Mohammad Nawaz shot to fame during the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League where he was the third highest wicket taker in the tournament. His career seems to have taken an upward trajectory since that initial success as he is fast becoming a familiar face in the Pakistan limited overs teams where he has claimed ten wickets in eight ODIs and three wickets in five IT20 games. Based on his limited overs performances, twenty-two-year-old Nawaz has also been given a chance to shine in Test matches by being named in the squad for the series against the West Indies.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mohammad Nawaz spoke about his success in the PSL, his performance on the tour of England, Babar Azam's rise to fame, the experience of working with Mickey Arthur and looked forward to contributing in the upcoming Test series against the West Indies.
By Saj Sadiq (11th October, 2016)
PakPassion.net: It's been quite an incredible last few months for you hasn't it?
Mohammad Nawaz: Absolutely. It's been an amazing and incredible time for me especially since the Pakistan Super League tournament. I'm delighted with how it's gone and very pleased with my overall performances so far for Pakistan. The icing on the cake was to be called up to the Pakistan Test squad. When I think about it all, it's just an amazing turnaround for me.
PakPassion.net: It must be quite difficult to keep your feet on the ground given the stardom and popularity you have gained since coming into the Pakistan team?
Mohammad Nawaz: The most important thing for me is to continue to work hard on my game and keep my focus. What's happened over the last few months has been unbelievable but this is just the beginning. I need to maintain my focus and have a clear vision of what I want to achieve and to ensure that my performances are of a high standard.
PakPassion.net: You started your cricket career as a pace-bowing all-rounder, what made you change to bowling left-arm spin?
Mohammad Nawaz: During my days playing Under 15 cricket I was a pace-bowling all-rounder. We went to on a tour of the West Indies and in the first match I bowled pace but then after that in the next match I bowled spin, taking a couple of wickets and only giving away just over 30 runs; it all started from there really. I spoke with my coaches about this and they agreed that I should continue bowling spin going forward.
PakPassion.net: In Pakistan most kids want to be a fast bowler or a batsman. Was it heartbreaking to be told that you were more effective as a spinner?
Mohammad Nawaz: No it wasn't heartbreaking. I think at that age you are still learning the game and developing your talent and still working out what you are best at so it wasn't a big setback. At the under 15 level you are experimenting as a cricketer and naturally I could spin the ball when I tried so it wasn't a major blow. In fact, so far I would say it was a good move to turn to bowling spin.
PakPassion.net: Would you agree that the Pakistan Super League was the turning point for your career?
Mohammad Nawaz: Yes definitely, that's very true. However in domestic cricket before the Pakistan Super League my performances were pretty good. I was performing with both the bat and ball but you could say the turning point was the PSL which was a tournament that was being followed around the world and it was a very high profile tournament. I believe that my performances at the PSL brought me to the attention of the national selectors and then onto the Pakistan team. I gained a lot of popularity during and after the PSL as my performances were good in that tournament and were seen and appreciated around the world.
PakPassion.net: There were some great bowlers in the first season of the PSL and to finish as third highest wicket-taker was quite an achievement for you wasn't it?
Mohammad Nawaz: It all started from the first match against Islamabad when I dismissed the great Shane Watson. To take the wicket of a great all-rounder like Shane Watson was a huge boost for my confidence and it all just started from there at the PSL. I finished with 4 wickets in that first match and that really boosted my confidence and set the tone for the tournament for me. I really never looked back from that first match and ended up with thirteen wickets in the tournament which was very satisfying.
PakPassion.net: You are widely recognised as a batting all-rounder but in the Pakistan team you are playing largely as a bowling all-rounder. Is that difficult to adjust to?
Mohammad Nawaz: In domestic cricket I have usually performed as a batsman but it's no big deal that I am being utilised as a bowling all-rounder in the Pakistan team. As a professional cricketer, one has to adjust match to match and in any given situation. If you want to succeed at the highest level of cricket then you have to be flexible in terms of your role in the team. I intend to improve my batting and continue to work on it and when the chance comes I will show that I can bat well.
PakPassion.net: I guess though that it's a good sign for the Pakistan team that you aren't required to bat very often as the top order is performing its role well?
Mohammad Nawaz: Very true. It's great for the team that our top order is doing its job and the lower order batsmen aren't required to bat very often. It started from the One-Day international at Cardiff when we chased down over 300 to win and all of the signs are positive since that victory. It's excellent when your top order batsmen are playing the bulk of the overs and that is the prime reason that you can chase down big totals.
