The 2016 World Twenty20 is one that most Pakistan fans will want to forget in a hurry. The team's dismal performance and inability to respond to the aggressive modern day requirements of the shortest format resulted in a humiliating first round exit following defeats to India, New Zealand and Australia, with their solitary victory coming against Bangladesh.
One of the few shining lights for Pakistan was Sharjeel Khan, the aggressive left-handed opener who helped get his side off to a flyer on a regular basis, with his innings of 47 off 25 balls against New Zealand a particular highlight. He finished the tournament as Pakistan's leading run-scorer with 112 runs from four innings, hitting eighteen fours and three sixes in the process. This was not long after he became the first player to hit a century in the Pakistan Super League where he proved his credentials for the shortest format by helping Islamabad United to the title.
With the aggressive methods of Twenty20 cricket now trickling through to ODIs and Tests, Sharjeel Khan could be a vital component of the Pakistan side in the coming years. Currently touring England with the Pakistan A side, the 26-year-old batsman spoke exclusively to PakPassion.net about his performance at the World Twenty20, his aspirations to play the longer form of the game, and the success of the Pakistan Super League.
By Shayan Siddiqui (1st July 2016)
PakPassion.net : How was the experience of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), particularly working with the likes of Dean Jones and Wasim Akram, as well as the captain Misbah-ul-Haq?
Sharjeel Khan : Everyone was so excited that we finally had our own franchise Twenty20 tournament after it had been talked about for so many years. We were all getting very impatient and were wondering if it would ever even happen! Thankfully the first edition proved to be so successful as everyone saw and I was fortunate to be part of the winning team and to score the first ever century in the tournament. I’m sure future editions will be just as popular as it was a wonderful experience for Pakistani players to be around so many foreign players from all over the world. I also feel it was no less than any of the other Twenty20 tournaments around the world as we had reasonably big crowds, outstanding international venues and plenty of star players. If any of our players make the step up from the PSL to international cricket, it will no longer feel completely alien to them as the PSL was of such a high quality.
It was my first experience with Dean Jones and it was amazing. I learnt a lot from him, particularly about the mental aspect of the game and he regularly gave us useful advice to help our game. Wasim Akram also made a huge impact, as you would expect from someone with his experience. So Dean Jones and Wasim Akram really helped to create a nice family environment within the Islamabad United team even though we had a bad start to the tournament and lost several matches. But the positive environment remained the same from the first match to the last, and even when we lost a match we were never made to feel like we had lost. Misbah also played a huge role in this as he’s such a cool, calm person. He handles everyone very well and helps maintain an excellent atmosphere in the team.
PakPassion.net : Tell us about your experience of being selected for, and then playing in the World Twenty20, particularly given that your name wasn’t initially included in the squad?
Sharjeel Khan : That’s right, I wasn’t initially selected for the World Twenty20 or for the Asia Cup which preceded it. Around the time of the selection, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) was taking place and we had a big semi-final against Peshawar Zalmi. I was Man of the Match in that game and scored the first century of the PSL which was a historic moment and a great feeling for me. Shortly after that Babar Azam, who was initially named in the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 squads, was withdrawn due to injury and I was fortunate enough to be named as his replacement. I was part of the squad for the previous World Twenty20 in Bangladesh but didn’t get a chance to play so the experience in India was amazing for me. I really enjoyed the tournament and we got a fantastic reception from the Indian public.
PakPassion.net : You were one of the stars for Pakistan in the World Twenty20. What are your thoughts on your own personal performance and did you feel any added pressure to get the team off to a good start given the indifferent form of the other batsmen?
Sharjeel Khan : I was very pleased with how I performed in India, particularly given it was such a big event and I managed to be Pakistan’s leading run-scorer in the four matches we played. Unfortunately we weren’t able to progress beyond the group stage but I gained a lot of confidence from the way I played in such a high pressure tournament at the highest level. I learnt a lot about Twenty20 cricket and it was also my first experience of playing against New Zealand and Australia which I really enjoyed. There is a lot that can be gained from playing against the best sides in the world so it was a fantastic learning curve for me.
When I made my comeback I knew that I had a reputation for being aggressive and hitting boundaries, particularly given my recent century in the PSL. It’s my natural game so I didn’t feel any added pressure to score quickly. My main aim was just to perform to the best of my ability for Pakistan as I knew it would help further my international career.
PakPassion.net : Coming on to the current Pakistan A tour of England, what are your personal targets over the coming weeks?
Sharjeel Khan : It’s an excellent opportunity for all the players selected for this tour and a really good chance to learn how to play in these conditions and improve the technical aspects of our cricket. We have three 4-day and five One-Day games and the players will really need to concentrate and put in some good performances. Simply put, if you perform well on this type of tour then you can definitely break into the senior team. Obviously, the initial target is for the A team to win the matches we have scheduled here and obviously as one of the more senior players here I want to help the youngsters and ensure they also learn as much as they can from this experience. This will only benefit Pakistan cricket in the long run.
PakPassion.net : Many see you as a specialist Twenty20/One-Day player. Do you see a role for yourself in the Test side?
Sharjeel Khan : Yes, I do. I have a good First-Class record, averaging over 37 from 71 matches with eleven centuries and nineteen fifties. So it’s definitely one of my targets to become a Test player for Pakistan but before that I want to focus on the present and perform well in these 4-day matches for Pakistan A. The main thing is for me to serve my country in whatever way possible and in any format. Ultimately it’s all about performance and doing the best for my country.
PakPassion.net : Would you maintain the same sort of batting style if you were to be selected in the longer formats?
Sharjeel Khan : Obviously in Twenty20s and One-Days it is necessary to play your shots as soon as you get in and without too much regard for the opposition bowling or field settings. In 4-day games you have more attacking fields so you have to be a bit more careful and take your time but it’s important that I stay true to myself and remain positive. If the ball is there to be hit and in my zone then I will go for it, but if it’s a good ball I will show it the appropriate respect.
PakPassion.net : Is there more attention being placed on fitness and fielding nowadays?
Sharjeel Khan : Absolutely. We recently had the training camp in Kakul which was excellent for us. We also have several extra fielding sessions nowadays and Pakistan’s fielding in the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 was also very good. Day by day we’re working hard on this area and gradually we are seeing improvements. I’m certainly seeing an improvement in my own fitness and fielding and I’m sure the same will be said for all Pakistani players in the future.
PakPassion.net : With the riches available in Twenty20 cricket, is the interest in Test cricket dwindling among young cricketers in Pakistan?
Sharjeel Khan : I wouldn’t say that there is any less focus on Test cricket. One always looks at the upcoming schedule of matches and how many matches of each format are to be played in the next year. Pakistan, and most other teams, tend to play a lot more ODI and T20I cricket as compared to Tests. If you knew you were going to play twenty-five Tests in a year then you would naturally prepare accordingly. It’s difficult to focus on and prepare for Test cricket as much when you might only play six or seven a year.