Regarded as one of Pakistan's most promising opening batters in the red-ball format, Shan Masood has played 25 Tests since his debut in 2013, scoring 1378 runs which include 4 hundreds and 6 fifties. He is currently the highest run-getter in the County Championship where he is representing Derbyshire.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Shan spoke about what he expects to achieve by playing County Cricket, his renewed partnership at Derbyshire with the former Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur, how he has overcome the challenges he has had to face during his career, his aspirations to do well in the T20 Blast tournament with a view to representing Pakistan in the upcoming T20 World Cup and his views on the standard of County Cricket.
By Amir Husain (14th May, 2022)
PakPassion.net: What objectives did you have in mind when you agreed to play for Derbyshire this season?
Shan Masood: The objectives from my point of view are very simple and that is to play as much cricket as the County season offers. I have been fortunate enough to have been offered a full-season all-format contract where I will get a chance to play plenty of cricket against different teams. This will allow me to test myself under varying conditions and in different formats and basically is a great opportunity to play a lot of cricket. This is very important for me, especially because I haven’t really played too much cricket in the recent past. I had only played red-ball cricket last year in the domestic tournament and not played all the games either and then played in the 7th edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). So, being in touch with the game and playing a lot is very fulfilling for me.
PakPassion.net: What role did Mickey Arthur have in your move to Derbyshire?
Shan Masood: When Mickey took on the role of Head of Cricket at Derbyshire, he and I had a coincidental meeting at the airport in Dubai after the ICC T20 World Cup. The way this came about was that I had taken a break around that time due to the tragic loss of my sister and whilst on my way back to Pakistan, I met Mickey who was on his way to Sri Lanka. Funnily enough he said that he was going to contact me anyways in a few days, so I guess this chance meeting accelerated the process as he asked me if I was interested and available to play for Derbyshire this summer. For my part, I was very serious about taking on this opportunity and the whole deal materialized within the next couple of weeks.
PakPassion.net: What’s it been like to have been reunited with Mickey Arthur at Derbyshire?
Shan Masood: I suppose there is a feeling of déjà vu! I have always been a fan of Mickey Arthur, but I won’t sugar coat it because we’ve always had hard conversations and had our differences, but everything about that has been honest and truthful. The one thing I have always liked about Mickey is that the doors are never closed as far as he is concerned. That to me is an example of great man-management by him where he handles different people based upon their individual needs and this is one of his most admired qualities. The fact is that you cannot coach an international player because they have learnt to play in a certain way. But what a good coach at this level does is to see how he can get the best out of his players, to get them to improve their levels of performance on a daily basis. He is also able to understand the player as a person and what he needs in terms of improving his game. So, Mickey is brilliant at all this, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with him at Derbyshire and look forward to doing the same for a longer period of time.
PakPassion.net: Would you say that you are in the form of your life given your outstanding batting performances so far?
Shan Masood: One can never say that they are in the form of their lives because there is always room to improve and get better as a batter. I feel that we do get carried away a bit when we talk about being in good or bad form or being in the middle of a purple patch and so on – there seem to be quite a few terms like these bandied about in cricket nowadays but I don’t look at it that way. All I will say is that I feel that at this time, I am batting well and in a good physical and mental state. Above all I feel that I am also in a good “skill” state and comfortable about myself, and runs are simply a by-product of all these factors. Luckily, I am in that state but now the challenge is to be consistent.
PakPassion.net: You seem to have made good progress across all three formats. What’s the secret behind this?
Shan Masood: I think the best way to answer this question is to say that I have decided to be as natural as possible in my style of play, regardless of which format I am playing in. By being as responsive to the situations and playing my natural game, I found out that when I am looking to score runs, I am in better positions and better shape, and I am also able to be a lot more consistent. So, I am applying this mindset to all the formats that I have played in the last couple of years and it looks like it’s working. I have gone through a lot in the last couple of years where I have suffered from bad form, was dropped from the side and missed out on a central contract but above all, lost my sister which has been the toughest tragedy we have faced as a family. But, you learn from all the setbacks and tragic events, and it strengthens you and you look at cricket in a different light. So, coming back to this question, whether it’s red or white-ball cricket, my aim is to play the game and play it to the best of my abilities.
PakPassion.net: You seem to be making a conscious effort to play at a higher strike-rate in your recent outings.
Shan Masood: One thing I have learnt by playing at this level of cricket is that the bowlers are very skilful and know exactly how to bowl in one particular area which happens to be your weakness. And if you are looking to survive all day then one good ball with your name on it could well end your innings at any time. As a batter, your job is to score runs and things become simpler when you look to get runs. That’s what I have tried to do and discovered good ways to score runs in every format that I play in.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel you are now set to play cricket for Pakistan in all formats?
Shan Masood: Look, I am not thinking about selection for Pakistan at the moment or taking things for granted or expecting anything to happen in terms of playing for Pakistan. What I am expecting of myself is to play good cricket and to play with freedom and to enjoy the game. To me that’s the most important thing. The fact is that when you let external pressures get to you then you forget to enjoy the pleasures that the game brings. My aim is always to play with freedom whether it’s in domestic, county cricket or eventually in all formats for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: What motivates you to do your best despite having to deal with a few setbacks in recent times, including a personal tragedy?
