With just a handful of First-class games to his name, Abdullah Shafique's inclusion in the Pakistan Test team has been impressive as he justified the faith in his potential with fifties in each innings on debut against Bangladesh. Recently selected for Lahore Qalandars for the upcoming Pakistan Super League, the Sialkot-born batter is regarded by many as a potential future star.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Shafique spoke about his experience so far of international cricket, the importance of advice from Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, what he has learnt from Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, the impressive fighting spirit of Virat Kohli, why he is looking forward to playing in PSL 7 and how he intends to tackle the challenge of facing Australian bowlers when they visit Pakistan.
By Amir Husain (12th January, 2022)
PakPassion.net: How have you found the experience of playing international cricket?
Abdullah Shafique: Overall, playing international cricket has been a huge learning experience for me. If I look back to the time leading up to November 2020 when I made my international debut against Zimbabwe, the whole experience of being part of the preparatory camp when I was selected as a probable to the point where I walked onto the field, to facing my first ball was simply amazing. Watching and learning from the seniors as to how to prepare for upcoming games and the type of practice they do to get ready was an eye opener for me. Being given advice by the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan where they showed me what I lacked and where I could improve in my batting was simply incredible as a player just starting his international career. I was also lucky to have worked with Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, both of whom not only gave me advice but like all others in the squad gave me confidence and expressed belief in my skills during a time where there were doubts being expressed about my suitability and it is that sort of support that helped me perform on my T20I debut in Rawalpindi. Of course, apart from my debut innings of 41* against Zimbabwe, my T20I career hasn’t started that well but the experience of being on tour with Pakistan in New Zealand was a great one.
PakPassion.net: What was it like facing some of the top Pakistan bowlers in the nets?
Abdullah Shafique: It was a huge challenge facing members of a bowling attack who are regarded as amongst the best in the world, but all of that has been part of my learning experience and having done that a few times I suppose it really helped me when I made by Test debut against Bangladesh recently. The nervousness I felt when I played before was gone and I felt much more at home and less pressured this time around.
PakPassion.net: It must have been great to share a dressing room with the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan?
Abdullah Shafique: It was simply amazing being in the squad with two of the world’s top players. For a start, there was so much to learn for me from just observing their day-to-day routine, how they go about preparing for practice or for the game ahead. The level of professionalism in the way they go about their preparations is something all youngsters can learn from. Everyone can practice in the nets but it’s how you practice is what differentiates the top players from the rest. With Babar and Rizwan, just normal practice is not enough, they spend extra time in the nets refining their technique. You will never see these two players sitting idly after their net sessions, instead you will see them doing additional practice with throw-downs. They will never ever miss their gym sessions. The attention to detail is not just limited to nets or practice but also to their dietary routine as well – all of which is something I have learnt a lot from.
PakPassion.net: How big was the jump from domestic to international cricket for you?
Abdullah Shafique: For me that difference between domestic and international cricket wasn’t that huge but the biggest challenge for me was the quality of bowling that one had to face. I suppose the level of practice and support you get at the international level has an impact as well which also makes a difference. In my view if you have the right mindset and you have worked on the basics of the game then there is a good chance that you will succeed when you get to the international level.
PakPassion.net: You must be looking forward to the upcoming Pakistan Super League?
Abdullah Shafique: The PSL is an important platform for all players which is almost the same as playing international cricket. I am obviously very pleased to have been selected for the Lahore Qalandars squad and am looking forward to this opportunity to prove myself in this tournament. Hopefully I can avail this opportunity and put in some good performances.
PakPassion.net: Whilst you are at the start of hopefully a long career, what would you currently mark as the strengths and weaknesses in your game?
Abdullah Shafique: One can never achieve perfection even after playing for many years but if I were to analyse my performances so far, I would say that the strength for me is in the way I have managed to understand my own game and to use it to my advantage but of course, I have a long way to go in that journey. There are a number of weaknesses that I have identified in my game, but the main point is to recognize those issues and to work to reduce mistakes and to improve. Hopefully I will be able to do this as I progress through my career.
PakPassion.net: A Test debut after a handful of First-class games is a rarity. How do you feel about that?
Abdullah Shafique: A few people have spoken about this so let me say something about this. I played Under-19 cricket for Sialkot region for almost 3 years and then could not play any First-class cricket for almost 2 years after that. This was because Sialkot region was part of Grade 2 cricket and to try and get into one of the departmental teams to play First-class cricket was a very tough ask. Even if you did get into a departmental side, you would probably be benched for one or two seasons. So, I wasn’t left with too many options but to wait and in the meanwhile, I did play Grade 2 cricket for Sialkot. Of course, one can only work with whatever hand one is dealt with but all I can say is that I utilized to the fullest whatever time I spent away from First-class cricket. I pushed myself as much as I could during that time to prepare myself for the journey ahead. I suppose whatever improvements I have shown are due to that. That was a tough time for me as I could see that others were playing domestic First-class cricket and I wasn’t, but I pushed myself to the extent I could. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and I feel lucky that I got into the Pakistan side so early whilst many others have struggled for a while, but then each one of us has their own path and destiny and I am no different.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that being on tours with the Pakistan team without getting a chance to play proved beneficial in the end?
