important aspect of being in this group of bowlers is that we are like one family, so when I performed well for Hampshire recently, I got messages of appreciation from Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Hassan Ali. To be honest, instead of worrying about competition, I am much happier with the fact that Pakistan has such good quality fast-bowlers available at this time.
PakPassion.net: What is your assessment of Jasprit Bumrah who is performing so well in all formats of the game?
Mohammad Abbas: I haven’t played against Bumrah yet, but I do know that he has done wonders with the ball. His bowling action has been discussed a lot but, in my view, that is his natural action, and such actions should not be tinkered with by any coach. When you bowl a certain way, it can take a long time to change an action which is natural to the bowler and also increases the chances of injury as well. I have a lot of respect for him and think he’s a fantastic bowler.
PakPassion.net: On the topic of bowling actions, what in your view is the best age changes to be made?
Mohammad Abbas: To me, bowling actions should only be changed at a very young age at the Under-13, Under-15 or even at the Under-16 stage. Trying to make changes to a bowler’s action after this age will be counterproductive as by that time muscles and muscle memory has already taken shape and developed in a certain way. So, the chances of injury become greater when changes are made at a later stage in life as it puts extra stress on the body because it needs to adjust to a different action.
PakPassion.net: What can we expect from you when or if you make a comeback to international cricket?
Mohammad Abbas: Well some people have already written me off which is disappointing. It’s too soon to write me off as a bowler. Rest assured that on my return to international cricket, it will be the same Mohammad Abbas who served his country with dedication before as well. I will make sure that I put into practice whatever I learn from the current County season and what has made me successful so far for Hampshire. Most importantly, I would comeback after working hard on parts of my game where I was lacking before and the idea will be to put in performances that will be pleasing to the fans and ones that will help Pakistan win in the future.