An Interview with Abdur Rauf by Abdul Habib 20th March 2008 Abdur Rauf is one of Pakistan's top domestic fast bowlers and was rumoured to be quite rapid back in the early noughties. He's taken 375 wickets in just 83 FC games before being selected for Pakistan, read on to learn more about him. Abdul Habib: What first got you interested in cricket? Abdur Rauf: I've loved cricket from as far back as I can remember, everyone in Pakistan loves cricket. I especially enjoyed watching Imran Khan and Wasim Akram playing for Pakistan, they both played exciting cricket. Abdul Habib: Who has been your cricketing idol? Abdur Rauf: Imran Khan because he did so much for Pakistani cricket, we had a golden era under him where we were one of the best teams in the world. Imran had such a magnetic personality that everyone liked him, even the opposition fans who wanted Pakistan to lose used to hope that Imran did well. The other person I'd like to mention is Majid Khan, I'm too young to have seen him play but I grew up on stories of his confrontations with Lillee and Thompson and became a fan of his after watching videos of his brave batting style. Abdul Habib: How did you get spotted by Sui Gas and make your way into First Class cricket? Abdur Rauf: I've played cricket from the grassroot level and up. I've played u17, u19, club cricket, first class cricket and with Pakistan A before I got my chance to play for Pakistan. You could say I've really had to pay my dues in order to get where I am today. Abdul Habib: Who were the other players in your u19 side? Abdur Rauf: It was a very strong team. I played with Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Bazid Khan, Kamran Akmal, Imran and Humayun Farhat. Abdul Habib: Who is the best coach you have worked under? Abdur Rauf: I don't think a coach makes that much difference. When I joined the Ludhiana GymKhana in Lahore, we had a great coach there called Saud Khan. He coached Wasim Akram, Ata Ur Rehman, Ashfaq Ahmed and myself. We were all members of the Ludhiana GymKhana and got to know each other quite well. Abdul Habib: What was Wasim Akram like? Abdur Rauf: When I joined in 96/97, Wasim used to come down to use the facilities at the GymKhana. He'd come down to use the nets and even to some of the club games. He was very accessible to us junior cricketers, he used to give us tips and advice. Even to this day, whenever I bump into Wasim he's always polite and helpful towards me. Abdul Habib: Pakistan fans have been following your career since about 2003, were you a 90mph+ bowler in your early days? What was your average speed? Abdur Rauf: Thank you it's very flattering to know that fans have taken such interest in my career. I think on average I was bowling about 87-88 mph back around 2001-03, I dont know what my top speed would've been but I dont think it was over 90mph. Not by my estimation but then we don't have speed guns in domestic cricket. Abdul Habib: Is it true you were told by a selector or a coach to cut down on your runup and action or you wouldn't get into the national team? Abdur Rauf: It's true that I did slow my pace down by altering my runup and action but it wasn't something I was made to do. It was my own choice, nobody told me to do it. What you have to understand is that it's senseless to continue with such a demanding action for years and years at domestic level. If as a fast bowler you don't get into the national team at an early age, then your chances for making it into the team become very limited. You never stop trying but you need to be honest with yourself about what sort of beating your body can keep taking everyday. You have to economize with your runup and your action and concentrate on out thinking batsmen rather than just blasting them out. Abdul Habib: But Mohammad Sami was playing for Pakistan when he cut his speed down, why do you think he did that? Abdur Rauf: Taking wickets is about more than just naked pace, you need more than that. Look at the highest wicket takers in International cricket and you come across names like Walsh, Ambrose, Kapil, Wasim, Pollock and Mcgrath. These guys werent bowling at express pace were they? They were in the 80-85mph range for most of their careers and yet look how successful they were at the International level. You yourself mentioned Sami and look at how fast he was, he was constantly in the 95mph range at one time, yet look at his record. It's not all about pace. My own personal opinion is that if you want to be a successful bowler then you need to be able to swing the ball and have a variety of deliveries. Abdul Habib: You say that but when Sami dropped his pace, he still didnt improve his bowling. Some would say it got worse, how would you explain that? Abdur Rauf: Like I've already mentioned, you need to swing the ball. Sami doesnt really swing the ball, so when he dropped his pace he still lacked the swing or the variety which could get him wickets. Abdul Habib: Tell us about your best bowling performance in first class cricket, when you took 8/40. Abdur Rauf: That game took place in Faisalabad against the Agriculture Development Bank team back in 2001. In the first innings I took 8 wickets for 40 runs and then in the second innings I took another 6 wickets for 58 runs. So during that whole match I took 14 wickets for 98 runs, one of my best bowling performances. Abdul Habib: