In April 2008, a young spin bowler from Sialkot, Mansoor Amjad calmly bowled one over in his debut T20I game against Bangladesh, picking up 3 wickets for 3 runs. The world seemingly at his feet, Mansoor was to incredibly play just one more international game for Pakistan in the same year before being discarded which even by Pakistani standards, is unfathomable to say the least.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mansoor spoke about starting his career off an off-spinner, before becoming a leg-spinner and then reverting back to off-spin, why he feels he only played two games for Pakistan, the positives and negatives of Pakistan's new domestic system, why more exposure to First-class cricket is important for Shadab Khan’s career, Yasir Shah's inability to perform consistently on non sub-continental pitches and his hopes of once again playing First-class cricket.
By Amir Husain (28th June, 2021)
PakPassion.net: You started your career as an off-spinner, then became a leg-spinner – how did that come about?
Mansoor Amjad: Most of the players start playing cricket in the streets and there is no limitation on what you can do as a cricketer. So, you can bowl leg-spin, off-spin or bowl googlies or start bowling doosras by watching television and apply all those skills in street games. And so, as a young player, before you got to start playing club cricket, you would know all about the different skills needed to become a good bowler. In my case, I went to the Saga Cricket Club in Sialkot when I was around 10-years-old and came across a fantastic man, the Late Amir Wasim who was the coach there. Because there were lots of players waiting for a chance to show their skills to the coach, I had to wait for about 3 days before I was noticed by Amir Wasim who told me to show him how I bowled. So, I bowled in the same way I would bowl in the streets which was to start with a bit of off-spin and then bowled some leg-spin where I was able to get a lot of turn. This really impressed Amir Wasim, and he gathered all the others around and said, “shake his hand because in the future, this player will play for Pakistan as a leg-spinner”. So, this is how my career as a leg-spinner started even though, I had never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be a leg-spinner. Within two years of this episode, I started to play for Pakistan Under-15s and then played for Pakistan Under-19s and was part of the World Cup winning Under-19 side in 2004 and also toured with the Pakistan A side to South Africa and India.
Mansoor Amjad: Everything seemed to be fine with me in terms of fitness when I started playing international cricket in 2008, but then I was carrying an injury which got worse by the time it came to the 2012/13 domestic season. The pain got so bad that doctors told me that I had to stop bowling leg-spin if I wished to bowl again. I knew that I was very good at off-spin when I was young, so I thought instead of wasting my time by not bowling at all, why not go back to my old strength and so I started to bowl off-spin, again. Thankfully, I did not have much of a problem bowling off-spin again as the underlying techniques behind both styles of bowling are pretty similar.
PakPassion.net: Isn’t it odd that someone who took 3/3 in an international game only played twice for Pakistan?
Mansoor Amjad: Whilst one could say that the selectors probably had good reasons for keeping me out of the national side, I have to admit that I was shocked to have played just 2 games for my country. I still can’t believe that I took 3/3 in one over and never played a T20I for Pakistan again. For a player in which the PCB had put in a lot of investment by including me in Under-19 games and A tours, and one who repaid that investment with a world record spell of 3/3 to have played so few international games is painful and does hurt a lot. What was even more puzzling was that I kept on asking coaches and selectors about the reason for dropping me from the international side, just so that I could improve myself and make a comeback for Pakistan, but all those pleas fell on deaf ears.
I soon came to the conclusion that there was no point in asking this question as there was no answer to the question I was asking. It’s amazing that after playing an ODI for Pakistan in the Asia Cup in 2008, I was totally ignored even after performing well in domestic cricket so much so that my name wasn’t even mentioned for any series squads or even PCB camps. This has been very frustrating for me and everyone who hears this asks how this was possible – even here in the UK where I have been playing cricket for the last 13-14 years, people feel that this is incredible that someone like me who made a world record never played more cricket for his country.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that the changes in Pakistan’s domestic cricket system have been beneficial for the game in the country?
