Khurram Shahzad recently burst into the limelight for his excellent bowling performances in the sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) where he became the go-to bowler for Quetta Gladiators captain Sarfaraz Ahmed. Whilst he took 7 wickets in 5 PSL games, Khurram also has an admirable record in First-class cricket where he has taken 70 wickets since his debut in 2017.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Khurram spoke about his journey to First-class cricket, resemblance of his bowling action to that of Dale Steyn, his selection to represent Quetta Gladiators in PSL 6, experience of playing alongside Andre Russell and Faf du Plessis, how Umar Gul has helped him become a better bowler and his aspirations to represent Pakistan.
By Amir Husain (30th July, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about how you started playing cricket and your progress to First-class cricket?
Khurram Shahzad: My brothers and I used to play cricket when we were growing up in the city of Malakwal which is a city in Mandi Bahauddin District, so I always had an interest in the game. Whilst I started hard-ball cricket in the Malakwal Gymkhana Club, the fact was that the facilities were limited in my city, so I moved to Sargodha to play club cricket, and where I got a better awareness of what professional cricket was all about. I then moved to Lahore and played at the Aligarh Club and in 2017, was asked to help out in a camp which was held at the NCA for the then upcoming Champions Trophy where they needed net bowlers to help the Pakistan squad prepare. So, I got to bowl against the likes of Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez and many others. The coaches and players really appreciated my bowling and Fakhar Zaman called me to the side and said that he had seen my bowling and had recommended me to the coaches at HBL and that I would be called for trials soon. So, I went for the trials and was selected to play for HBL and made my First-class debut in 2017. That season wasn’t very good for me but in the 2018/19 season I took 34 wickets in 9 matches and was part of HBL’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy winning squad.
PakPassion.net: A few people have compared your action to that of Dale Steyn – how did that come about?
Khurram Shahzad: I had always bowled in the way I do today, and I would say that this is my natural style of bowling. I only noticed that I bowled like Steyn when one of my friends pointed it out to me a few years ago and told me that this was the case. Since then, I have been watching Steyn’s bowling videos to see how he bowls and trains and what has made him such a special world-class fast-bowler. I am a great fan of Steyn now and it’s unfortunate that I could not meet him in PSL 6 as in effect, I was brought in as his replacement for the Abu Dhabi leg of the tournament. But at the same time, I am also honoured by the fact that Quetta considered me as a replacement for Steyn who without doubt is my ideal cricketer and a role model too.
PakPassion.net: Having played First-class cricket since 2017, and being part of a trophy winning side like HBL, you would have been very concerned when departmental cricket was abolished in 2019/20 season?
Khurram Shahzad: The 2018/19 season was a great one for me and for my team HBL but then came the news that departments had been disbanded and the number of teams was reduced from 16 to 6 which was bit of a shock for me, and I was concerned that I would not be able to find a place in any of the First-class teams. But my previous year’s domestic performance was very good and that helped me get a place in the Balochistan squad.
PakPassion.net: What difference in the standard of cricket do you feel in the new system?
Khurram Shahzad: Whilst the number of teams had been reduced, I quickly noticed that the quality of cricket had improved immensely which as a player is very enjoyable. The level of competition increased a lot and as a result, you had to maintain higher levels of fitness if you wished to compete at this level. What it also proved to me was that the only way to stay in the side was to continue performing and if you did that, the chances of being noticed by national selectors were very high as there was now a smaller pool of players for them to check upon.
PakPassion.net: Tell us about the injury you suffered during the last domestic season and how you managed to recover from it?
Khurram Shahzad: The injury came to my attention during a First-class game against Sindh in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at the SBP Complex during the 2020/21 season, where my heel started to hurt a little. As a precaution I changed my boots as I suspected this to be the cause of the discomfort. However, the boot itself was a little old and that caused extra load on my shin which in turn caused a stress fracture, which I felt in the next game which was against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Karachi. Unfortunately, due to this injury, I was not picked for the squad for Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand which was to begin in December of 2020, even though I was told that I was under consideration and even my passport had been taken by the PCB to arrange my visa to travel but it was not to be. I then went into rehabilitation for this injury and played no further part in the season. In March 2021, I was asked to attend a PCB Camp in Lahore but due to COVID-19 concerns, this camp was cancelled. However, one positive thing for me was that Pakistan bowling coach Waqar Younis did see me bowling a bit and told me that he was very impressed with the way I swung the ball so I am hopeful that he will keep me in consideration in the future.