Whats the worst cricketing injury you've ever had? Abdur Rauf: I had a back injury before I started playing professionally, that was very painful and kept me out of action for a long time. But thank God, I havent had any serious injuries since then. Abdul Habib: The Pentangular Cup produced some contrasting results, there were one or two games which didn't even last 2 days yet there were also a lot of games which ended in high scoring draws. Why the big differences? Abdur Rauf: In Karachi they prepared totally green wickets, they left the grass on the pitch and so it was very difficult to bat on those tracks. On the other hand in Sialkot, Lahore, and Peshawar they prepared pure batting tracks with nothing it for the bowlers. So when teams played on the green tracks there was a result but when they played on the flat decks the matches were drawn. Abdul Habib: You took 6 wickets in one innings on one of the flat tracks, tell us about it. Abdur Rauf: Peshawar scored over 650 runs against us in that game, it was a very flat track. I took all 6 wickets that fell in that innings but the nature of the track was such that it ended up being another drawn game. Abdul Habib: What sort of pitches would you have liked to see? Abdur Rauf: The pitches should be of the type that produce good, exciting cricket. They should help the batsmen score runs but at the same time there should be something in the pitch for the bowlers too. That's the way to have matches that will interest the crowds and at the same time help the development of both batsmen and bowlers. Generally in Pakistan, pitches in Karachi and Peshawar tend to slightly favour the bowlers but pitches everywhere else are usually flat and a batsman's paradise especially at Lahore and Faisalabad. Abdul Habib: What did you think of the convoluted points system? Abdur Rauf: The same system has been used for a few years now, we're quite used to it. In fact I think it encourages us to try harder in both innings because you're penalised if you start off slowly and concede a first innings lead. Even if you go on to win the match, you've lost those 3 points to the other team and they deserve those points for playing better than you did in the first innings. Abdul Habib: How do explain your less than impressive showings in the Pentangular cup? You only took 8 wickets? Abdur Rauf: I got injured during the first game, I collided with the wicket keeper and sustained an injury to my neck. It meant I had to miss the rest of the first match and then sit out the second match too. In the third game Punjab only batted once on a totally flat track where I only managed to take two wickets and my final match was played on another flat track where I took 6 wickets in one innings. I like to think I would've taken more wickets if I hadn't gotten injured for the first two games but you have to take life as it comes. Abdul Habib: Aaqib Javed, what kind of memories does this name conjure up in your mind on a personal level? Abdur Rauf: I know him in passing, nothing more than that. Abdul Habib: Who do you think are the best batsmen in domestic circuit, who havent played international cricket yet? Abdur Rauf: Usman Tariq is a very good opener who plays for Multan and has 6 or 7 thousand runs to his name. Aamer Sajjad is also a good confident batsmen and Saeed Anwar Jr is very underrated. Abdul Habib: Who do you think are the best bowlers in domestic circuit, who havent played international cricket yet? Abdur Rauf: Mohammad Irshad is a good bowler, he has a nice long flowing runup. Rana Kashif and Anwar Ali are both very good bowlers too. Abdul Habib: Do you believe there are any spinners in domestic cricket who are good enough to make it to the Pakistan side? Abdur Rauf: Yasir Shah is a good legspinner from Peshawar, his line and length is very good which means he can control batsmen. Abdul Habib: Who are the 3 fastest bowlers in domestic cricket? Abdur Rauf: Faisal Afridi used to be pacy bowler when he first arrived, Irshad is nippy and Sohail Khan is quite fast as well. Abdul Habib: Who do you think is faster between Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz? Abdur Rauf: Sohail Khan. Abdul Habib: In the 2004 u19 WC there was a bowler called Ali Imran Pasha who was quite fast and in 2006 there was Akhtar Ayub, what about those two? Abdur Rauf: I've seen Ali Imran Pasha at a few bowling camps but he's suffered a few injuries over the last few years and so he hasn't had a chance to perform at the domestic level. The same with Ayub, he's been injured as well. Abdul Habib: You have played with Waqar Ahmed (the Left Arm Pacer from Peshawar)...he has an excellent domestic record, how do you rate him? Abdur Rauf: He started out around the same time that I did and he was a very good bowler, highly rated. But he's suffered quite a few injuries over the years and I dont think he's still as good as he used to be. Abdul Habib: Have you played against Yasir Ali (the ex-Pak Fast Bowler) who is still quite young; it is my own personal opinion that he is one of the best fast bowlers on the domestic circuit, what do you think about him? Or did the recent injuries set him back for a recall to the senior side? Some people say he's very fast, is that true? Abdur Rauf: He's another one who's been injured a lot, I don't agree with you about his speed. Whenever I've seen him bowl