Mansoor Amjad: I have been part of this system for the past 20 years or so and have yet to see any stability in the system. There have been changes made every other year in all parts of the system, whether it’s in T20s or One-Days but the fact is that things have never been allowed to settle and the stability of the system remains a big issue for me. I can’t speak for other parts of Pakistan, but I do know a bit about my own area which is the Sialkot region. This region is one which within a short period of its existence has gained a lot of success. We made it to First-class cricket in 2001 and until 2014 we were hugely successful in all formats of the game but what happened later was that teams from other regions including Gujranwala and Sheikhupura were all combined with Sialkot into one team which in my view was wrong and unfair. On top of that for an inexplicable reason, Sialkot was demoted to Grade 2 level in 2014. All this was grossly unfair and for that reason the Sialkot region which has enormous amounts of talent is struggling to be recognized to this day.
To add to the problem, the newly formed Central Punjab team includes all these regions including Sialkot. So, whilst Sialkot players were already struggling to find a place in Pakistan cricket, the creation of the Central Punjab team made that even more difficult. If you look at the Central Punjab side, you will hardly find any players from Sialkot, and we now have a situation where the players are having to find alternate means of earning a living whilst trying to play cricket, or have had to go to associate cricket nations like Oman and play cricket there. In my view, it might be better to have more teams to accommodate players or the consequences for Pakistan cricket will not be good.
PakPassion.net: You mention drawbacks of the new system but what are the positives coming out of the changes to the domestic system?
Mansoor Amjad: I feel that the single most important positive that has come out of the changes by the PCB is the fact that whereas in the past we as players had to endure unprofessional team management in departmental teams, the quality of support staff has greatly improved. In the past we had coaches who were mentally stuck in the cricket style of 80’s or there were those who were involved in affairs of First-class sides who couldn’t even be considered good for club-level assignments, and this is why the level of our domestic cricket had dropped greatly so in that sense the changes to our domestic system have greatly improved things.
PakPassion.net: Are you worried about the ‘brain drain’ of Pakistan cricketers as they leave the country to look for other opportunities?
Mansoor Amjad: When I went to the USA to play cricket last December, I was told that a large number of Pakistan domestic players had approached some of the team owners in America to play cricket there. It’s quite baffling but sad to see our players being so desperate and frustrated that they would want to leave Pakistan to play cricket in USA. In fact, I was told that whilst a few were approached by USA Cricket, many others came forward themselves to play in USA. Even, I was asked by some to play in USA, but I refused, due to some prior commitments.
PakPassion.net: How do you see your future in Pakistan cricket given that you have been out of domestic cricket for a few years and do not have a domestic contract?
Mansoor Amjad: I was very hopeful about my future when departmental cricket was scrapped by the PCB in the 2019/20 season. The reason for that was that until that time I had been biding my time due to the strange removal of First-class status for Sialkot in 2014 which lead me to offer my services to WAPDA in the hope of playing at the top-class domestic level. WAPDA took me on their roster, but they already had an established side and so opportunities for me to play for them were very few. This was around the time when I was at the peak of my career and instead of playing First-class cricket, I had to resort to play One-Day cricket in which I excelled during 2016, 2017 and 2018 as an off spinner and even as a batsman. I was then not selected for any side once the changes were made to the Pakistan domestic system and that puzzled me greatly, so I asked why that was the case. I was told that I had not played enough First-class cricket which I agreed with but then I had played and done well in white-ball cricket – why then was I not selected for those formats? I got no reply to my queries so being ignored for selection in domestic sides makes no sense to me.
PakPassion.net: You have been playing club cricket for many years, what in your view is the advantage of playing at this level of cricket?
