Mohammad Rizwan's rise from a domestic performer, to second-choice wicket-keeper batter, then to a mainstay for Pakistan has been nothing short of incredible. He is currently playing a crucial role in Pakistan's ICC Men's T20 World Cup campaign and has continued to gained admirers around the world since establishing himself in all three formats for his country.
In an interview ahead of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Rizwan spoke about the importance of his father's advice to him about life and cricket, the roller-coaster ride he has experienced during his career, the criticism he has faced, how honoured he feels about being considered as a key component in Pakistan's batting line-up, his thoughts on India wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and his hopes that Pakistan will win the ongoing ICC Men's T20 World Cup.
By Saj Sadiq (3rd November, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Was cricket always the profession that you dreamt of taking up?
Mohammad Rizwan: I always loved playing cricket, but I never thought that I would play for my country one day. Whilst, I used to play tape-ball cricket with my friends in my younger days and always had a love and passion for the game, I never for a moment thought that I would play the sport professionally and never did I think I would be good enough to play First-class cricket or go on to play for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Was your family happy with you choosing to be a professional cricketer?
Mohammad Rizwan: My grand-father enjoyed watching cricket, but apart from him, cricket wasn’t really followed in my family. My father who is very religious would always say to me, don’t waste your time playing cricket as all you do is play cricket, think about cricket and dream about cricket. You are out with your friends day and night playing and watching cricket, missing your prayers, you are missing school, you are missing reading the Quran and are falling behind on religious education, you are wasting your life away just thinking about and playing cricket all of the time and this needs to change.
We have a number of doctors on my father’s side of the family so education was always important, and my family were keen for me to follow the academic route. But to their credit, my family never forced me to become a doctor and my father eventually gave in and said to me, whatever you do in your life, just be a good human being and whatever profession you choose, make sure you make a name for yourself and do your country proud. He’s always been a great, supportive and loving father and I guess he just wanted the best for me. But he’s always been strict and a tough taskmaster and even now when we chat, he keeps me on my toes and says, I’m still not sure you’ve become a good human being. But he also says my prayers will always be with you, as you are representing Pakistan and that is an honour.
PakPassion.net: You’ve had a roller-coaster ride throughout your career before reaching the heights of today. What has that taught you?
Mohammad Rizwan: Yes, it’s not been an easy journey for me but that has taught me to love the sport even more. If you have had things very easy throughout your career and your career path has been straight forward, then perhaps you don’t love the sport as much as you do if you have had to really go through the tough times and had to bide your time before the good days eventually come.
PakPassion.net: When judging your performances, people tend to overlook the fact that you actually made your white-ball and red-ball international debuts back in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Mohammad Rizwan: Yes, and people also forget that I toured the West Indies in 2012/2013 where I never played a match, not even a tour match. Those are the ups and downs of professional sport that I am talking about because after that tour of West Indies my career was simply going nowhere, as I was playing domestic and just hoping for the best. Back then there were established wicket-keeper batsmen and they were not going to be replaced very easily. Sarfaraz Ahmed also became skipper and he was going to be very difficult to replace and I just had to stay positive and wait for my opportunity whenever that came.
PakPassion.net: Staying positive is one thing, but as time went on, did you think time was running out on your international chances?
Mohammad Rizwan: No, I never doubted myself and I am not being arrogant when I say this. I didn’t let that situation bring me down, and I just thought about improving as a cricketer, working harder and thought that if the chance ever came, I would do my best and try to ensure that I cement my spot in any format. My outlook on life and cricket has always been very positive. Even these days I don’t worry about conditions, losing the toss or how good the opposition is, rather I just focus on being positive whatever the match situation is and whoever the opposition is. You come across players who worry about the opponents, or if it’s a tough surface to play on, or what will happen if you lose the toss, but I’ve never let myself worry about such things. It’s all about what I can do to help my team and how I can improve myself as a cricketer and as a human being.
PakPassion.net: Sarfaraz Ahmed was in pole-position as Pakistan’s wicket-keeper batsman and now he is your understudy. That must feel strange?
Mohammad Rizwan: It does feel strange, but I guess that’s how it goes with professional sport. You have to patiently wait for an opportunity and remain professional about it. For three years, I was someone who was on the side-lines of the Pakistan Super League, deemed not good enough to play the 20-over format but when the right time came, I was not only picked by Multan Sultans but also made skipper and we became PSL champions.
I was regarded by many as someone who wasn’t thought of as a 20-over batsman and yet nowadays I am a regular pick in this format for my country. I was somebody who people thought wasn’t good enough to play Test cricket yet today I am the national vice-captain. Life is full of twists and turns and is full of good and bad days and I have had my fair share of the highs and lows already, but my mindset has been and always will be to remain positive and never let the bad times unsettle me.
PakPassion.net: What have you learnt from being a back-up wicket-keeper for so long?
