Considered one of the success stories of PSL 2018, 24-year-old Agha Salman was not even selected for the initial Lahore Qalandars squad. However, a shoulder injury to Bilawal Bhatti resulted in his call-up and with 166 runs in 8 matches including a Man of the Match award for a brilliantly crafted 50, Agha Salman became an integral part of the Qalandars squad during the third edition of the PSL.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Agha Salman spoke about his unexpected success at the PSL, playing under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum, what went wrong with Lahore Qalandars' PSL campaign, what the PSL has done for his career and his aspirations to emulate the PSL successes of Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan to play for Pakistan in the future.
By Amir Husain (27th March, 2018)
PakPassion.net: From a virtual unknown to one of the best Pakistani batsmen at the PSL - that must be a great feeling?
Agha Salman: To be honest, it is quite difficult to describe in words and to try and explain how one feels when an almost unknown player like me gains fame like this. As we know, I wasn’t even included in the original Lahore Qalandars squad and only came in to PSL 2018 as a replacement for an injured Bilawal Bhatti. From such a position to then play an important role for my team and also get a Player of the Match award in our game against Karachi Kings is simply incredible for me and there is no better feeling than this.
PakPassion.net: When you were picked as a replacement for Bilawal Bhatti, were you expecting to be such an integral part of the Lahore Qalandars team?
Agha Salman: When I wasn’t picked in the original squad, I had given up and decided to move on as I was not expecting any change in that status. But, when my name was announced, I said to myself that I must do something which should make me famous as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Having said that, even I wasn’t expecting to become such an integral player for a team which already had some top-quality match-winners. My role in a team of attacking players was to try and play out all 20 overs so my task was an important one and I am honoured by the faith put in my abilities by the management who saw me as an important part of the team.
PakPassion.net: What was it like playing under Brendon McCullum?
Agha Salman: It was an amazing experience playing under his leadership. Regardless of his stature in cricket, McCullum is the type of a player who never made anyone feel that he is senior or superior to others. His behaviour towards a new player like me was as if I had been playing in the team for a long time. I must admit that when I met him for the first time, I was a little nervous and worried about coming into contact with an international star. But, once I met him I realised that there was nothing to worry about as he spoke and behaved with me like any other player of similar experience which made my stay with Lahore Qalandars very easy and an enjoyable experience.
PakPassion.net: What was the best advice Brendon McCullum gave you during the PSL?
Agha Salman: Brendon was always there to advise us throughout the tournament but the words that really stood out in my mind were stated by him when I was returning to Pakistan. He simply said ‘work hard, play hard and play for Pakistan’. He also told me that I had a bright future for Pakistan and I have to say receiving such praise from one of the world’s top-players is a matter of pride for me and something I will cherish for a long time.
PakPassion.net: Tell us a bit about your experience of playing alongside Fakhar Zaman.
Agha Salman: I have had previous experience of playing alongside Fakhar as he was our captain for Balochistan during the Pakistan Cup in 2017. He is one of the top Pakistan players at the moment and just like Brendon McCullum, you never feel that he is one of the stars of the Pakistan limited-overs team while talking to him. He has an uplifting style of behaviour with each and every member of the squad regardless of their seniority and I really enjoyed playing alongside him in the PSL.PakPassion.net: How tough was it being part of the Lahore Qalandars squad at a time when they were struggling in PSL 2018?
Agha Salman: The start to PSL 2018 for Lahore Qalandars wasn’t ideal and one could say it was disastrous. In reality, there were a few matches which we should have won very easily but we ended up losing them which eventually hurt us. Having said that, even after six defeats in a row, the morale of the team had not taken a hit and our attitude was of a team which hadn’t lost a single game in the tournament. The credit for that attitude must go to our Head Coach, Aaqib Javed and our captain, Brendon McCullum. What they instilled in us was a feeling that regardless of the result, we had to keep our spirits up and continue fighting. They motivated us at every stage to tell us that we had the ability to bounce back and move forward in the tournament. PakPassion.net: What went wrong for Lahore Qalandars at PSL 2018?
