Retiring from sport, especially when it is your passion, is always a difficult decision so making the call to bow out from international cricket was not easy for me. But nothing lasts forever and there comes a time when you have to call it a day. That’s why the upcoming series against the West Indies is going to be my last in a Pakistan cap.
Initially I wanted to retire after our home series against England and India in 2015-16. But with the India series not going ahead and with tours of England, New Zealand, Australia and West Indies coming in succession, I decided to continue. I had said to myself that irrespective of what happens in Australia, the tour to the Caribbean would be my last.
To be the first Pakistan team to win a Test series in the West Indies is another factor that motivated me to push on. The Windies team on paper might appear to be weak but they have some very good players. They gave us a tough time in the tour-match in Trelawny and they also showed lot of fight in the recent one-day series. Winning in the Caribbean is still a challenge and we cannot afford to be complacent.
I have struggled for runs lately but I am keen to finish my career on a high note. I recently scored two hundreds for Faisalabad in Pakistan and I’d like to continue that form by signing off my Test career in style. Most importantly, I hope that my performances can help Pakistan win the series.
Since it will be my last series and the third Test in Dominica will be my last match, my wife and daughter will be there to make the occasion even more memorable. I wanted my son Faham to be there as well but since he will be having exams and the Caribbean is a long way from Pakistan, he won’t be there. I’ll be feeling his presence though as he, along with other family members, will be watching me on television.
It will also be the last series for Younis Khan. It has always been an honour for me to play with him and I would like to congratulate him on a successful career. My personal feeling is that Pakistan still need Younis Khan and he can play for another year or two, but I’m not sure if others agree with me or not. I talked to him about it in Australia and told him that ‘you can play on’. Even though we have some very good youngsters in the team, the gap left by Younis’ absence will be difficult to fill.
The Pakistan team will not just miss him as a batsman, they’ll also miss him as a mentor. He has been a terrific role model for everyone and it will be very tough to replace him. Every member of this team, including myself, has learnt a lot from him. He has changed our dressing room culture. If one wants to be successful in professional life, one only needs to regard Younis Khan’s organised and punctual lifestyle from breakfast to bed.
He was my best partner on the pitch and the batting partnerships I shared with him are the fondest memories of my career. The best part of batting with Younis is he tells you how to handle the bowlers and counter the pressure. But he does not talk too much and ultimately lets you play your own game. He just makes your life comfortable out in the middle and that’s why everyone loves to bat with him. I never felt pressure when I batted with him and that is the reason we have had 15 hundred-run partnerships together.
The onus is now on the likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarafraz Ahmed to step up and fill the void. When two Pakistan greats Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf left the scene, Younis and I tried to fill that gap. Azhar and Asad have developed in the meantime and now they are at a stage to replace us. We need Azhar and Asad to now take ownership of the Test side, and with players like Babar Azam, Umar Amin, Mohammad Rizwan, Ahmed Shehzad, Usman Salahuddin, Fawad Alam among others in the ranks I am hopeful that Pakistan will remain in good shape. Every team goes though transition periods and Pakistan is no different.
I am satisfied with what I have achieved in my career. Yes, there are times when you think you could have achieved more but that’s human nature. If I hark back to 2010 when I took over the Test captaincy and think of what I am today and what I’ve achived, I can look back pretty satisfied with my career. Having the most wins as Pakistan captain in Test cricket and taking the team to number one in the ICC Rankings is something I never thought could happen.
Beating England 3-0 and Australia 2-0 in the UAE, chasing 302 against Sri Lanka in two sessions in Sharjah and 377 in Pallekele, becoming the first Asian team to win a one day series in South Africa and winning a series in India are some other unforgettable moments of my career.
Another proud moment of my time as Pakistan captain was starting the series in England last year on a winning note. After what happened in 2010, I think we badly needed a win at Lord’s. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue for regain some lost pride. Although the first century of my career - against India in Kolkata in 2007 - is the most memorable knock for me, getting my name on the honours board at the home of cricket and helping Pakistan to clinch a memorable victory was a fine achievement. Pakistan had not been looked upon favourably during the previous tour in 2010 and I feel we helped to change that perception in 2016.
It has taken us a long time and so many victories to regain the lost pride and improve the image of the team. That’s why I was very hurt when two Islamabad United’s important players, including Sharjeel Khan, were withdrawn from the Pakistan Super League due to allegations related to corruption.
It was a massive shock when I learnt of this. The first thought that came to my mind was about Pakistan. As I said, it has taken us a long time to regain the lost pride. The second thought was about the PSL, a tournament which is getting a global audience and has become Pakistan cricket’s brand. I didn’t want it to be getting bad press. The third thought was about Shajreel Khan who was turning out to be an excellent player for modern day cricket. The sort of player Pakistan badly need. It was tough to go through all the mess and losing these players was a setback for my team in the PSL.
We need to set a tough precedent this time. If the investigation makes it 100 per cent clear that the players were involved in corrupt activities, then we need to show everyone that there is no room in cricket for such players. They should be banned for life if found guilty. But the transparency of the investigation is very important. It has to be fair and there shouldn’t be any element of doubt in it. I feel that the investigation should be open to the public so that no one has any doubt about what actually happened.
In any case we have to move forward. Ups and downs are part of life. The new players will keep coming and I am glad to know that we have unearthed a great talent for Pakistan and Islamabad United in Shadab Khan. He is a fantastic long-term prospect for Pakistan.
Credit must go to his region Rawalpindi and the coaches like Sabih Azhar, who Shadab has developed under. He had good tours with Under-19 and A teams. The coaches at the National Cricket Academy also spoke highly of him and on their recommendation, we picked him in Islamabad’s team for Pakistan Cup in Faisalabad last year. In the very first game he showed us what he is capable of, with him playing a match-winning innings.
I had suggested to Islamabad United’s team management to keep an eye on him before the PSL draft. Since there was room for a youngster in our squad, we selected him keeping the UAE conditions in mind where his leg-spin bowling would come in handy. He developed himself further under the coaching of Wasim Akram and Dean Jones. We often criticize our academies and regional coaches, but I think they deserve credit for Shadab.
I am not surprised to see him performing at international level as well. Not only he is a fine bowler, he is an excellent batsman and fielder too. He is surely one for the future. There is no doubt about his talent but as he does not have much experience of four-day cricket, he will take some time in showing his potential in Test cricket. He had a good tour of Zimbabwe with the A team. I think it is safe to assume that if given the chance in Tests he will learn and develop quickly.
In the end, my message to Shadab and every other youngster is to be fully committed to your goals. You can attain success only when you are committed to your training, practice and principles. Without being honest to your goals it is very difficult to move forward. No matter how difficult the situation is one has to thrive and keep moving. Just keep on trying hard and there will be a time when even you will not realise the distance you have covered and success you have attained.