The lynchpin in Pakistan's middle order, Asad Shafiq played one of his finest knock (137) at Gabba Test in 2016 where he almost got Pakistan over the line while chasing a stiff target of 489. With 12 centuries and 27 fifties to his name, Asad has been involved in many situations where he had to bat with a lot of prudence and caution because he bats with the tail which requires a measured approach. Amid the lockdown, he talked to media about how he is spending time at home, his future plans, his response to Shoaib Akhtar comments, his future goals and his stance on how players should use social media.
Asad urged to take all safety precautions amid the unprecedented health crisis and shed light on how the entire world is trying to come to grips with the herculean challenge.
"Firstly I would say that due to the prevailing situation, the entire world is fighting with coronavirus. All big sporting events have been postponed including cricket. We should try to focus on taking as many safety measures as possible and take care of the people around us. We must try not to leave the house unnecessarily and stay indoors as much as possible. Everybody will benefit if we all remain careful," said Asad.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) decided to conduct online fitness tests, which aren't anywhere close to the routine tests, though Asad believes these tests are a reminder that every player should be ready for competitive cricket once the action resumes. He takes about the makeshift gym that he has set-up at his place.
"Pakistan fitness trainer Yasir Malik took online fitness test and these were different than the normal routine test. We didn’t have weights and other facilities so they (PCB) redesigned the test. I think it’s a good step by the (PCB). Whenever this pandemic will end, we won’t have ample time for fitness tests so we had that in mind that we should prepare as much as possible at home. I bought some weights and have created a little gym at my place so as a professional, I think it’s our duty to keep ourself ready for upcoming series and whenever situation improves and we get to play competitive cricket, then we ought to be ready mentally and physically and we shouldn’t require any extra time (to be ready for cricket)."
There has been a major overhauling in the domestic cricket structure and the reactions from established players on the changes have been by and large positive. Asad appreciated the introduction of kookaburra balls in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and felt the last season was extremely competitive.
"Also, I would like to talk about the last domestic season. We had a wonderful experience with the kookaburra ball and with the new domestic cricket structure introduced, cricket was very competitive and there was hardly any weak link in any of the sides. Each side was strong in all departments and the competition was superb. However, I couldn’t play the entire season but I got the idea that first-class cricket was of the top-notch level. The quality of wickets was better as compared to previous seasons and overall it was a great experience."
Asad recalled the mood-lifting occasion of Test cricket returning to Pakistan shores and said it was a dream come true moment for him since he got the opportunity for the first time to play in front of the fervent home crowd after representing Pakistan for 10 years. He says the unwavering support gives an extra impulse to the players.
"Thereon, cricket came back to Pakistan. We had Test matches here and thanks to God I played Test matches on my home soil which was always my dream. I have been playing international cricket from last 10 years but I didn’t get a chance to play in front of jam-packed home crowds. There is no better feeling than playing in front of passionate home crowds. All players in including me have this impetus to play at home and this is the best scenario for cricketers with cricket coming back to Pakistan."
Asad made an honest confession regarding his career so far. He hasn't yet reached the pinnacle and has not lived up entirely to the expectations but he believes the best is yet to come.
"I have said this before and I would say it again that the way I set my plans and goals for my career, I haven’t yet reached the top. As an individual, I haven’t been able to execute my plans to perfection but I am confident that the potential and skills I possess, I can certainly reach the zenith. The scenario changed after the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq but all this experience (playing alongside the duo) is a plus point that can help me in the years to come. It has been my good fortune to play with them and grow as a cricketer in their presence," Asad added.
The 34-year-old made a pertinent point regarding his batting number being one of the reasons why his conversation rate hasn't been exceptional. He talked about the unique challenges while batting with the tail that often deprives him to amass a truckload of runs.
"For the most part of my career, I have played at number six which doesn’t’ always provide enough opportunities to score big knocks. You can make a comparison and see the other number six batsmen and I am sure they wouldn’t have scored like 18 or 20 centuries because at this number you have a limited opportunity as you are playing with the last recognized batsman and the tail is around the corner. You can’t bat the similar way with the tail as you do with the regular batsman. So I had this in mind that if I get to bat up the order, I would like to make the most of that opportunity by playing a big innings because that’s how you are remembered in your career. 50-70 odd-run innings do help the team but they are not like those performances that win the game single-handily and those that people remember for a long time.
"From last few years, I have played at number five or four so now I have more opportunity to play the kind of innings that help my career and also help Pakistan win crucial matches – that’s where I want to focus more."
Asad was taken by surprise after being picked in the PSL in the later stage of the tournament and he was not in the frame of mind to bat according to the demands of shorter format because his focus was on the Bangladesh Test that was scheduled right after the PSL 2020.
"I wasn’t expecting to get picked in PSL because I wasn't picked in the draft. 80 per cent of the tournament was over and only three-four matches were remaining. Luckily, I got the chance and I got the opportunity to bat in the last few overs. I had been training and preparing for the Test cricket because Bangladesh were scheduled to come so I wasn't in the frame of mind (to bat in T20) but this is a great positive for me and it’s a learning moment because we need to be ready mentally for any sort of challenge and scenario and I am hopeful PSL stint will pave the way for me to play in the next season.
