After two outstanding innings of 82 and 70 for Pakistan in the 3rd Test against England in 2016 at Edgbaston, it appeared that Sami Aslam's international career was about to take off and the left-handed opener was well on his way to becoming an established name in the Pakistan Test side. But, despite being the fourth-highest run-scorer with 864 runs during the 2019/20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he was ignored from selection for Pakistan's subsequent tours of England and New Zealand and decided to quit Pakistan and head for America.
In an an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Aslam spoke in detail about the reasons behind his move to play cricket in the USA, the alleged culture which forced him to make the decision to leave Pakistan cricket, the disappointing responses to his plight and allegations by officials, why he feels that other players will follow his example and his aspirations to represent USA in cricket.
By Saj Sadiq (8th May, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Why did you turn your back on Pakistan cricket and head to America?
Sami Aslam: I was tired of performing regularly for the last 5 or 6 years in all formats in domestic cricket yet being ignored by the selectors. If I was picked, I’d play a couple of matches and then get dropped. I was even dropped after having performed well in tough conditions. There were players who would flop in 10 matches and still get picked, but if I failed even a couple of times, I’d be left out. There seemed to be different parameters for me and different parameters for others. So, I had that feeling that the selectors didn’t want to pick me and were just looking for excuses to not have to pick me.
PakPassion.net: Do you think your domestic performances before you left for America were good enough for a recall to international cricket?
Sami Aslam: In the 2017 edition of the Pakistan One-Day Cup, I scored 169 in one game and hit 109 in the final, yet they didn’t pick me for the Pakistan One-day side. I scored 864 runs in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in the 2019/20 season and ended up with the highest average of 78.54 in that tournament. Then the selectors picked an extended squad for the tour of England and I was ignored, so I felt that I had to do something as these guys were just ruining my career. But even then, I waited for the squad announcement for the tour of New Zealand in 2020 and once again I was ignored, yet some players were picked for that series who had very little experience of domestic cricket and had no performances at all or had a one or two scores of note.
PakPassion.net: Did you feel that the selectors and management gave you ample opportunities to prove yourself?
Sami Aslam: No, not at all. After my treatment and the lack of opportunities I knew that my time was up and that I wasn’t going to get a fair chance. I thought about my future and realised that I would just be playing some domestic cricket for now and I was actually concerned that they wouldn’t pick me even in domestic cricket in the future.
Even when I was playing for Balochistan in the National T20 Cup in 2020, I was demoted to the second XI for no reason. Nobody explained to me why I was dropped, despite the first XI being so weak.
PakPassion.net: You seem very disillusioned by Pakistan cricket, what was going wrong?
Sami Aslam: It’s all about the culture of “liking and disliking” individuals. If your face fits, you are fine, if not, they will find any way to side-line you. I’ll give you the example of T20 cricket, where I was a solid performer in T20 tournaments in Pakistan and then suddenly the PSL comes along, and I am deemed not good enough for this format. Some guys have been picked for the PSL who weren’t even being picked for club cricket, yet I wasn’t even picked as a supplementary player in 6 tournaments. That is clear evidence that PSL selection is about who is well-in with the owners and the team management, and my face didn’t fit so that’s why I never got the chance to play in the PSL.
PakPassion.net: Why do you think your face didn’t fit when it came to opportunities and selection?
Sami Aslam: I wasn’t one of those players who would keep phoning the coach and praising him. I have always relied on my on-field performances rather than sucking-up to coaches or team management for no reason. In addition, some of my competitors had a strong influence off the field and ensured that I wasn’t looked at favourably. They knew that if they gave me a proper chance and if I succeeded then it would be difficult to drop me and subsequently their spot in the playing eleven would be in jeopardy.
PakPassion.net: What was your relationship with the coaches you played under and could you not speak to them about your concerns?
Sami Aslam: The coaches just want their egos massaged by the players and for the captains to be dummies. Let me give you an example, I was appointed captain of Southern Punjab when Shan Masood went on tour with Pakistan. My performances were good and the Head Coach was Abdur Rehman. He was quiet when others were captaining the team, but as soon as I became captain, he kept on interfering with my decisions on the field including field-placings, just to undermine me. He wanted ridiculous fields set which I ignored. He was looking for a reason to have a go at me whether I was batting, captaining or in the field and even had a go at me for not attempting to win a match when a ridiculous amount of runs was needed from a few overs when the light was closing in.
He had me removed as the captain as he had been looking for an excuse to have me removed from the role and complained that I wasn’t following his instructions. He had no clue about coaching yet kept on retaining his position despite so many other domestic coaches being replaced.
PakPassion.net: Did you not explain your position to anyone above the Head Coach and speak about your treatment?
Sami Aslam: I telephoned Nadeem Khan up who at that time was Coordinator of the National Men's Selection Committee at the time and stated what had occurred and told him about my removal as Southern Punjab skipper. Nadeem suggested that I put my grievance in writing. I said to him, no problem, I will send you video evidence too, can I have your e-mail address. In turn, instead of giving me his e-mail address, he said give your grievance correspondence to the Head Coach, the very same person who the grievance was about. So, I followed Nadeem Khan’s advice and gave my letter to Abdur Rehman. His response was, ok you have made a big mistake, let’s see how much cricket you play in Pakistan in future. After that, Rehman made my life hell regarding selecting me and would continually taunt me. There was no investigation, no inquiry into what happened, no inquiry into the bullying, nothing at all. I later learnt that Nadeem Khan and Abdur Rehman were very good friends and that’s why there was no investigation.
PakPassion.net: Do you think players are reluctant to speak out for fear of reprisals in domestic cricket?
