Pakistan fast-bowler, Wahab Riaz earned praise for leading his side Peshawar Zalmi to the final of PSL 6 and also impressed with his maiden appearance at this year's The Hundred where he took 4/30. A back injury ended his stint at Trent Rockets after just one match but the pacer with 154 international appearances to his name is now all set for his next challenge at the 2021 edition of the Caribbean Premier League.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Wahab spoke about his impressions of the inaugural edition of The Hundred, working with Head Coach Andy Flower, why he feels Saqib Mahmood has a bright future as an England bowler, hopes that he will be selected for the ICC T20 World Cup, what impresses him most about Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pakistan's chances at the ICC mega event and explained the reasons behind not having represented Pakistan on more occasions than he has so far.
By Saj Sadiq (26th August, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Unfortunately you only played one match in The Hundred, but how was the experience?
Wahab Riaz: I had been looking forward to participating in this tournament for a while and it seemed that the wait was worth it but unfortunately, I suffered a back injury and that limited my participation to just one match. Overall, this was a good experience and was something different. What I really enjoyed about this format is that it provides great entertainment for cricket fans and as a player, it tests your skill-levels as you have less time to think about what you are going to do. You have to make your decisions early and as a bowler there’s a lot of pressure on you, but you have to be on top of your game and make sure that you utilise all your varieties with the ball.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the hundred ball format can grow around the world and perhaps into international cricket?
Wahab Riaz: It’s exciting and an entertaining format and from what we have seen in the inaugural edition, the fans have loved it and come to the grounds in big numbers. Of course, it’s a different challenge for the players but at the same it’s enjoyable. I think it’s a format that can grow in other countries within the domestic structure. I think it’s too soon to talk about this format at the international level but who knows in future, maybe we might see it being played at the highest level.
PakPassion.net: How was the experience of working with Andy Flower at the Trent Rockets?
Wahab Riaz: Working with Andy as our Head Coach at the Rockets has been a good experience. He’s very clear about what he wants from the players and what each players’ role is. He makes it crystal clear as to what he expects from his players, what the demands are and what he wants in each situation during a match. He’s straight forward, very blunt and it was really good working with him. I saw a lot of qualities in him as a coach and I can see exactly why he took England to another level as their Head Coach. I think it’s good for a coach to be clear with the players regarding roles and plans and Andy certainly was very clear. I’m working with him also at the upcoming Caribbean Premier League so that should also be a great help to me.
PakPassion.net: Saqib Mahmood who played under you for Peshawar Zalmi at the Pakistan Super League seems to be making rapid progress. What are your thoughts on him as a bowler?
Wahab Riaz: Saqib is a really good and skilful bowler who enjoys his cricket. He knows exactly what the demands are on him as a bowler and what the team needs from him. I found him to be a brave bowler who will always raise his hand and make himself available in pressure situations and won’t hide. He’s one of those bowlers who doesn’t hide, he wants to preform for the team and bowl when the pressure is on and when the team needs him most. He’s got a lot of good qualities and I think he is someone who can represent England in all three formats in the future for a very long time.
PakPassion.net: Do you think it’s too easy nowadays for players to announce their retirement and just play in Twenty20 leagues around the world?
Wahab Riaz: It really depends on the individual and where they stand in their career at a certain point, and what they are thinking about their future. Some players obviously at a certain point in their career realise that the longer format isn’t suited to them and they wish to concentrate on playing shorter formats only, or only want to participate in leagues. It’s not always an easy decision, but one that players think long and hard about.
PakPassion.net: You retired from Test cricket, were then asked to make yourself available for the tour of England last year in Tests, but didn’t play a match. How frustrating was that?
Wahab Riaz: The Pakistan Cricket Board contacted me and asked if I would make myself available for Test cricket on the tour of England as they might need me. I said I was happy to make myself available, but you have to remember that by making myself available that didn’t mean that I could automatically expect to be picked. I agreed to their request and was ready and prepared if needed, but unfortunately my services weren’t required as the other bowlers were doing very well and I had to be satisfied with a place as a reserve.
PakPassion.net: You continue to be ignored by the national selectors. How disappointing and frustrating is that?
Wahab Riaz: As a player it’s always disappointing to be ignored by the selectors because I do feel that things should be different and I should be playing for Pakistan more than I have been. But at the same time, it’s the selectors who make the decisions and I guess they know exactly why I am not being picked. All I can hope for is that whatever the selectors are thinking is in the best interests of Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the current Pakistan white-ball teams are lacking experience that the likes of you and Shoaib Malik can provide?
Wahab Riaz: Experience is vital in any format of the game, especially when it comes from seniors who have been performing as that can make a big difference for the side. Young blood can win you matches now and then, but experienced players who are still performing should be a part of the national squad because they still have a lot to offer. Look, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to give youngsters a chance, but the selection of players should be in the best interests of Pakistan cricket and the players should be match-winners who can win you matches for the country.
