Since his comeback to the national side, Sarfraz Ahmed has been in superb form and has proved his credentials as one of the most dependable wicketkeeper batsmen produced by Pakistan.
By the conclusion of the second Test against New Zealand in Dubai, Sarfraz had reached his career-best 18th position in the ICC ranking for Test batsmen, becoming the first Pakistani wicket-keeper batsman to be in top-twenty of Test batting in 59 years.
The last Pakistani wicketkeeper batsman to be there was Imtiaz Ahmad who achieved the 17th position way back in 1955. Sarfraz’s batting average of 43.88 in Tests puts him among the best of modern era. Some experts have already started comparing him with players like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and even Adam Gilchrist.
The soft spoken kid from Karachi spoke to ‘The News on Sunday’ from Dubai after the conclusion of the second Test against New Zealand and had a lot to say about his past, present and future.
The News on Sunday: Sarfraz, what is the story behind your recent success?
Sarfraz Ahmed: My success story can be defined in a couple of words — hard work. I would say that the key to whatever I’ve achieved is hard work and dedication. I took this comeback as the last chance and Alhamdulillah, I’ve managed to prove myself.
TNS: How did you start playing cricket?
SA: I started from the streets of Buffer Zone (a vicinity in Karachi), played for a local club in neighborhood and then got an opportunity to play at Pakistan Cricket Club, Karachi’s top Cricket Club.
After that, I got the opportunity to play at the under-19 zonal and regional level and then was picked for Pakistan Under 19 Cricket team for Afro-Asia Cup where I scored two fifties. Later, I was appointed the captain of Pakistan under-19 team for the World Cup and we won the tournament. I kept on playing at all levels, and finally I’ve got what I always dreamed of.
TNS: Did you get any support from your family?
SA: I was not always encouraged by my parents initially. Although my father was a badminton player, he did not support me playing cricket initially, but later when they saw me performing, they started supporting me. Unfortunately, my father passed away before I made my under-19 debut and I miss him every time I achieve something. I would say that whatever I’ve achieved today is because of my parents.
I want to name two other people who helped me a lot. They are Azam Khan of Pakistan Cricket Club and Siraj ul Islam Bukhari of KCCA. They always fought for me.
TNS: How was the experience of leading Pakistan to victory in the under-19 Cricket World Cup in 2006?
SA: It was a memorable event; beating India in the final doubled the joy. The way Anwar Ali bowled in the final match was outstanding. That event provided some good players to all the participating teams. Leading the team was a learning experience; it boosted my confidence and helped me become more responsible.
TNS: You made your Test debut in 2010, then you were dropped, then recalled for South Africa’s tour and then dropped again. How difficult it was for you to make this comeback?
SA: It was never an easy job, but I never lost hope. I knew that reward for hard work can be delayed, but it can’t be denied and I believe that whatever Almighty Allah has written for you, you’ll get it on the decided time. So, I continued with my hard work at domestic level.
TNS: Do you think you’ve finally cemented your place in the team?
SA: I don’t think so. The day I started thinking I’ve cemented my place or that I’ve become irremovable, I would be finished. You learn every day and this process goes on. So what if I’ve performed in a few matches? I don’t think this is enough, I’ve to perform in every match, I’ve to play every match considering it as my last match. I will not allow myself to be complacent. I want to do better than before every time I play.
TNS: Impressed with your recent performance, people have started comparing you with likes of Dhoni, Sangakkara and Gilchrist. How do you feel about that?
SA: These are great names; I am no way near them. I’ve a long way to go and I don’t want to be compared with these greats. I consider myself as a normal player, I don’t think myself as Adam Gilchrist or anyone else. But if there is any wicketkeeper batsman I idolise, it is Moin Khan.
I want to be an aggressive player like Moin bhai (Khan). In fact, I thought about becoming a wicketkeeper batsman after watching Moin Khan.
TNS: We’ve heard some wicketkeepers say that it is not an easy job. What’s your take on this?
SA: Yes, this is not an easy job, but it is not too difficult if you dedicate yourself to team’s requirements. If you realise that anything you do will contribute to the team’s successes, then you’ll be able to perform automatically. It may be exhausting in Test cricket, but if you are a team man, then wicket-keeping and batting should not be something impossible for you.
TNS: You also opened the innings in limited overs cricket. How was that experience?
SA: It wasn’t the first time for me to open the innings. I’ve done it for my department PIA in domestic matches so I knew what it takes to open the innings. When Hafeez bhai (Muhammad Hafeez) got injured ahead of the ODIs, I was asked by Waqar bhai (Younis) if I would like to open the innings. My previous experience of opening the innings in domestic cricket was in my mind and I took this opportunity positively.
It was a great experience and playing confidently against the top bowling attack really boosted my morale.
TNS: Are you ready to play as a permanent opener in the team?
SA: I think the team has already got a few permanent openers, but I don’t mind playing at any position from opening to one-down to middle-order or lower-middle-order. I play for the team, not for myself. I am ready to play at any position where I am required to play according to the situation.
TNS: Tell us about your 80-ball century against Australia. Was it pre-planned or it just happened?
SA: It wasn’t pre-planned at all, I played the way I play in domestic cricket. Once you overpower the confidence of opponent bowlers, you get the upper hand. I didn’t know until the end of day that 80-ball century was one of the fastest centuries by a Pakistani in Test cricket.
TNS: What are your future goals? You must have set your eyes on the World Cup?
SA: World Cup is a big event; every cricketer wants to play the World Cup. But I am not thinking about World Cup right now as it is still three months away and the team for mega-event is yet to be announced.
At the moment I am thinking and planning about the next match. I will talk about the World Cup once I am selected for that.