PakPassion.net: How important, in your view, is First-class cricket for the development of any cricketer?
Khurram Shahzad: I have played First-class cricket since my debut in 2017 and to prepare for that and to be effective in that format for your team, I need to be in a physical shape which allows me to bowl at least 10 overs a day. This is exactly why even in PSL 6 which is a Twenty20 format, compared to other bowlers I was able to control my length much better in 4 overs as my fitness was based upon First-class cricket where I was used to bowling much longer spells. To me, First-class cricket is where the true value of a bowler can be judged as it’s a test of fitness, line and length and temperament which no other format can provide. Red-ball cricket helps you in becoming a complete player regardless of whether you are a batsman or bowler.
PakPassion.net: To not play any cricket for so many months due to injury and then perform so well in PSL 6 must have been very pleasing?
Khurram Shahzad: Initially I thought that this injury would fix itself and was minor in nature but when the bone scan confirmed the stress fracture, it became clear to me that this would take some time to recover. I carried out rehabilitation for 2 months but what I also did after that was to train hard and make up for lost time and thankfully, I was selected as a replacement player by Quetta Gladiators in PSL 6 and was able to perform well. Once I was made aware that I was part of the Quetta squad as they needed a bowler in the emerging category, I went into a strenuous training program to get myself ready so that when I did arrive in Abu Dhabi, I was all set to go from the first ball I was asked to bowl.
PakPassion.net: How important has been the advice and support of Umar Gul to you in your development as a fast-bowler?
Khurram Shahzad: I have been extremely fortunate that Umar Gul has been my mentor during my stay with the Balochistan First-Class side and also during my time with Quetta Gladiators. He is like an elder brother to me, and his advice and coaching has been invaluable. Whatever success I had in PSL was due to what he taught me. His advice on bowling length balls as well as Yorkers really helped me out to a great extent.
PakPassion.net: What was the experience of playing alongside top-quality T20 players in PSL 6?
Khurram Shahzad: It was like a dream come true for me. I had watched Andre Russell on TV and knew all about his achievements as an international cricketer but to see him in person and share the same dressing room with someone like him was simply unbelievable. I also got to speak with Russell and got some tips from him which was amazing. Faf du Plessis is another player who I admired and knew from my time with Peshawar Zalmi in the previous edition of PSL in 2020. In fact, he was the one who took a video of me and sent to Dale Steyn to show him how much my bowling style resembled his which was a great honour for me. I also enjoyed bowling to some of the international players in the nets and during the games and the wicket of David Miller when he was batting so well against us was one of the most memorable moments for me. Obviously when you take a wicket of an international player, you feel very confident about your skills, and it makes you work even harder. You also get a good feel of where you stand as a player when you are able to compete against top-quality international players like Miller and you also understand what you need to do to become good enough to play at the highest level.
PakPassion.net: Having worked so hard, there must have been a feeling of disappointment when Quetta Gladiators did not qualify for the play-off stage of PSL 6?
Khurram Shahzad: I feel that the damage was done to Quetta’s chances during the first stage of the tournament in Karachi where we just couldn’t build a winning combination when we had Dale Steyn and Chris Gayle available for some of the games. Then in the Abu Dhabi leg, Faf du Plessis suffered an unfortunate head injury and Andre Russell became unfit and then had to leave for national duty which affected our batting very badly.
PakPassion.net: However, you must have been very satisfied with your own performances in PSL 6?
Khurram Shahzad: Absolutely, I came in the second half of the tournament and played 5 matches and took 7 wickets which is exactly how I had wanted to perform when I was picked. My idea was to not just play but also to make a difference for my team and I am glad I was able to do that, although I do wish we had gone on and won the tournament with the help of my performances.
PakPassion.net: Is a place in the Pakistan squad your ultimate goal?
Khurram Shahzad: All the hard work I am doing and whatever performances I have put in during PSL have all been done with one aim which is to play for Pakistan. My intention is to become a finished product by the time I am called to play for the national side and that I will do by continuing to train and perform in First-class cricket. My training will make sure that I am able to succeed at the highest level, regardless of whether I get the opportunity to play in the white or red-ball version of the game for my country.