Regarded as one of the top performers in domestic cricket, right-arm fast bowler Sohail Khan earned an international recall when he was picked for the 2015 World Cup and in his first game, took 5 wickets against arch-rivals India. He has so far played 17 international games which include two Tests, twelve ODIs and three T20Is and picked up twenty-one wickets, eighteen of which have come in ODIs.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, thirty-one year old spoke about his recovery from injury, progress of his career so far, the experience of playing in the 2015 World Cup and looked forward to playing for Pakistan on the 2016 tour of England.
By Amir Husain (21st November, 2015)
PakPassion.net : How are your fitness levels at the moment and what is the situation regarding your recent injury?
Sohail Khan : My fitness is excellent at the moment as you can probably check from my current performances in the ongoing domestic tournament. I feel a hundred percent and will also be taking part in the BPL soon. As far as my back injury is concerned, this is all part and parcel of cricket. This was a slight stress fracture which I have had treated and looked after by Dr. Sohail of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) who also supervised my training and rehabilitation at the NCA.
Later, when the Quaid-e-Azam trophy began, I bowled 35 overs in the very first game and took three wickets as well. In the next game, I also bowled long spells and took eight wickets in total and then in the recently drawn game I took two wickets as well. So all in all, my progress is good and as per plan.
PakPassion.net : Do you feel that you are still on the selectors radar for a recall to the national squad?
Sohail Khan : PCB have been very diligent in taking care of me during my injury period. The national selectors have indicated that I need to restore my fitness and I will be considered for selection in the future. They assured me that they are observing me in domestic cricket and that my performance in the 2015 World Cup has been noted as has been the fact that I was one of the leading domestic bowlers last year. To tell you the truth, I am really looking forward to joining the national team again and watching my teammates perform on television does make me very envious.
PakPassion.net : With just 17 international games to your name at the age of 31, do you feel that you have underachieved?
Sohail Khan : I don’t think so. It took me some time to make it to the national team as I had some technical deficiencies but thankfully I have spent some time in domestic cricket and played in leagues as well where I met some good coaches who have helped me iron out my issues. I would also like to mention Rashid Latif who went out of his way to advise me and help me fix problems with my bowling. It is because of him that outswing and inswing in my bowling has improved by a great deal as has my speed. What you saw in my bowling in the World Cup had a lot to do with the hard work Rashid Latif did with me. Of course, once in the team, I had the use of Waqar Younis as my coach which was tremendous. Also when both Waqar and Mushtaq saw me bowl, they were impressed with my readiness for international cricket. So, yes it has taken long but I feel that I have moved up to international cricket only after developing the right skills.
PakPassion.net : Did you at any point until now lose hope and wonder if you would ever have an international career?
Sohail Khan : By the grace of the Almighty, this never crossed my mind. I know in my heart that what is written for me is what I will get – nothing less and nothing more. I am thankful for whatever I have achieved so far and will remain thankful to the Almighty in the future. All I have to do is to work hard and leave the rest to the Creator. I am already playing international cricket and I leave the future to the Almighty.
PakPassion.net : What was the 2015 World Cup experience like?
Sohail Khan : Although the occasion was a big one, in terms of familiarity with the players, I had no problems as I had known and played with most of them before in domestic cricket. I had already played five ODIs before I played that all important game against India in Adelaide. Yes, I did feel pressure going into the game; who wouldn’t in a game against India but I knew I had the right skills to do my job and I took five wickets in my ten overs. The occasion was a tough one with a huge crowd in attendance but I had some experience of playing in front of big crowds so that didn’t bother me too much. Being selected for this tournament was a great honour and I recall the happiness and excitement around the time when I learnt about my selection. I was congratulated by family and friends and plenty of people I didn’t know as well! Having said that, I knew that I was at that tournament with divine help because as you know, my name wasn’t even in the probables list in the first place. I suppose my performances in the domestic matches caught the eye of the selectors and they brought me in.
PakPassion.net : What was it like playing alongside two of Pakistan’s most respected players in Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan?
Sohail Khan : Misbah was the captain of the ODI team but he is also a good friend of mine and Younis was my captain before in domestic cricket. So I wasn’t a stranger to them but the fact is that both these legendary players took good care of the juniors and offered advice and helped us when we were down. They never made you feel unwelcome or treat you as if you are junior but always spoke to you as an equal. It was a great experience playing alongside players of such status.
