In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the Pakistan fast-bowler spoke about his team's recent Test victory in Dubai against England, his own performance since the 2015 World Cup, the importance of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq to the team and looked forward to the 3rd Test in Sharjah.
By Shayan Siddiqui (30th October, 2015)
The Dubai Test came to a thrilling conclusion on Day 5 as Adil Rashid and England came within seven overs of forcing an incredible morale-boosting draw. The fact that England were even in such a position though, was thanks to a game changing spell of bowling by Wahab Riaz on the morning of the third day. The visitors had been in a relatively comfortable position at the start of the day at 182/3 in response to Pakistan’s 378, but three wickets in the space of nine Wahab overs forced a collapse to 242 all out. Pakistan went on to build their lead and ultimately took ten England second innings wickets in the nick of time.
Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, Wahab explained his plans during the spell which won him his first Man of the Match award, “I tried to break England’s momentum and we knew how crucial that first session was. So we planned beforehand to try to take early wickets. Fortunately the ball was reversing so I tried to make use of that to get the batsmen out. Thankfully it was successful."
The pitches in the UAE are renowned for being full of runs, providing very little for the bowlers until late in the game. Fast bowlers have it particularly difficult on the slow low tracks so Wahab’s success has been somewhat surprising. He feels that there are two main opportunities for the pacers to pick up wickets on such surfaces, stating, “These wickets are very good for batting so obviously there isn’t a lot of help for fast bowlers. The only chance you have of taking wickets is either with the new ball or if the ball starts reverse swinging later on. My plan is to attack with the new ball and try to take wickets as that puts a lot of pressure on the batting team from the start. After that I try to focus on bowling a consistent line so as not to leak runs.”
Whilst Riaz has now played 14 Tests and 63 ODIs, he has only recently become a consistent performer and the leader of Pakistan’s attack. He arguably rose to fame during the 2015 World Cup when he bowled a blistering spell in the quarter-final to Shane Watson, which had the Australian batsman in all sorts of bother, and won plaudits from all who witnessed it. Wahab admits that the spell in the World Cup did wonders for him, “Lots has changed since the Watson spell – I gained a lot of confidence and it told me a lot about my capabilities. The spell to Watson has made me a different bowler. So I find things a lot easier now, even in difficult conditions. I have that belief in my ability and skills that I can perform on any track. I have done a lot of work on my wrist position - I’ve always had a lot of pace, the difference is that now it seems a bit more threatening.”
Whilst Pakistan are now 1-0 up going into the final Test at Sharjah, it could have been very different had Adil Rashid not played the attacking drive off Yasir Shah with just a few overs to go. The sense of relief amongst the Pakistani team and fans was plain to see during the celebrations, and Wahab admitted that things got a bit too close for comfort, “England were playing very well and the lower order batted for a long time. We were getting to a position where we knew we really needed to get them out and the pressure was increasing as we were running out of overs. We were trying our level best and hoping that we could bowl them out, and thankfully it happened in the end.”
During that tense last wicket partnership, many Pakistan fans felt the game was up when Asad Shafiq dropped a sharp chance at short leg. Wahab insisted that such catches are always difficult and was keen to stress that the players were fully behind one another, “Asad Shafiq was stood right next to the batsman and those chances are very tough to take, especially when the ball doesn’t come straight at you. We were backing each other up and no-one was blaming him for dropping a catch. Obviously it’s a game and it’s not always easy, especially when you’re standing right up close to the batsman.”
England’s last four batsmen faced a combined total of 446 balls and scored 120 runs in the fourth innings at Dubai, in stark contrast to Pakistan’s tail who have been dismissed in quick fashion during the series so far. Wahab accepted the importance of the lower order contributing runs and vowed to improve personally in this regard, stating “We know how important it is for the tail to score runs, they can be very valuable. We’ve learnt a lot from the way England have played so we’ll try to perform better in the batting department. I know that personally I’m not in great batting form but I’m still trying and hopefully I will put some runs on the board as well - I’ll be working hard in the nets.”
Whilst runs may have been hard to come by at the bottom of the batting lineup, Pakistan’s top order has flourished with Younis Khan proving his status as a great of the game, becoming the first Pakistani to score 9,000 Test runs during the victory in Dubai. Whilst the veteran batsman has obviously led with the bat throughout his career, he has also been a fabulous mentor for others in the dressing room, a point Wahab highlighted “Younis Khan is a legend. He’s a role model for us from whom we learn everything about cricket, whether it’s batting bowling or fielding. He never gives up and that’s the best thing about him. He keeps us motivated and is always there to help us. We are very lucky to have a legend like him in our dressing room who we respect a lot and who always gives respect to others.“
Another recent talking point has been the Pakistan captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, and his plans for the future. The 41-year-old has hinted at retirement and with an eight month gap until Pakistan's next Test, the game in Sharjah could well be his last. Wahab was full of praise for the Pakistan skipper and insisted that he could go on, “Age is irrelevant, it's just a number, Misbah is the fittest player in our team and you can still see him moving around well in the field. Pakistan have been great under his captaincy - he’s a very hard working captain, the kind of guy who always lifts his team and backs his players. Things are much easier for the players with him around.”
With the final Test starting this Sunday, Wahab will once again be a key factor in Pakistan’s fortunes, particularly if the wicket is conducive to reverse swing. The pace bowler is not looking too far ahead though and suggested that there may not be as much swing on offer as the previous Test, “In Dubai, there was some reverse swing in the first innings but we didn’t get much in the second. The Sharjah wicket will be new having been prepared for this series, so it depends on the surface whether or not we will get any reverse swing. We will only know that when we get there and assess the conditions."
Should any reverse swing be on offer, Wahab is sure to use it to his advantage and make life tough once again for the visiting batsmen.