"If I don’t go to ground, my day is incomplete. The gyms are closed, there is no net session so I have created a little set-up at my place but I can’t bat because you need all the facilities for it. We can still work on fitness but not on the skill level as far as batting is concerned. However, this is a time that everybody is sacrificing."
Asad is sanguine on carrying his good form and is very keen on improving his conversation rate. He assesses that pitches in Pakistan are conducive to batting especially with the quick outfield which presents plenty of scoring opportunities that work in the favour of batsman.
"My conversion rate hasn’t been ideal but in the last five-six tests, I have been consistent. They are not massive innings but I have been scoring 50-60s regularly. There is an advantage playing here in Pakistan because the outfield is quick and the pitches are good so we get more value for shots. As a batsman, it’s advantageous to play in Pakistan. I won’t call it ‘unlucky’ (not to reach my potential) but yes it has been difficult to maintain a good conversion rate at number six position. There is no pressure after Misbah Younis retirements and there's no change in mental state and it’s not like I was under the shadow in their presence."
About his efforts to help the downtrodden and those struggling to make ends meet amid COVID-19, he talked about how he is silently helping the members of cricket fraternity and appreciated Rumman Raees for his philanthropical spirit but mentioned how he likes to help without making it so conspicuous.
"I got a call from an umpire, I won’t name him, but he was under difficult financial circumstances because they are not getting any match fees, so I try to help the members of our fraternity. I am in-touch with Sarfaraz Ahmed in relief efforts too and I think as an individual it’s our responsibility to help all those in need and those on daily wages, those who were making their ends meet from the matches. Rumman Raees is doing commendable work and I talked to him. I haven’t been working the way Rumman has done. I have a different frame of mind. I don’t do these things in the public eye and I have been focusing on helping those people who are in my circle but if there is a need for me to go out in the streets then I will not hesitate at all to make my contribution in this difficult times to next level."
Asad and Sarfaraz Ahmed have played a lot of cricket together and he mentioned how his pal is training hard yearning to make a comeback. He thinks the healthy competition among players who are jostling for a few positions is a good omen for Pakistan team.
"I can’t speak about who should play where that’s a question that's not for me to answer but I and Sarfaraz have played a lot of cricket together right from Under-17 level. The way Sarfaraz has worked on his fitness, I mean he has been working really hard and my well-wishes are for him to make a comeback And I hope whenever he makes a comeback he would come as a better athlete. Everybody comes in the national team to serve the country and it’s good that we have a healthy competition. Many players compete for few places which is good for the team."
Perhaps Asad's calm demeanour is misconstrued as lacking valour. Perturbed by no-holds-barred Shoaib Akhtar's comments regarding Asad's 'timidity', the technician wasn't amused by the remarks and reminded that if he wasn't brave enough, then he couldn't have scored all those centuries in Australia, England and South Africa.
"If I wasn’t brave, I wouldn't have scored a century in Australia. I wouldn't have scored a century in South Africa, England and I don’t have to justify anyone that I am courageous or not. That’s their own opinion but I would say before making such comments, we should take a look at a player’s records but that said, it’s their opinion. They can say whatever they like but there is nothing like that. I try to give my 100% wherever I play and this is the biggest motivation for me that I am representing my country and I am always striving to improve myself as a batsman. Whoever takes up cricket, they dream of playing for Pakistan and I want to become an inspiration for the upcoming cricketers."
In the month of Ramzaan, Karachi becomes the epicentre of all cricketing activities and Asad is going to miss the carnival-like atmosphere coupled with the sheer quality of cricket that helps the top-flight cricketers and the young guns to hone their skills.
"Ramzan cricket has been very competitive and players from all over the country come to Karachi. Each side has top-notch players and there is a lot to learn. The new exciting players who come from clubs present a unique challenge and I am going to miss Ramzan cricket but perhaps next year I would love to participate."
Asad likes to keep his social circle limited and doesn't endorse excessive use of social media for players who make it to the national team since he thinks that it can impact a player's psyche while going through the usual ebbs and flows in a career. Moreover, he expressed how height is never something that holds a batsman back and gave the example of little master - Sachin Tendulkar - on how he broke all records in batting despite having short stature.
"My favourite shot is cut and my favourite batsman is Sachin Tendulkar. From Pakistan, I like Mohammad Yousaf. If height was ever an issue, Sachin wouldn’t have tumbled so many records. Height has never been an issue. There is a lot of distraction for players when they come to play for Pakistan. They get fame, they get financial rewards so it’s very easy for the concentration to get diverted. For me, my mother has been my mentor and she told me the Dos and don'ts. I feel like if your attention is diverted in too many places then it becomes difficult to keep head in your game. That is why I limit my interactions and spend most of the time with my family so If I am not on tour I try to stay with my family and spend time with kids. I will share a little story. Sami Aslam was with me on the UK tour and said that people were appreciating me a lot on social media. I told him not to use a lot of social media because when your performance goes down, you may get into a negative mindset (due to the reaction on social media) and it might be hard to absorb the reaction. That’S exactly what happened after a few matches and Sami said I was right about the usage of social media," Asad concluded.