his speed has seemed about average, nothing that would make you sit up and take notice. Abdul Habib: Why does it seem so difficult for Pakistan to produce genuine and consistent fast bowlers as they did just 10 years back. In particular has it got anything to do with the pitches PCB are preparing? Abdur Rauf: I'd put it down to the law of averages, in some parts of the world you get 1 or 2 fast bowlers appear every decade and that's the way their luck goes. In Pakistan however we had a period where we had a dozen or so really fast bowlers all appear within the same decade and obviously you can't play them all together. I mean just look at the names Waqar, Wasim, Akhtar, Mohammad Akram, Nadeem Iqbal, Jaffer Nazir, Mubashir Nazir, Rana Naved used to be fast in those days too and then there was Zahid who was the fastest of the lot. It's the same thing that happened to the West Indies, at one time they had potential all-time great bowlers who couldn't even get into the West Indies team and now they struggle to find one decent fast bowler for their first team. If you look in Pakistan domestic cricket then there are no really fast bowlers floating about and I doubt there will be for many years to come. I hope I'm wrong and someone appears out of nowhere but that sort of thing only happens once in a lifetime. Abdul Habib: You just said Zahid was the fastest of the lot, can you expand on that? Abdur Rauf: He's so unlucky to have gotten injured the way he did, I'm sure that he used to bowl faster than 100 mph. He's the fastest bowler I've ever seen. If he hadn't gotten injured, I think he would have broken all the fast bowling records, his story is such a sad one. Abdul Habib: I did an interview with Nadeem Iqbal and he said the same thing about Zahid. Abdur Rauf: Well Nadeem Iqbal himself was very fast and very effective too. If you ask Waqar about Nadeem Iqbal, then Waqar's reply is that Nadeem was a faster bowler than him and that Nadeem was a better bowler than him too. A lot of people who know a lot about fast bowling have raved about Nadeem Iqbal but he was very unlucky because he wasn't in favour with powers that be. Abdul Habib: Do you think you should have been selected after the 2003 WC? Abdur Rauf: What can I say? I was a top wicket taker in domestic cricket, I was called to camps and I did well in the side games where they tried me out but they still didn't select me for the national team. I don't know what else I need to do to get myself selected, I'm always amongst the top wicket takers in domestic cricket, what else can I do? Abdul Habib: Do you blame the W's for prolonging their careers and keeping you out? Abdur Rauf: Look at the Pakistani fast bowling scene today, if Wasim Akram got himself in shape and returned to the Pakistan team tomorrow he'd still be the best bowler in Pakistan. I'm deadly serious when I say this, he had such variety and natural swing that even at this age he'd be the best bowler in our team. Abdul Habib: Why have you not gotten a chance in the senior team despite being in the 15 member squad on a number of occasions? Abdur Rauf: Surely you know the way the Pakistan setup works. All I'll say is that sometimes when you're in the final 12 you can find that overnight you've been pushed out and sometimes when you're one of the XI players selected to play you can suddenly find yourself as the 12th man. That's all I'll say. Abdul Habib: Your physical fitness is not on the perfect side, in my opinion...if included in the Pak team on a regular basis, how will you avoid the same fate as some our recent pace spear heads (in terms of injury)? Abdur Rauf: As a fast bowler, it's very difficult to maintain your fitness because you put your body through so much pressure and strain during every delivery that you bowl. You could be the most super fit athlete in the world but something seemingly non-serious like a small injury to one of your fingers could mean you become unfit to bowl. However careful you are with your fast bowlers, there will always be injuries. Abdul Habib: What advice did Shoaib Malik and Geoff Lawson give you when you were on debut against Zimbabwe? Abdur Rauf: During the match, Shoaib Malik spoke to me about where he wanted me to bowl and what he wanted me to bowl to different batsmen. I didnt get a chance to spend any time with Lawson because I arrived on the night of the 5th ODI and had to return to domestic cricket straight after the game ended. It was really hectic, I arrived and returned so quickly that I didnt really get a chance to meet or spend any time with anyone. Abdul Habib: During the Zimbabwe series, Waqar Younis said that among the debutants you were the best fast bowler on show. How much confidence do you take from that? Abdur Rauf: I didn't know about his compliment till after the game, friends told me that Waqar had called me the find of the tournament. Of course it was flattering to hear such a compliment from a bowler as great and legendary as Waqar Younis. Waqar has known me for a long time and has always been one of my backers, in fact Waqar wanted to take me to South Africa as part of the 2003 World Cup squad when he was the captain. He saw me bowling in camps that I was called up to and he was really impressed, it had reached the stage where my visa was ready and Waqar was vehement that I was going but the selection committee didn't