One of the brightest talents to have made their mark in Pakistan cricket in recent times, Abdullah Shafique has quickly gained the reputation of a dependable batter with 992 runs to his name which include 3 centuries in 12 Tests and based on his recent exploits in PSL 8, has been in consideration for a spot in the Pakistan white-ball sides as well.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Shafique spoke about his steady rise as a Test batter, Mohammad Yousuf's impact on his batting, playing for the 2-time PSL Champions Lahore Qalandars under Shaheen Shah Afridi's captaincy, Babar Azam as an inspiration for younger batters, why he is looking forward to working with Team Director Mickey Arthur and what it takes to rise to the level of a batter like Virat Kohli.
By Amir Husain (26th April, 2023)
PakPassion.net: What's the secret behind the good performances which have seen you reach nearly 1000 runs in just 12 Tests?
Abdullah Shafique: First of all, I feel that that my background of belonging to a cricketing family has a lot to do with my progress so far. Apart from my father Shafiq Ahmed, my two uncles, Arshad Ali who has represented the UAE cricket team and Mohammad Rafiq, have always supported and guided me during my formative years in cricket. Of course, I am a product of Pakistan’s cricket system which saw me come through the ranks and play for regional Under 19 and Pakistan Under 19 sides. In my view, anyone who progresses through the proper pathways available in Pakistan cricket never really has a problem as such and have less difficulty in adjusting to top-level cricket and that is what I have found in my experience as well. I am also indebted to some of my coaches, namely the Late Aamer Wasim who worked very hard with me from a young age and also would like to mention Mansoor Rana who has played a key role in my progress as a player. Later as my career moved on and I started to head towards top-level cricket, I was also fortunate enough to get invaluable advice from Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf.
PakPassion.net: On that note, what was it like to work with Mohammad Yousuf as a batting coach and what were the benefits of that association?
Abdullah Shafique: Mohammad Yousuf in his playing days was regarded as a top-class batter not only in Pakistan but also in world cricket. To have someone of that calibre advise you is simply incredible. To me Mohammad Yousuf’s style of batting with his high back-lift and elegance is what defines proper batsmanship. We were lucky that he was associated with the Pakistan team. Apart from his expert advice during practice, simply listening to his experience of how he tackled the world’s best bowlers under different and difficult conditions to come out on top was an education. Having such a great batter give us advice is something we the younger players will cherish forever and am sure will utilize that knowledge in the future as well.
PakPassion.net: You make it look easy but how do you cope with the challenges of playing white ball and red ball cricket?
Abdullah Shafique: It really is down to how you practice and prepare for the different formats. So, for example, in the Pakistan Super League I was focused on ensuring that the strike rate was looked after, but apart from that the principle of playing each ball on its merit is the same across all formats. Coming back to the concept of scoring at a good strike rate, this is a basic requirement for the white-ball game and does require extra thinking during batting to ensure that you score quickly because it can really help the team’s cause. Of course, you need to judge the game situation when deciding to up the strike rate, but I can safely say that I am quite comfortable playing in all three formats and can adjust my game accordingly. When it comes to red-ball cricket, this is all about creating the focus in your mind to play over a 4-5 day period. This requires mental and physical strength, and one prepares accordingly with the training sessions geared for this format. I always look to my next assignment and I do not worry too much about what other series are coming up after that as that is counterproductive. Currently my focus is on the ongoing ODI series against New Zealand and hopefully I will do well in it.
PakPassion.net: Would it be fair to conclude that you feel you’re good enough to play in all 3 formats for Pakistan?
Abdullah Shafique: All I have always wanted is to play cricket. This game is a passion of mine and I love taking on the challenge in whatever format I play in. Rest assured, there will never be any lack of focus or preparation from my side when I represent Pakistan in all formats.
PakPassion.net: What in your view has been the secret of Lahore Qalandars success with two back-to-back titles to their name?
Abdullah Shafique: Look, all sides have good and world-class players in PSL but to me what makes the difference between a successful and champion side in PSL as compared to others is the environment in the dressing room. In Lahore Qalandars’ case, the sort of friendly atmosphere and the bonding between the players was simply amazing and was thoroughly enjoyable for all of us. To me this was the essential ingredient that has taken us to successive titles. For this, the combination of the Qalandars’ COO and Team Manager Sameen Rana, Head Coach Aaqib Javed and the support staff needs special mention as they went out of their way to gel the players into a well-performing unit and to create an environment which made all of us feel like a family. In such circumstances, every player would play without any pressure and put in his best to ensure that the team won all of the time. In this way, our franchise had a unique advantage and then we had the fortune of having a captain like Shaheen Shah Afridi who led the team and supported his players so well.
PakPassion.net: What was the experience of playing under Shaheen Shah Afridi as skipper of Lahore Qalandars?