Abdullah Shafique: It’s human nature that one can feel a little despondent in such situations where you are part of tours but are unable to find a place in the team. But I took that as a challenge for myself. I concentrated on maintaining a positive mindset during such times and made sure that I used these tours as learning experiences where I would go through my training to ensure that I was always ready to play for Pakistan if the opportunity had arisen. I would play in the practice matches and try and perform to the best of my ability for my own satisfaction and at no point did I give up or think that there was no point in practicing. Instead, I worked hard on these tours knowing fully well that I would see the benefits of my preparation at a later stage in my career.
PakPassion.net: How important were the inputs of Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf towards the development of your batting?
Abdullah Shafique: Initially I was helped by Misbah-ul-Haq and because he was a master batsman in his own time, he was able to provide some excellent advice. He looked at my game and for almost every ball I faced in the nets, he would be around to give me his input on how I could have played the ball better and so on. With Younis Khan, I concentrated on working on how to play spinners and I am very happy to say that I have put to good use the advice he gave to me. Mohammad Yousuf also provided me with excellent input during my time at the NHPC. The effort that these coaches put in me has really helped me and the credit goes to them for their efforts. I can say with my hand on my heart that my good performances in international cricket have a lot to do with the guidance I received from all three coaches.
PakPassion.net: Tell us about your Test debut against Bangladesh – how nervous were you?
Abdullah Shafique: Obviously this was my first Test match, and I knew the importance of the moment especially because this was a huge achievement for me. My father had played First-class cricket and my uncle had also played a lot of cricket and both had worked hard to help me improve my skills so the credit for bringing me to this stage also belonged to them. In a sense, I was happier for them than for myself because I knew they would be feeling proud and satisfied watching me play my first Test match. I knew I had the backing and prayers of my family behind me, and I put in my best effort and thankfully my Test debut went well as I hit fifties in both innings. I tried my best to play in the way an opener should play in Test cricket and was very pleased with my contribution to our victory in that game.
PakPassion.net: How did you find the atmosphere in the Pakistan dressing room, especially as a newcomer?
Abdullah Shafique: It has been an honour to be part of the team, and this has obviously opened my eyes to a new level of professionalism which I have witnessed in the way the players practice and prepare for the games. But what really impressed me was the way in which the senior players and coaches take it upon themselves to guide and support the junior players. The whole atmosphere is friendly and one that helps newer players like me get used to the rigors of international cricket with ease.
PakPassion.net: Your eyes must be focused on the challenge of hopefully facing some of the world’s best bowlers such as Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in the upcoming tour by Australia?
Abdullah Shafique: The Australian fast-bowling attack is very strong but hopefully home-advantage could favour us in the series. I will have to plan out some scenarios in my head to battle such world-class bowlers and adjust my practice for that and hopefully I will be able to give a good account of myself if I am selected for the series. I am currently following The Ashes on television and trying to keep an eye on how the Australian bowlers are going about their business, how they are attacking the English batters and what changes I need to do to tackle them, should the opportunity arise. Mentally speaking I feel that I am ready for this challenge and God Willing, will do my best.
PakPassion.net: Some people are already saying you could be the next Babar Azam. How do you feel about that?
Abdullah Shafique: First of all Babar Azam is our star player and an icon for all of us and to make any comparisons with him is far-fetched, to be honest. I am Abdullah Shafique and want to perform for Pakistan in the same way as Babar Azam continues to do. He is a source of inspiration for all of us and long may he continue to serve our country and inspire players like myself to do the same.
PakPassion.net: You have mentioned in the past that Virat Kohli is a player you admire. What is it about him that impresses you?
Abdullah Shafique: The fighting spirit that Virat Kohli has in him is something that I admire a lot. When you combine that with his superior technique and ability to score in any condition then he really is one of the best cricketers in the world today and its these qualities that make him a standout amongst all his contemporaries. Both Virat Kohli and Babar Azam are inspiring cricketers who I look up to.
PakPassion.net: Which format do you feel you are best suited to?
Abdullah Shafique: I simply love the game of cricket. I look to meet the ball with my bat in the best possible way and the format of the game is irrelevant to me. The most important thing is to be able to recognize the requirements of each format and to make sure you do your best in it.
PakPassion.net: Test and T20I appearances now under your belt, what other goals have you set for yourself in 2022?
Abdullah Shafique: I usually don’t look too far ahead and plan for whatever next series or tournament that comes up. So, to perform well in the upcoming PSL 7 is an important milestone for my career and one that I will be doing my utmost to achieve. Of course, the visit by Australia to Pakistan, God Willing, will be a huge event and I will do my best to serve my country in that series if I am given the chance.