select me so I couldnt go. Abdul Habib: What have the board officials told you about your chances to play for Pakistan in the future? Abdur Rauf: No-one has spoken to me. I'm relying on the newspapers to get some news about whether or not I'll be picked for the next squad. I really hope that I get another chance to play for Pakistan, I'm on an International hat trick from my last game so at the very least I should get a chance to try and get that hat trick. We'll have to see how it plays out and whether or not I get picked. Abdul Habib: How confident are you about earning a permanent place in the national team ahead of likes of Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan, Anwar Ali, etc? Also what about if Akhtar, Asif and Gul are fit? Where do you see your place in the Pakistan team? Abdur Rauf: You have to look at the fact that I began bowling in an era where I was competing with bowlers the calibre of Wasim, Waqar, Mohammad Akram, Rana Naved and all the other guys that I've mentioned earlier. Yet I was still one of the top wicket takers in domestic cricket. I don't think the competition these days is as tough as it was back when I was training at Ludhiana GymKhana. If I could survive those bowlers then surely I have a chance in this era, i cant afford to think negatively otherwise what's the use of continuing? Abdul Habib: Do you think Pakistan can be great again? Abdur Rauf: I hope so. I think the best way to improve the future of Pakistan cricket is to improve the grassroots structure. For example when I came through as a cricketer, club cricket was very competitive in pakistan and all the national players used to turn out for their clubs. Nowadays the national players either only play International cricket or they play some FC or County cricket and because of that club cricket loses it's glamour. If you have a competitive club cricket structure then the players filtering through into the first class system will be of a higher standard and obviously the players filtering through from FC into International cricket will also be of a higher standard too. When i was with Ludhiana GymKhana I was competing with the likes of Wasim Akram, Ata Ur Rehman and Ashfaq Ahmed who were all great fast bowlers. In order to be picked I had to work that much harder and become that much of a better bowler just to survive on the same pitch as those guys. These days that doesnt happen and you can see the results in the quality of cricketers filtering through. Club cricket used to be so competitive and matches were so keenly contested that it gave players a mental toughness that you dont see in players coming through today. Abdul Habib: Do the domestic cricketers in Pakistan follow the Lahore Badshah matches in ICL? Abdur Rauf: It's a virtual Pakistan team, so of course we're supporting the Lahore Badshahs. We all enjoy watching their games on the TV. Abdul Habib: Should the ICL players have been banned, why is the PCB being so unreasonable? Abdur Rauf: You have to understand the fact that the PCB is just like all the other national boards, they're part of the ICC and so they all do as the ICC has instructed them. It's rather unfair to single out the PCB and make out as though they are the only ones who have banned ICL players from playing in domestic cricket, they're not. They cant act unilaterally when they're part of the ICC, that sort of logic makes no sense. Abdul Habib: If u werent picked for Pakistan in the next two years and the ICL offered you a contract to play for Lahore Badshahs or maybe a Multan Tigers team would you accept it? Abdur Rauf: Actually they've already offered me a contract, they wanted me to join with the last set of players that joined ICL... Abdul Habib: ...did they want you in the Lahore Badshahs team? Abdur Rauf: I don't know, perhaps that's what they wanted. The way the offer was put to me, it was just to join the ICL. There wasn't any mention of any specific team or anything like that but I told them that I wasn't interested. Abdul Habib: Was there a lot of difference in the money ICL was offering and in the money you get paid in domestic cricket at the moment? Abdur Rauf: Yes, there was a huge difference. Abdul Habib: 2x, 5x, 10x or 20x the amount you get now? Abdur Rauf: Try 100x and you'd be a lot closer, they were offering more than just a life changing sum of money. It really was a huge amount compared to what we're used to getting. Abdul Habib: It must've been really hard for you to turn that down. Abdur Rauf: Of course it was, imagine you or your members turning down the equivalent rise in your own salaries. Could you do it? I had to say no because the only reason I started playing cricket was to represent Pakistan. It's been my lifelong dream to wear our national colours and help Pakistan to win matches. I don't think you can put a price on that. I'll see how it goes over the next few years, I don't want to give up on my dream of playing for Pakistan but if at some point in the future it becomes clear that there's no place for me in the Pakistan team then I'll have to re-evaluate where I stand. I hope that day never comes because every wicket I've ever taken, I've seen as another step in my journey towards playing for the national team. Abdul Habib: Thank You for your time and best of luck with your ambition to play for Pakistan. Abdur Rauf: Thank you.