Shan Masood: Well I never thought I was naturally talented, but I have worked my way through the system. I have always been a firm believer in process and gone through the right steps, whether it’s junior, domestic or international level cricket, or even franchise cricket. What I have figured out for myself is that whilst initially I fail at things, I do learn from my mistakes. In a sense, I am a good learner and that’s what keeps me going. To fail, then get up and get going again is something I am used to, and I don’t get disheartened by failures as I see these setbacks as opportunities to learn. I feel that when you battle through setbacks and go through personal tragedies, it helps you come back stronger. I am at a stage of my life where I don’t look at what people think of me, or where they feel I should be going. It’s more about me exploring how far I can go. I love doing that, and I have been doing that since a very young age where I wanted to challenge myself to see whether I could go up another level and that’s what I am doing whilst playing cricket.
PakPassion.net: You talk about enjoying the game but how do you go about doing that at this level of cricket?
Shan Masood: I feel that you learn a lot from experience. Some people have tough experiences in their personal lives beforehand and learnings from there help them play cricket more freely. The trick is to understand that at the end of the day, this is just a game. This is a game we have loved playing and watching whilst growing up and we should always maintain that childlike joy when it comes to playing cricket. But that is easier said than done because with external pressures, we simply forget to enjoy the game and take it as a life-or-death matter. Yes, it’s important to do well but we as players don’t need to put extra layers of pressure in terms of worrying about our performances. My way is just to enjoy the game and continue learning day-by-day. Of course, I will fail sometimes but I will learn from those mistakes and keep on coming back but most importantly, I will know when to switch on and when to switch off. Remember, every cricketer gives his hundred percent on the field, but the trick is to switch off when the cricket is done for the day.
PakPassion.net: Is a place in the Pakistan T20 squad for this year’s World Cup a realistic possibility?
Shan Masood: Like I have said before, I am not looking too far ahead and of course my performances in the PSL are history so no point delving about the past in that way. The most important thing for me now is to stay in the present as I have a lot of red-ball cricket to play and there is also an opportunity to play a lot of T20 cricket when the T20 Blast tournament starts by the end of May which will be good for me. I am not targeting anything specific in terms of number of runs but as far as this year’s T20 World Cup in Australia is concerned, let me say that any chance to play for Pakistan is an honour and if an opportunity to play in the T20 World Cup comes along, I will be grateful for that.
PakPassion.net: If an opportunity does arise, would you be fine to play in a batting position other than an opener in the Pakistan line-up?
Shan Masood: I am very flexible in such matters and as I said, there is no bigger honour than to have an opportunity to play for Pakistan. I have played as an opener in domestic cricket and played at the number 3 position in the PSL for Multan Sultans, and also came in at one-down when I played Tests during Mickey Arthur’s time as our Head Coach. I am not bothered about batting at any specific position as I believe that players can fulfil different roles for the team if they are given an adequate amount of opportunity. If I am ever asked to play for Pakistan again, I will consider it an honour and not complain about what batting position I have to bat in.
PakPassion.net: How do you answer those who say that the standard of County Cricket is not as good as it used to be?
Shan Masood: Cricket is cricket wherever it is played and at the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion. What is important is to note that the globalization of cricket and opportunities for players to play in different countries and events allows them to explore the game in different situations. I am just happy that County Cricket offers me a great opportunity to play lots of cricket and a chance to experience the game in foreign conditions and I am fine with that. So, people are entitled to their opinion, but my view is that a player should play cricket no matter what the standard is. On a personal note, I feel that the standard and professionalism of County Cricket has been pretty decent. It’s like playing in an international environment in terms of the dressing rooms, in terms of the grounds being used at the domestic level. So, from my end, I am very pleased by the quality of cricket on offer here.
PakPassion.net: What, in your view, is the most challenging aspect of a player’s international career today?
Shan Masood: I don’t want to sound as if I am complaining about issues but to me the mental challenges that come with playing international cricket are tough ones to bear. As those interested in the game, it is important that we should help our cricketers deal better with the constant scrutiny and pressure which they are subjected to. In today’s world, we as players are scrutinized by everyone but one has to remember that at the end of the day, we are human beings. There needs to be some empathetic element which centres around understanding where the cricketers have come from, how they respond to different situations which they are dealt with. All international cricketers have a lot at stake and above all they have a lot of personal stuff to deal with which isn’t readily visible to others.
I found out the hard way due to a personal tragedy which made me realize that cricket, at the end of the day, is just a game and that your family, health, friends mental well-being are much more important than anything else. Apart from these challenges, living and playing through Covid-19 wasn’t that easy either. The bio-secure bubble was something that I personally found very hard where, like other players, was confined to the hotel space and movements limited to the ground. In cricket it’s important at the end of the day to switch off to produce the best performances which, unfortunately, the bio-secure environment did not provide.