PakPassion.net : What was the truth behind your statement about Virat Kohli?
Sohail Khan : I think that statement was misquoted or not understood properly. Look, Virat Kohli is a top batsman for his country and he has always had my full respect for what he has achieved for India. However, once we are on the field, then I forget all that and my only job as a Pakistan player or an opposition bowler is to make sure no batsman can score against me and that I am able to take his wicket. He has a bat in his hand to score runs for his team and I have a ball in mine to make sure he doesn’t! That’s all what I meant.
PakPassion.net : You seem to bowl with a lot of aggression, but is this a trait missing from today’s fast bowlers, especially compared to the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis?
Sohail Khan : Look all fast-bowlers have and always have had this ability to be aggressive. In recent times Pakistan had Shoaib Akhtar who bowled with a lot of fire and now we have Wahab Riaz who shows plenty of feeling, so aggression is still there with our bowlers. Mind you, aggression does not mean that one has to abuse a batsman, instead it is to make a batsman think about the next ball or to make him change his mind or plan so as to get his wicket. The moment the batsman is out, then this stops; there is nothing more to be done or achieved by carrying on. There are always limits to what you can say or do, and you cannot cross that. As for me, I don’t just turnaround after every ball and just go back to the top of my run-up, I will give the batsman a stare and have a few choice words with him. The idea is to mentally disturb him into playing a bad shot on the next ball. But obviously more than that and one can risk fines and bans which is not the idea of this.
PakPassion.net : Are you enjoying your latest stint in domestic cricket, especially with your name amongst the wicket-takers?
Sohail Khan : I have been playing domestic cricket for many years now, so as such domestic cricket is not new to me. This is a very important part of any cricketer’s development and is the highest form of cricket in our country which is one level below international cricket. Everyone wants to perform and do well at this level as that is the only way into the Pakistan national squad. To me this is very enjoyable as I get to play with or against cricketers who are my friends and known to me. As for me, I now have fifteen wickets so far in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy which is great news and is giving me a lot of confidence for the future.
PakPassion.net : Do you feel that domestic cricket in Pakistan is able to prepare cricketers for international cricket?
Sohail Khan : I don’t think its domestic cricket that prepares you for international cricket but it is something from within the player that makes him ready for the challenge ahead. A player needs to think carefully about how much effort they need to make to get themselves ready to compete at the international level. If a player has no ambition then he will only work as hard as it takes to do well at domestic but never have the drive to make it to the next level.
In terms of actual difference between our domestic cricket and international cricket, let me tell you that playing domestic cricket in Pakistan is not that easy. To think that you can take wickets and score runs with ease in domestic is being very simplistic. We all know how many people play domestic cricket and only a few actually make the grade to score or take wickets before they are selected for the national team. As I said, this all depends on how hard cricketers work but the domestic level is as tough as anywhere else in the world.
PakPassion.net : Do you miss playing international cricket in front of home crowds?
Sohail Khan : It is very painful and sad to see that we are not able to host international teams on our home grounds. I am convinced that if this was the case, our younger cricketers would have improved immensely and newer talent would have come up with ease. I hope and pray that international cricket comes back to Pakistan and our fans and cricketers get an opportunity to enjoy something that other people from around the world take for granted.
PakPassion.net : You are almost 32 years of age now, how long do you think you can play for and do you have any goals in mind?
Sohail Khan : I am approaching thirty-two years and really until I have played fifty Test matches or something significant like that, I won’t be thinking of any future plans or retirement. I will take things one step at a time and as far as my age is concerned, we have enough examples of players in their late thirties still playing international cricket so there is no hurry in that respect for me.
PakPassion.net : Are you looking forward to the tour of England in 2016 if selected?
Sohail Khan : Every tour or game that Pakistan plays is my target. I will always be available if and when the PCB asks me to join the team and will always offer my best for my country. My fitness is at its best as I am now able to bowl for longer periods of time. I was a little over-weight during the World Cup but that is under control now and also my speed is approaching 90mph which is really good. I am aware that the selectors are keeping an eye on me and I can tell you that I'm fully fit and targetting an international recall.