Abdullah Shafique: What sets aside Shaheen as a captain is the energy he brings to the job. This sort of energy permeates through the squad and the spark it creates amongst the players makes them perform to the best of their abilities. His ability to lead the team from the front and to support them through thick and thin is what sets him above others as a captain. When you are winning games then there isn’t much to talk about but to lift the team at times when things are not going according to your plans is what makes a leader so special, and we have seen that with Shaheen for the past 2 seasons. We all know Shaheen’s capabilities as a bowler and more recently as a batter, but the way he has led the team is simply outstanding and the results of his leadership are there for all to see.
PakPassion.net: How do you handle the weight of expectations due to you being rated by many as one of Pakistan's best up and coming players?
Abdullah Shafique: My view on this is simple. As a professional cricketer, you are always faced with pressure based upon your performances. So, every time you go on the field there is an expectation that you will do well or better than your last appearance. This is part and parcel of what we must face as professionals and it’s something which we need to be able to handle and tackle well, otherwise your performance will suffer. I always try and put in my best effort when I go out to bat. It does not matter what level of cricket I am playing my intention is always to give my 110% effort. More importantly, whether I succeed or fail, I have to accept the results of those efforts. If there is success, then I need to understand how to repeat that again in my next outing. If I have failed, then the right thing to do is to learn from those mistakes and to ensure that I do not repeat them and that I improve myself. The reason for this is that learning is a never-ending process, and one failure is not the end of the road. There will be more opportunities such as the next game or the next series or tournament and there is no need to delve into the past except to learn from your mistakes.
PakPassion.net: Playing in the same side as Babar Azam must be a great opportunity to learn?
Abdullah Shafique: In my view, if there is one ideal role model for young batters in Pakistan whether they are part of the senior team or not, then that must be Babar Azam. To watch Babar’s hard-work and dedication to his game is an education. This is next level stuff and something all of us can and continue to learn from him. He works harder and puts in extra work in net sessions as well which is a real eye-opener for all of us. As for me, if I face any difficulty in my batting, I have no problems in approaching him for advice. Babar’s personality is such that if anyone goes to him for advice, whether young or experienced, he goes out of his way to explain and has no issues in working with them to help them improve their game. I have learnt a lot from him, and it is my aim to emulate Babar in the way he consistently performs for Pakistan. If you have such a perfect player on your side, then that is enough inspiration for all players to raise their game to serve our side better. Having Babar with us is a great learning opportunity for all us youngsters because he is a master technician who is respected around the world.
PakPassion.net: What is the toughest period you have faced so far in international cricket?
Abdullah Shafique: As a professional cricketer one must accept that things will not always go your way and you will be faced with tough times in your career. This is just the nature of international cricket where nothing comes easy and going through lean patches or tough times is a given. Whilst I have faced such situations during my Under 19 days in domestic cricket, but the one that has hit me hard and has been the toughest so far has been in my recent performances in T20Is where I had four consecutive zero scores, twice against New Zealand and the same number in the first 2 games against Afghanistan in Sharjah. But I have taken all these setbacks in my stride and considered them as challenges which I need to overcome with hard work. Because times such as these will come again and again, I will need to know how to handle these periods. How I handle these problems in a positive way is up to me because to me this is the real test of one’s character. If handled in the right way, such challenges can make you stronger but by the same token, if not tackled properly they can destroy your inner belief as well. My aim is to ensure that I come out as a better player after facing these challenges so I can serve my team better. To me lean periods such as the one I have faced recently in T20Is are the best opportunities to learn and to become a better player. There is always room to improve as a player as one is always learning. If I can stay positive and be a good student of the game, then I will be better equipped to cope with the problems that I will face in the future.
PakPassion.net: What is the update on your County stint with Leicestershire CCC?
Abdullah Shafique: To have an opportunity to play in an English County season would have been a great chance for me to learn and improve. All the arrangements were in place for my stint at Leicestershire this year however, as I am now involved in the home white-ball series against New Zealand and national duties take precedence over all other commitments, so regretfully I will not be playing in the County Championship this summer.
PakPassion.net: You must be looking forward to working with Team Director Mickey Arthur?
Abdullah Shafique: It will be an absolute pleasure to work with Mickey as his reputation as someone who has done so well for Pakistan in the past is well known. The Champions Trophy victory in 2017 and Pakistan’s rise to number one position in T20Is happened during his tenure as well. I have not had any interaction with him yet, but all the players who have worked with him rightfully speak very highly of him. I am looking forward to working with him and hopefully will be able to learn and improve my game under his guidance.
PakPassion.net: And finally, what does it take in your view as a young cricketer to get to the level of the likes of Virat Kohli and Babar Azam?
Abdullah Shafique: I think if we look at the careers of both Virat Kohli and Babar Azam, the one word that stands out is sacrifice. This might be a short word, but it sums up all that you need to do to get to the top of your game. Sacrifice comes in many forms and can be based on the choices you need to make in your personal life, what you need to give up on your diet and what you need to do to stay fit. Basically, when you turn your life upside down to ensure that you are primed to play the sport in the best possible way then you realize what it takes for the likes of Virat Kohli to reach the levels of greatness they have got to in their careers.