PakPassion.net: How tough was the tour of England where Pakistan were thrashed 4-1 in the One-Day series?
Mohammad Nawaz: Touring England is always tough especially for Asian teams in English conditions. However on the plus side it was a great learning experience for me. You get the chance to analyse your game, look at the mistakes you are making and learn from those errors and identify areas that you need to improve upon. I believe that if the chance comes to play in England again I will be a better cricketer after the experience of playing there already for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: It must feel good to be part of a young, vibrant and energetic Pakistan team?
Mohammad Nawaz: The role of the younger players has been to bring some energy to the team and to bring some confidence to the team and I believe that has happened. It's a great group to be part of at the moment and the team is heading in the right direction which is fantastic news.
PakPassion.net: Mickey Arthur recently said that Pakistan can reach the top four in the ICC ODI rankings. Do you believe that is possible and what needs to be done to achieve this?
Mohammad Nawaz: We need to play with the same aggression, self-belief and mindset we did against the West Indies recently. Confidence is also very important and if we can maintain this level of confidence then I think there is no reason why we cannot make the top four in the One-Day rankings.
PakPassion.net: Watching you play, there is a steely determination about you and a real hunger to succeed.
Mohammad Nawaz: There is nothing like playing for your country. If you don't want to do the best for your country then there is no point being in the Pakistan shirt. It's the dream of millions to play cricket for Pakistan and I don't want to waste this opportunity that I have been presented with. Millions around the world are watching you and I want to put in extraordinary performances every time I play for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: The healthy competition between you and Imad Wasim for a similar role can only be good for Pakistan cricket?
Mohammad Nawaz: With professionals there is always competition for places in any team and the same is true for Pakistan. What is most important is that we have healthy competition which is a big positive for Pakistan cricket. Imad and I are similar cricketers and we have roles to perform in the team but we also know our strengths and we know that ultimately the goal is for Pakistan to win.
PakPassion.net: Mickey Arthur came to Pakistan cricket with the tag of being a disciplinarian. What's it been like working with Mickey?
Mohammad Nawaz: I think he's a great coach. The atmosphere in the dressing room is excellent. He's very friendly with the players and at the same time very professional. He's very observant in terms of watching the players for their strengths and weaknesses. He's also an intelligent man, very sharp-minded. He's tough when he needs to be and at the same time very friendly when that is needed. I'm enjoying working with him and I feel that my game has come on well since I started working with Mickey. It's a great opportunity for a young Pakistani cricketer like me to work with such an experienced international coach like Mickey and working with him can only improve my all-round game.
PakPassion.net: Sir Vivian Richards who worked with you at Quetta Gladiators said on commentary that it seems that you now believe that you belong in international cricket and that probably wasn't the case initially in your international career.
Mohammad Nawaz: I think for any young cricketer when they reach international cricket you are always very nervous in your first couple of matches and it takes a bit of time to adjust to the challenges and demands of international cricket. It's tough and there is pressure on you from within and pressure on you to perform. I think once those first couple of matches are over, then you settle down and start adjusting to international cricket and you gain confidence with each match. I believe that with each match that I play for Pakistan my confidence is growing and the self-belief is there. My aim is to continue to improve and as Sir Vivian has said I do now believe that I belong in international cricket.
PakPassion.net: Your good friend Babar Azam must be on cloud nine at the moment?
Mohammad Nawaz: No, he's a very down to earth guy. Whatever he achieves is never good enough, he is always looking to improve on it and looking ahead rather than just focusing on past achievements. I've played in the same teams as Babar since our Under 15 days and have come through the ranks since then and I can definitely say he's a very level-headed guy who is always looking to improve. He has a real hunger as a cricketer to improve and to better himself. He's a very professional cricketer.
PakPassion.net: Were you surprised at your call-up to the Test squad for the West Indies series and do you feel ready for Test cricket?
Mohammad Nawaz: Yes I feel ready for the five day format. I was hopeful that I would be picked for the Test squad given my performances in the shorter versions recently. Let's see how this goes. If I'm given the chance to play Test cricket I want to improve as a cricketer and go out there and show everyone that I'm not just a cricketer who is suited to the limited overs formats.
PakPassion.net: We've seen in the past plenty of young cricketers in Pakistan make a great start to their careers and then disappear. It must be your intention to not be one of those cricketers?
Mohammad Nawaz: No I don't want to be on that list of Pakistani cricketers. Who knows what the future holds for anyone and I don't want to make any great predictions, but all I will do is to work hard on my game. I will not get complacent, I will stay humble and look to continually improve as a cricketer.