Agha Salman: There is no easy answer to this question but if we look at the manner in which we lost the games, we seemed to be in a winning position and then gave away the advantage. This is not an attempt to make an excuse for our performances but there was an element of bad luck involved, especially where we lost close games and that had an effect on the eventual outcome as well. I feel that if we had been able to win just one game in the earlier part of the tournament, then just like later, the momentum would have taken us through to the latter stages. On top of that we had to contend with the loss of two of our main bowlers in the shape of Sunil Narine and Sohail Khan in the last game of the tournament. Of course, we cannot ignore that fact that our batting performance was not up to scratch and in the final analysis, that was the real issue. An improvement in that aspect in the earlier part of the tournament could have made a difference in my view.PakPassion.net: Lahore Qalandars did turn things around in the second half of PSL 2018. Why do you think that was?
Agha Salman: I believe what turned things in our favour was that first win in PSL 2018 against Karachi Kings which went down to the Super Over. That was a desperately needed victory which gave us the belief we badly needed and gave us the momentum which helped us win the next game as well. This is also where I will repeat myself and say that the Head Coach and captain had a huge role in motivating us as most captains or coaches after six straight losses would be ready to give up. But Aaqib and Brendon did not give up and they must be praised for that attitude.PakPassion.net: Was Fawad Rana saying much to the players after each match and if so, what did he say?
Agha Salman: Let me start by saying that I doubt any franchise has an owner who can match Fawad Rana in the support and enthusiasm for his team. Lahore Qalandars have not had a good time during the PSL tournaments so far, but Fawad Rana has never been one to blame anyone; instead all we have got from him is encouragement. I am sure in his heart he must have been unhappy with our performance but all we heard from him was that he had full faith in our abilities to turn things around and that the team will do well and that he had full confidence in the team. I am happy to say that for a few games, at least, we felt that we were able to make him happy by showing him our true potential by winning some games.PakPassion.net: What do you think the Pakistan Super League has done for your career?
Agha Salman: I would say that the PSL has propelled my career forward in a way I could have never imagined. Since I returned home from UAE, everyone is coming over to see me and congratulate me. People are taking pictures with me and recognising me on the street which is an amazing feeling for a player. I have never experienced this type of fame and recognition before and I think it will be fair to say that participation in PSL 2018 is proving to be a turning point in my life.PakPassion.net: Mickey Arthur said he wanted two new young players to be revealed at this PSL - Do you feel you could be one of those players?
Agha Salman: I can only hope that I have been identified as one of those players by the selectors. I was very encouraged by Mickey Arthur’s remarks to me after he met me at the PSL at the end of our game against Karachi Kings recently. He praised me for my performance and told me that I had played really well. For me, the PSL was a new experience and I am really happy with the way I faced up to the challenge of this tournament. My intention is to continue to work harder in the future regardless of whether I can become one of those two players that Mickey Arthur was looking for as a product of this PSL.PakPassion.net: Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan's careers were boosted by the PSL, do you wish to follow in their footsteps?
Agha Salman: This is definitely in my mind as well, especially as both are very good friends of mine. I do wish to follow their footsteps to gain a place in the Pakistan side and become a star of our cricket. Even if I don’t get immediate success in the same way as Hasan or Shadab have done, I am happy that my name is now known to everyone due to what I have achieved in the PSL. I am hopeful that I can carry on this path and perform even better if given a chance to play in next year's PSL.PakPassion.net: With your PSL performance as a base, you must have high hopes of playing for Pakistan?
Agha Salman: It’s great to know that my name is being mentioned in the media as one of the successes of the tournament and I am hoping that this kind of recognition will lead to further success in the future. Even if I don’t get a place in the Pakistan side now, I will not give up and will continue to put up similar performances as I did in this PSL so that I have a better chance of representing Pakistan in the future, God Willing.