Regarded as a promising batting talent, Saud Shakeel has scored 2250 runs at an average of 45.91 in first-class cricket and also has had the honour of leading the Pakistan Emerging team to victory at the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup in 2019.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, 24-year-old Saud Shakeel spoke about his disappointment at not playing for Pakistan despite his excellent domestic performances, the experience of playing alongside Sarfaraz Ahmed and Fawad Alam for Sindh, the exhilaration associated with leading his side to victory in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup, and his aspirations to play for Pakistan when given the chance.
By Amir Husain (11th July, 2020)
PakPassion.net: How have you been keeping yourself busy during the ongoing break from cricket due to COVID-19?
Saud Shakeel: Initially when this enforced break started, I immediately got into my own routine which included working out from home and I also used that time to build on my mental strength by reading books and other material. But as the restrictions on movement have eased over time, I am spending more time outdoors which should help me greatly when cricket does resume once again.
PakPassion.net: You must be disappointed at not having played for Pakistan yet?
Saud Shakeel: Obviously one is disappointed when one’s career does not pan out as they hoped it would, but the way I look at this situation is that all things in life happen for a reason, and there is always the right time for anything to happen in your life. I believe that this is due to the will of the Almighty and all I can do now is to keep on working hard. I must also accept that there could be some deficiencies in my game which have prevented my playing for Pakistan until now. So, for now, I am happy to continue concentrating on performing well and to be ready to capitalize on any opportunity to represent Pakistan, whenever that comes.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that the newly established province-based 6-team competition has improved the quality of domestic cricket in Pakistan?
Saud Shakeel: It stands to reason that the quality of cricket would be better when you have just 6 teams as compared to 16 which we had last season. In addition, each of those 6 teams will have line-ups consisting of top players and if one is good enough to find a place in one of these sides, then there will be extra pressure to perform for each player. All these factors should lead to some top-quality performances and this is exactly what we saw in this year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. The previous season was based upon the old-style departmental setup which had its own value, but overall, I enjoyed this season more as I felt that the level of professionalism was much higher compared to previous seasons. Obviously, the fact that some of my fellow players have become unemployed due to the abolition of departmental cricket is a concern but hopefully, these are all issues that the PCB will look at for next season and beyond.
PakPassion.net: What was the experience of playing for the new Sindh team this year?
Saud Shakeel: Personally speaking, I really enjoyed playing for my new Sindh side. This was an amazing experience because being a Karachi player, I got the chance to represent a team for my provincial side. The other interesting thing about playing for Sindh was that I got to play alongside players I would not have had a chance of playing with in the previous departmental setup. So, for example, Sarfaraz Ahmed was playing for PIA in previous seasons and I was representing PTV and we would never get a chance to play alongside each other but that changed this year as we both represented Sindh. The same applied to Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam who were in different departments before but now I had the chance to share the dressing room with them.
PakPassion.net: How tough was the competition when playing alongside such big names in domestic cricket?
Saud Shakeel: Of course, when you play in a team like Sindh with such big names, you cannot take your place for granted as competition is very high and just a few bad performances can lead to you being dropped. In a domestic system where there are many teams and you are one of the senior players, you can get lazy because your position is secure in the side even if you have a run of bad scores. In my case, I had never been dropped by my previous sides in first-class cricket but this season, as Abid Ali came back into the side, I was asked to sit out some games. One can always look at this in a negative way but I feel that such a situation fills me with a desire to work even harder to show my utility to the side.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that there is a danger that you could become another Fawad Alam type player if you do not get a chance to play for Pakistan soon?
Saud Shakeel: Firstly, let me say that we are all proud of how hard Fawad Alam has worked all these years and it makes us all happy that his efforts have been rewarded with a place in the Pakistan squad which is touring England at the moment. As for my career, I don’t worry about any such comparisons and will continue working hard and not bow down to negativity, as that can really affect you mentally.
PakPassion.net: What are the positive changes that you have made in your game over the past few years?
Saud Shakeel: Honestly speaking, the only real change I have made is in terms of improvement of fitness. This is one area that I lacked a lot and over the past few years, I have worked very hard on this aspect of my cricket. My statistics in one-day and four-day games are pretty good but I am still trying to improve my balance at the crease and also my power-hitting abilities which I feel I am lacking in a little. Of course, learning never stops for any sportsman and I am constantly looking to improve my batting skills at all times.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that your batting skills are at a level where you can play for Pakistan and compete with the best players in the country?
Saud Shakeel: When one starts playing cricket, one always has a dream to represent his country, and the same applies to me. All my energies and my hard work have been directed towards this goal and I do feel that given my past performances, I can compete with the very best in Pakistan, whenever given the chance.
PakPassion.net: How was the experience of captaining the Pakistan Emerging side in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup last year?
Saud Shakeel: The experience of leading the Pakistan Emerging side was amazing, especially as we won the title under my leadership. Of course, defeating traditional rivals India in the semi-finals was a very special feeling as well. This was a huge learning opportunity for me as it was the first time I was captaining a Pakistan side at any level and to lead my team to success in the semi-final against India and then to defeat Bangladesh in the final was absolutely exhilarating for the team and myself.
As an individual player, I knew how to conduct myself but as a captain, the skills needed to run a team and keep them motivated was a completely different and enjoyable experience for me. One has to remember that squads such as Pakistan Emerging are composed not too long before the start of the tournament so the real challenge, especially for a captain, is to try and get to know the side and make it gel as soon as possible. In the case of the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup, we got together about two days before departure for Bangladesh as our own season was in progress in Pakistan. The manner in which our squad adjusted to conditions in Bangladesh was amazing and credit goes to the team management for their support at that time. The hot weather was another challenge and we had to travel a bit there too but we overcame all the hurdles and won the tournament which really spoke volumes about our players and their dedication.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that there is too much focus on big hitters in Pakistan at the moment and not on orthodox batsmen like yourself?
Saud Shakeel: It is correct that there is a general impression nowadays that players who can hit big are more useful but whenever this issue is brought up, I always point to the example of batsmen like Babar Azam. He is an orthodox batsman who is regarded as one of the world’s top players in not just the T20 format but all versions of the game. Having said that, I do agree that power-hitting has become an important part of every batsman’s game and they need to develop this part of their cricket as there is a definite need for this during certain match situations.
PakPassion.net: Does the fact that you have never played a PSL match frustrate you?
Saud Shakeel: I think frustration would be too strong a word to use, but I am definitely a little disappointed that I have never played a match in the PSL when I was part of the Quetta Gladiators squad in the second and third seasons. Having waited patiently for a chance to play for two years and not get a chance to showcase my skills at such a big platform like PSL does irk me a little. Once again, it’s down to the fact that some things are not in one’s control and there is no point worrying about it. I have known Nadeem Omar and Azam Khan from the Quetta management for many years now and I am convinced that they have always looked after my best interests and possibly did not see any way in which I could be included in the side at that point. I am sure that in the future, they will give me an opportunity to play for Quetta and I will do my best if given that chance.
PakPassion.net: Looking ahead, what goals have you set for yourself?
Saud Shakeel: My immediate and even long-term goal is a simple one and this is based upon what I have prepared for all my life, which is to play for my country. I am happy to play in any format of the game for Pakistan and I can assure you that if given the chance to play, I will make it count and look to cement my place for as long as possible.