Ahmed Shehzad made his first-class debut at the age of 16, in 2007. But he first came to prominence during an inter-school tournament held in Lahore in 2005. He was soon picked up for Pakistan Under-19 team and today he has established himself as a regular opening batsman for Pakistan in all three formats of the game. He is one of six cricketers in the world and the only Pakistani to score a century in all three formats of international cricket, and that’s not a small achievement.
From the streets of Lahore to scoring at the top Test centres, Ahmed Shehzad’s journey has seen many ups and downs. The young opening batsman opened up to The News on Sunday from Dubai at the conclusion of Pakistan’s recent historic win against Australia, a series that established Ahmad as the ‘Shehzada’ of Pakistan cricket!
The News on Sunday: Ahmad, every kid in Pakistan likes to play cricket but what kept you motivated to opt for cricket as a career?
Ahmed Shahzad: I did not think about playing for Pakistan when I first picked my bat. As a kid, I started playing tape-ball cricket. I still remember I was eight years old when interest in cricket transformed into passion. My elder brother Khurram Shehzad used to play club cricket for Muslim Gymkhana and it was my daily routine to go to the nets with him. From there I developed interest in the game and although after some time Khurram bhai stopped playing I didn’t.
In those days, we had a guy in our club Muhammad Shahzad who had played at the under-19 level against Sri Lanka. He once said to me: “You’ll know how difficult it is when you’d play competitive cricket at the top level.” I considered this reply as a challenge and that was the day I decided to pursue cricket as a career and make it to the top!
TNS: Did you get any support from your family? Did it affect your studies?
AS: Cricket demands your full attention; I was so crazy about the game that I didn’t care about anything else. My family encouraged me to play but my restlessness kept them worried. My studies got affected to some extent, but my basic education was quite strong and that’s why I kept learning and didn’t face any problems, especially in communicating with others.
TNS: Has it been a smooth sailing for you?
AS: It wasn’t smooth sailing at all; I worked very hard to reach this position. I still remember how I cried on my way back to home for hours when I was dropped for limited overs matches, as I was unable to impress the selectors in unofficial test matches against India Under-19. At that time, Dr Jameel of Lahore region motivated me, cheered me up and told me not to give up.
TNS: A lot of people say that you’ve disciplinary issues. Is this true?
AS: I don’t know why people say that. I might be entertaining and full of excitement on the field but I am not a bad boy. I am very humble and a friendly person; different you can say but not a bad boy. Maybe when critics don’t find anything in my performance, they start saying that I have disciplinary issues. It hurts me when my own people question my commitment and portray me as a troublemaker in the team. I have always tried to give maximum to my country with honesty.
TNS: Many compare you with Indian batsman Virat Kohli. Do you take it as a positive compliment?
AS: Virat Kohli is, undoubtedly, a very good cricketer but I don’t like to be compared with him or anyone else. It is irritating for any cricketer if you compare him with someone else. He’s Virat and I am Ahmed, he plays for his team, I play for mine and we are two different individuals. I don’t like to be called Pakistan’s Virat Kohli. I have my own identity.
TNS: What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
AS: The World T20 victory in 2009, although I played only a couple of matches in that tournament. Winning the World Cup is always more important than any of your individual performance.
TNS: You have established yourself as a permanent opener for Pakistan in all three formats. Many say that it is not easy for a player to play all three formats. How do you manage this responsibility?
AS: I agree that it is not easy for a player to keep himself fit and focused for all the three formats. One needs to be mentally strong to manage all three formats. Test Cricket has always been my priority but I want to play all the three formats and as long as I’m fit and playing, I will continue playing all the three formats.
TNS: Anything or moment that still haunts you? Something which you regret?
AS: Not being able to perform in World Cup 2011 still haunts me. Conditions were not too alien to me and I think I could have done better. It was a tournament where I could have made Pakistan victorious and my failure in that tournament still haunts me.
TNS: So you must be looking to make up for that in the forthcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand?
AS: Yes, of course. World Cup is a big event, all the big teams will be there and I am looking forward to do better in the mega event. I have learnt from my mistakes and I understand my responsibilities better than before. I know what people expect from me. This time, I will not let my country down, InshaAllah.
TNS: Do you regret not being considered for the IPL?
AS: There is nothing to regret for not playing in the IPL. It would’ve been a great learning experience for us if Pakistani players were playing IPL. It is a top-level tournament and players from all over the world gather to play it. You learn a lot when you share dressing room with players from other international teams. You get to know their weaknesses and strengths. So, playing IPL would have been an advantage, but I don’t have any regrets for not being able to play in it.