Sami Aslam: Absolutely. Everyone knows what’s going on, but people are reluctant to speak up because they know they will be dropped. Some of the coaches speak a good game but have no clue about the tactical or technical aspects of cricket. They have friends in higher places and as soon as a player has a grievance with them, they blacklist that player and make that player’s life hell.
PakPassion.net: Before you left for America, did you discuss your problems with anyone at PCB?
Sami Aslam: I spoke to so many people. I asked a lot of questions about why I wasn’t being picked, why I was being treated in this way, but nobody had any answers. Nobody would take any responsibility and they would blame somebody else. Whereas some players are living-off one innings, I performed regularly but still couldn’t get picked even in domestic cricket.
PakPassion.net: Do you not think about what could have been if you had been a regular pick in Test cricket?
Sami Aslam: I do. By now I would have been a recognised Test opener with a lot of experience under my belt. I was picked for some very tough series, especially away from home and I believe that had I been given more opportunities and some relatively easier series like other openers have, then I would have firmly been established as a Test opener. The only way was up after those tough series, but that chance never came. Look at Babar Azam, he had a tough introduction to Test cricket and then found his feet after he was given time. You have to give Test openers opportunities and time to establish themselves, but I was never given that time.
PakPassion.net: You must be looking at the recent Test openers used by Pakistan and thinking I should be out there instead of them?
Sami Aslam: I was satisfied with how my Test career had gone in the first 13 matches. I was averaging 31 which isn’t great but given the opposition and the venues, it wasn’t a disaster. But despite that, I knew the selectors weren’t going to pick me in future and I would be wasting my time by staying in Pakistan and just hoping that one day I might be selected.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the cricket set-up in America?
Sami Aslam: It’s a wonderful set-up. People think that there is very little cricket being played in America, but cricket is growing rapidly over here. I’ve just returned from a Twenty20 tournament in Houston where there were 20 to 30 players from the Caribbean Premier League taking part. In my team we had Awais Zia, Mohammad Ilyas, Umer Khan, Hammad Azam and Rakheem Cornwall. I ended up being the second-best batsman in the tournament, scoring two fifties and a hundred.
PakPassion.net: I guess by playing in America, it opens up other opportunities to play around the world?
Sami Aslam: Absolutely, I’ve already had a couple of offers to play in the CPL. Two CPL teams have been in touch with USA Cricket regarding my availability. I was offered nothing when in Pakistan especially in T20 cricket and now doors are already opening up for me which is fantastic. I could play in the CPL as a part of the United States Associate team quota, however, I need to think about the CPL offer as currently my immigration status only allows me to leave America for a maximum of 2 months in the year and if I play in the CPL then that would restrict my chances of going to Pakistan to visit family.
PakPassion.net: Have many Pakistani players been in touch with you about also moving to America?
Sami Aslam: I guarantee you that any Pakistani player who is not centrally contracted will want to settle in America and play cricket here. I have had calls from over 100 First-class players in Pakistan exploring the possibility of them settling in America. Even the best performers currently in Pakistan domestic cricket are keen to move here. At the moment USA cricket are recruiting a lot of South African and Australian players, but a lot of Pakistani players have tried and are desperate to move here. There is a lot of competition to move out here and at the moment not Pakistani players are being selected although one or two are close to being signed-up in the coming days.
PakPassion.net: There seems to be a lot of investment in cricket in America at the moment?
Sami Aslam: 30 or 40 foreign players have arrived in America recently. A few former Under-19 Indian players have also arrived, including Unmukt Chand, Smit Patel and Harmeet Singh. There are many players from South Africa over here now who have played a lot of First-class cricket in their homeland. Former New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson is also here. The set-up and system are very impressive and well structured. USA Cricket is really putting in a huge effort to improve cricket in America and to move it forward. It will take time for them to reach the higher levels, but the standard of cricket in America is improving fast.
There are trainers and good coaches also out here, some of whom have previously worked in the Indian Premier League. J Arunkumar is the USA Head Coach and he was formerly the Kings XI Punjab’s batting coach in the 2017 IPL season. He has also coached in the Ranji Trophy and he’s an excellent coach.
There are tournaments regularly held around the country and leagues are played at weekends, so there’s quite a lot of cricket being played.
PakPassion.net: Why has Pakistan struggled in recent years to find solid and reliable Test opening batsmen?
Sami Aslam: The biggest problem is that the people they should be backing and giving opportunities to are not allowed to settle and after a couple of low scores they were dropped. Now the selectors speak about giving players proper opportunities, well that wasn’t the case in the past when they would side-line any decent opening batsman if he had two low scores. You will never develop good cricketers if the culture of favouritism isn’t eradicated. The favourites can fail in 20 matches and still get selected, but the batsmen who you dislike, the minute they fail, they are thrown out of the team. Look at the example of Fawad Alam, they kept on saying he had flaws and wouldn’t pick him. Now where are those faults, Fawad’s still the same player that you ignored for so long.
PakPassion.net: Are you planning to represent the American national team in future?
Sami Aslam: That is the direction and plan yes. There is no point looking back now at what might have been. I was initially given a 3-year contract by USA Cricket. Some people felt that I would have to work in addition to playing cricket, but that is not the case, the contract is just to play cricket.
There is a 3-year eligibility criteria and after that I will qualify to play for America in November 2023. I have also started the process of obtaining a green card and that will enable my family to come to America too.
PakPassion.net: It’s early days in your life in America, but are there any regrets about leaving Pakistan?
Sami Aslam: Not even 1% regret. I am really happy to be out here in America after being depressed in Pakistan for 2 years. I was in a bad place due to the coaches and events in Pakistan and the way they treated me. I have absolutely no regrets at all and I am very pleased with life at the moment.