Mansoor Amjad: I have been playing in English league cricket for the last 13-14 years. The reason for this is simply that if you don’t get a chance to play First-class cricket or are not part of the national side, then the only options left to you are to play in County, League or franchise cricket. I am very glad to say that in my case, by playing in league cricket for so many years, I have managed to establish an excellent reputation for myself which is allowed me to get good contracts in the UK. So, in 2018 in the Lancashire League which is widely regarded as one of the best competitions to play in, I was the leading run-getter and in 2019, whilst I just played 18 games, I scored 1001 runs at an average of 72. From a bowling point of view, I got 50 wickets in 2019 which for the Lancashire League is a great achievement. All you need to do is check what Steve Waugh said about how tough this league is to play in and one can get an idea of the magnitude of my performances. In fact, according to Waugh, if you can score runs in the Lancashire League, you can make runs anywhere else with ease.
PakPassion.net: How was the experience of playing First-Class cricket in Sri Lanka in the 2019-20 season?
Mansoor Amjad: Playing First-class cricket was always a top priority for me and because I could not get that chance in Pakistan, I went to Sri Lanka to play for Galle Cricket Club. This level of cricket is always tough in whichever country you play in and Sri Lanka is no exception so 284 runs in just 5 games that I played in the Premier League Tournament Tier B was an excellent achievement for me, especially if you consider that these were my first proper 4-day games after a period of almost 6-7 years since the time I played for Sialkot.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that better quality spinners will emerge as a result of the changes made by the PCB to domestic cricket?
Mansoor Amjad: A bowler can only be classed as a spinner if he bowls 20-30 overs per innings in a 4-day game. The Twenty20 format in my view is what I call ‘fluke cricket’ where there is no way to judge the quality of a spinner because in that, a good ball can go for runs, whilst a bad ball can get you a wicket. I am afraid all the new spinners we are seeing in our domestic cricket seem to be ones who are more interested in Twenty20 cricket and are just effective for four overs.
In my days when we started bowling spin, we would spend hours and hours in the nets. And this was repeated in 4-day cricket where you were expected to bowl for long periods and that really helped in developing up and coming spinners into proper bowlers. I also believe that regardless of your skills, it is only after you reach 25 when you get the idea of game awareness. In Pakistan, unfortunately, it appears that any spinner who is above 25 is considered over the hill which is why the emergence of the likes of Nauman Ali at 34 is encouraging and his performance also prove my point.
PakPassion.net: What’s gone wrong with Shadab Khan who showed a lot of promise at the start of his international career?
Mansoor Amjad: Whenever a new bowler comes onto the scene, he is an unknown entity and other teams do not know much about him, so it is possible that the bowler is able to perform well. But it’s only when the bowler’s abilities have been analysed by the opposition that his true value comes to the fore and suddenly life becomes difficult. In my view, another issue with Shadab is the lack of exposure to 4-day cricket. He is playing all formats now but only once he has about 2 years of First-class experience will we see improvements in his bowling. First-class cricket to me is crucial for the progress of our bowlers – of course, you should play all formats, but red-ball cricket is the most important format for the development of bowlers. I would also suggest that selection should be based upon performances in this format and not upon how a bowler does in the Twenty20 format.
PakPassion.net: Is Yasir Shah still good enough to play for Pakistan despite his recent below-par performances and injury issues?
Mansoor Amjad: Yasir Shah has been of late struggling to find consistency in his performances, usually on true pitches. In places such as Australia, South Africa and England spinners struggle because pitches there which have true bounce and only those bowlers do well who are accurate. Similarly, in Yasir’s case, he struggles on such pitches but does well in the sub-continent where pitches are a little unpredictable in nature and can save the day for him.
PakPassion.net: How positive are you about your cricketing future given the uncertainties of the last few years?
Mansoor Amjad: To be honest, I do not consider myself too old and expect to play for a while. Whilst I would love to play cricket in Pakistan again, I do accept that this would be a tough ask due to the new system and I hope to continue to play league cricket in England. I did also have a contract to play domestic cricket in Sri Lanka this year but could not go there due to the Coronavirus Pandemic but I am hopeful that things will turn around and I will be able to play First-class cricket again.