Mohammad Rizwan: If there ever comes a time where I feel that a wicket-keeper in Pakistan deserves to be picked ahead of me then they will not have to wait like I did. They will not have to hang around as I will not block their path, and I will walk away and open the door for them to be picked.
PakPassion.net: You are one of those cricketers who despite your consistent performances continues to attract criticism. Why do you think that is?
Mohammad Rizwan: I am glad that some people can make a living out of criticising me on television or on social media platforms. I guess they have a job to do and if that involves continually criticising me then let them enjoy themselves and who am I to stop them from doing what they feel they need to do. But what I will say is that I hope they keep the criticism civil and constructive, although I have noticed that the criticism seems to be dying down a bit, so I must be doing something right.
PakPassion.net: You seem to be a prime example of a batsman who has proved that you don’t have to be a big-hitter to succeed in the shorter formats?
Mohammad Rizwan: I believe that is down to knowing my limitations and strengths and learning to use them to my advantage. And what’s really helped me put this into practice is Test cricket. I have always felt that if you can prove yourself and perform in Test cricket then that puts you in high regard around the world. As the name suggests, Test cricket is the real test when it comes to performing and is the format that splits the best from the rest and also helps you excel in other formats as well. Regardless of which format you play in, the most important factor behind good performances in any version of the game, especially as a wicket-keeper batsman, is your fitness. You have to be supremely fit otherwise forget playing in all three formats at the international level. Playing in all three formats is a very difficult ask but I know my strengths and know what I am capable of. If you try to be something that you aren’t on the cricket field, then that can come back and haunt you.
PakPassion.net: You appear to be someone who goes out on the cricket field and enjoys the experience, chatting away to your team-mates and offering advice to the opposition?
Mohammad Rizwan: I have always played my cricket like that. There’s pressure out there in your professional life and whether you are a doctor, police-officer, pilot or a cricketer, you have to accept that and learn to deal with it. But I always fall back on my father’s advice of making sure that you are a good human being, regardless of what you do in life. So, I always have fun out there on the field and I play with a smile on my face, but I make sure that I never upset anyone or give a cause for anyone to complain about me, or for anyone to say that what I did was unprofessional. Whether I perform or not is down to the Almighty, but my behaviour on the field as an ambassador for cricket and for my country is down to me and I always want to take great pride in my performances and my behaviour.
PakPassion.net: Do you think there is a danger of over-reliance on Babar Azam and yourself at the moment when it comes to scoring the bulk of Pakistan’s runs?
Mohammad Rizwan: The team is relying on Babar and I to score a lot of runs, but for me, I’m just honoured that a player who was not seen as international material is now seen as a key component in all formats. This is really something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and rather than taking it as something that puts additional pressure on me, I see it as a positive. In a strange sort of way, I feel there was more pressure on me when I was sitting carrying the drinks and towels than there is now when I am one of the regular picks.
PakPassion.net: How do you rate Pakistan’s chances at this year’s ICC Twenty20 World Cup?
Mohammad Rizwan: I think our chances are very good especially with the tournament being played in the UAE. We’ve played a lot of twenty over cricket this year and participating in the PSL in Abu Dhabi was a very useful experience for us. We have also played series against two very strong Twenty20 sides in England and West Indies and that has given us plenty to think about. I think our twenty over team is gelling well and I’m confident that we will do very well at this tournament.
PakPassion.net: You’ve never played an international match against India. The match against the arch-rivals at the Twenty20 World Cup must be one that you are looking forward to?
Mohammad Rizwan: The group stage game against India will be a high-pressure match due to the importance of the occasion and of course due to the quality of the opponents. The whole world will be watching us, and all eyes will be on the 22 players taking part which will give it an extra edge. From a personal perspective, the bigger the occasion, the more pressure there is, but the more I enjoy it. I can’t wait to get out there and test my skills against our rivals and against some of the best 20-over players in the world.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the Indian wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant?
Mohammad Rizwan: He’s really impressed me as I find him to be a brave cricketer, and someone who looks like he enjoys challenges. I’ve never met him but from what I have seen on television I think he’s the sort of guy who I think I will get along very well with as we both play cricket in a wholehearted manner and with smiles on our faces and we both clearly enjoy representing our respective countries. I’m really looking forward to coming up against him at the World Cup and who knows, maybe sitting down and having a chat with him and sharing some thoughts about our profession.
PakPassion.net: Who do you see as the main challengers for this year’s Twenty20 World Cup?
Mohammad Rizwan: It’s really tough to single any team out as I believe it will be a very open tournament with several teams in with a good chance of winning the competition. It’s all about getting the combination right for the tournament and getting as many players as possible in form at the right time. At the moment there are hardly any teams who have a settled squad or starting eleven and there is still a lot of squad rotation and experimenting going on. There are a lot of players out there now with experience of playing in Twenty20 leagues in the UAE so that will also be vital and will mean that the Asian teams don’t necessarily have an advantage as would have been the case in the past.
This article first appeared in Wisden Cricket Monthly. Click here to get three issues for just £1.79/$1.99