PakPassion.net: Is it fair to say that the current Pakistan squads don’t have too many match-winners?
Wahab Riaz: That’s a good question and the answer to this question lies with the selection committee. It would be interesting to know about their thought process, and to understand what combination they want to go with and who they think is the best choice for Pakistan. These are questions that the selection committee should have answers for and should be asked of them.
PakPassion.net: What’s happened to the great art of bowling yorkers in Pakistan cricket?
Wahab Riaz: It was always the go-to ball but that has changed as nowadays it depends on the bowler himself. Some bowlers think differently and want to bowl something else under pressure or bowl what they feel they are comfortable with when the pressure is on. I still feel that the yorker is the best ball in the death overs as it remains the most difficult ball for a batsman to score freely from. As a bowler, I love to bowl yorkers and take the batsman on especially at the end of an innings, but it seems that these days not all the bowlers share my opinion on this strategy.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the progress of Shaheen Shah Afridi?
Wahab Riaz: Shaheen’s progress since his debut has been exceptionally good for Pakistan. He takes wickets up front when the team needs them and that is really important and on top of that he bowls really well in the latter stages of the innings. He’s a very good prospect and the way he has been bowling is proof of the amount of hard work he has been putting in. I think he will only get better in the future and continue to be an integral part of Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: Can Pakistan beat India at this year’s Twenty20 World Cup?
Wahab Riaz: They definitely have the ability to achieve that result. If Pakistan plays to its potential, then they can beat any team in the world including India. Twenty20 cricket is such a format that the whole match can turn in the space of a few balls or even one incident and the Pakistan versus India match will be no different. If Pakistan play at their best, they can certainly beat India.
PakPassion.net: How do you rate Pakistan’s overall chances at the Twenty20 World Cup?
Wahab Riaz: Given the conditions and where it’s being held, I believe Pakistan has a very good chance of winning the tournament. Pakistan has played a lot of cricket in UAE, and this gives them a very good chance to win the competition. They’ll be familiar with the conditions, and they’ll know what the ball will do. If they can utilise the conditions and use them to their advantage, then there is no reason why they can’t be considered amongst the leading contenders for the title.
PakPassion.net: Do you think we’ll see you at the Twenty20 World Cup?
Wahab Riaz: If it was up to me, then yes you will. But it’s up to the selectors who they want included in the side and who they think will provide the maximum utility. As a player, all you can do is to perform and that’s what my aim is and that’s what I am doing around the world. Lately I’ve played in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), and I have showed what I am capable of, and I don’t think I have to prove it again and again. Regardless of what they feel, I am performing well wherever I am getting a chance to play. So, let’s see what the selectors have in mind and whether they want me to be a part of future squads is totally up to them.
PakPassion.net: You’ve been captaining Peshawar Zalmi at the PSL. Is captaincy something you enjoy?
Wahab Riaz: Captaincy is enjoyable at times but at times it can also be very frustrating. You are working with experienced players but also some very inexperienced players at the same time. At times it can be hard when players are under pressure to take them away from that situation. As a captain I feel that you need to give confidence to your players and to appreciate the fact that players will have good days and bad days and you just have to accept and cope with that. You have to support your players and give them the self-belief and confidence that they can win matches for you.
PakPassion.net: You seem to be a popular choice for Twenty20 franchises around the world. Going forward is this the priority?
Wahab Riaz: The important thing for me is to just be playing cricket and maintain my fitness and form. I believe that if I am performing in Twenty20 leagues then that gives me a chance of playing for my country. If I am playing, performing and fit then that can always re-open the door to international cricket for me. I’ve not given up hope of playing for Pakistan, but at the same time it’s important that I am playing cricket wherever the opportunity presents itself.
PakPassion.net: Isn’t it heartening to see that New Zealand and England have agreed to tour Pakistan?
Wahab Riaz: It’s a great initiative taken by the Pakistan Cricket Board and they deserve a lot of credit for this. We’ve seen South Africa in Pakistan; New Zealand and England are due soon and hopefully we will also see Australia touring Pakistan. It’s great news for the future of Pakistan cricket that such teams will be visiting Pakistan. It’s fantastic for the players to play these teams in their home conditions and for the fans to see these teams at close quarters in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Looking at your career numbers, do you feel you should have played more matches for Pakistan?
Wahab Riaz: Yes, I feel that I should have represented Pakistan on more occasions than I did. But the major setback for me was when Pakistan’s home matches had to be shifted to UAE where spinners were needed more than pace-bowlers. That period of playing home matches in UAE was detrimental to the careers of a lot of Pakistani pace-bowlers including myself. But who knows what the future holds, there might yet be a few more international matches to come for myself.