Interviews

‘It was different playing in empty stadiums’ – Sarfaraz Ahmed

Green Team Exclusive

Sarfaraz Ahmed has represented Pakistan in 49 Test matches, 116 ODIs, and 58 T20Is. As a captain, he led Pakistan to an Under 19 title in 2006 and Champions Trophy title in 2017. He also led Pakistan to the top of the T20 championship with nine consecutive series victory.

Sarfaraz is also Hafiz-e-Quran.

Speaking about playing in an empty stadium during PSL, Sarfaraz says

“It was different playing in those empty stadiums as it was playing in jam-pack stadiums. You could hear your own voice echoing in the ground and that voices of passionate fans not being heard was a different feeling. There was no fun in it.”

He believed that the response of the crowd became a habit of the players and the support they gave to the team was different.

“There’s the crowd who have played an important role. If you look at Multan or Rawalpindi or Karachi or Lahore, the crowd have turned up in numbers and they’ve gave a great spark. That spark was lost due to social distancing from contacting with coronavirus.”

Sarfaraz believed that this year’s PSL and its quality was the best the tournament had displayed as compared to the last four seasons.

“We all saw how the quality of batting improved as we seen scores of 200 over and over again and as you know how the quality of bowling has always been impressive in PSL. And I belive the bowling quality has always been the best in PSL around the world.”

“It’s not just me agreeing to it but foreign players do agree with this.”

Safraz also responded to the players like Ahmed Shehzad, Rumman Raees, and Shahid Afridi helping out those people in need due to the coronavirus pandemic and how they have played a huge factor in helping them.

“It has been our intention to help those who are suffering in this situation and help them. It was an outstanding effort from them to go out and help them. All the foundations have done a fabulous job at this crucial time. I am very happy for these organizations who are ready to help people in such situations.”

In the talk about his childhood, Sarfaraz shared his story.

“Like every child, I have begun playing tape ball cricket in back alleys. We used to gather around players to make team when we played. I used to be a fast bowler. Moin Bhai (Moin Khan) has always been my idol. And as I grew up, and watching Moin saying “shabash Wasim Bhai, it just got in my heart. Even today, Moin is my idol.”

When speaking about the 2006 U-19 world cup being his turning point, Sarfaraz agreed. He says that the U-19 can be a turning point for any cricketer. He believes that under 19 level is the first platform where every child takes which was the same for him by playing under 15s, 17s, and 19s.

Speaking of that famous 2006 U-19 world cup victory, Sarfaraz told that it was his life’s greatest match at that moment. It was his career’s first live match and have never played a live match before. He spoke about how the Indian line up was strong, especially in the first four lines up which included Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara.

“There was the pressure of the final match. And the Indian team’s top order was strong. They defeated England in the semi-final with a big margin while we had a competitive game against Australia. We won on the Duckworth Lewis method.”

“On the day of the final, we saw a guy going on the pitch. I asked what’s the scene and that’s where we got to know the final will be telecast. They will be a toss interview. All the tension went on that moment where I ask myself ‘what I will talk with him?’ but I just took Allah’s name and went there and won the toss.”

He further spoke on how the pitch was great for batting. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. But their team collapsed all due to the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja (8-1-16-3) and Piyush Chawla (8.1-3-8-4) combined together to bowl Pakistan all out for 109 in 41.1 overs.

“I still remember that there was a lot of tension in the dressing room after we were dismissed for such a score. But we all just took Allah’s name and entered the ground. We had a discussion with our coach Mansoor Rana and discussed how to dismiss their top order since most of their top-order batsmen score and the lower order don’t have much chance so we thought if we can get their top order, then the pressure will be on their lower order.”

Pakistan bowlers began brilliantly as the opening left-arm fast bowler Jamshed Ahmed dismissed Gaurav Dhiman for a first-ball duck. But it was the star fast-medium right-arm bowler Anwer Ali who did massive damage in India’s innings. Anwer went through the top and middle-order with his rapid in-swingers which troubled the Indian line up. At one stage India was 9-6, but because Pakistan ended their innings before the lunch break, India had their lunch break while Pakistan was eager to go on the field again.

“It was brilliant. The way Jamshed began was wonderful. But the way Anwer bowled, it was amazing to watch. It was perhaps his career’s greatest bowling performance. It was like one ball he was bowling no-ball and the next he was picking wickets. It was an amazing spell. But because we were all out before our overs were completed, lunch was taken and India was 6 down in 9 runs. And those 40 minutes was too much for us as all of the boys wanted to go back to the field and finish the match.”

When Pakistan came back after lunch, India showed a lot of resistance. The lower order managed some runs and the took the final score to 71. But Akhtar Ayub, the first change bowler, finished the game with figures of 3-9 in 2.5 overs while Jamshed (2-24) and Anwer (5-35) completed a historical victory against India to win their second consecutive title. Till today, Pakistan is the only team to defend their Under 19 title.

After the under 19 stories, Sarfaraz also shared his experience in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Pakistan entered the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and their performance was under par. Even after India match in the group stage, Pakistan was in under huge pressure. But no one expected that Pakistan would bounce back, reach the finals and defeat the defending champions India in the final.

“That (u19) was different and this one was a different pressure game. It was huge for us when we are playing at this level. When we reached the final, I told my boys that if we look at the first match and now, no one expected us to be in the Final. But if the Almighty Allah has made us reach here, then we will try to play our best cricket than the way we played in the last three games. I also told them that let’s take Allah’s name and enter the ground. But thanks to Allah, we won the final and he gave us our respect.”

Pakistan entered the final with confidence. They were put in to bat first by Virat Kohli, who believed that chasing suits the men in blue. A maiden ton from Fakhar Zaman (114), and fifties from Azhar Ali (59), Mohammad Hafeez (57*), and Babar Azam’s 46 led Pakistan to 338. In reply, Amir dismantled the top order by taking three wickets of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Shikhar Dhawan. These three batsmen had done most damage throughout the tournament and again the top order wickets were the key for Pakistan. India was bowled out for 158 despite a quick-firing 77 from Hardik Pandya.

“It was a team contribution and everyone played their role. The way we played the final, it was truly amazing. Fakhar, Azhar, Hafeez, Imad, and Babar in batting. In bowling Hasan, Amir, Shadab, they all contributed their roles. And the most important was the blessings of Ramadan and the prayers from the Pakistan people and it affects us with their prayers.”

Sarfaraz spoke about his former coach Sajid Khan.

“I met him when I was young and Sajid Bhai was there in the camp. It’s like saying when you pick a child and guide them what they need to do and what they don’t, I thank the Almighty Allah that I was among such people. Sajid Bhai has always supported me in every moment.”

Sarfaraz thanked Sajid on the screen for sticking with him.

In Pakistan Super League, Sarfaraz represents Quetta Gladiators which is the most successful team in the league. They have won the title in 2019 and have been runner ups twice in 2016 and 2017. Among these, Moin Khan, Nadeem Omar, and Azam have also stuck around with Sarfaraz. He reflects their importance in team management.

“Our combination with Nadeem Bhai, Moin Bhai, and Azam Bhai along with Nadeem Hashmi who is the manager the coordination was amazing and our team was very solid. We always make sure that everybody gets a chance in the team. We have won many matches because of this and we have played three finals and won only one. Overall, the team was very solid and I give credits to this management.”

Sarfaraz younger brother Abdul Rehman, who is also a wicketkeeper-batsman, plays the PIA team in grade two. Sarfaraz speaks on his brother and whether he could give competition to him.

“He is still young. But he is slowly progressing into it. I just told him to keep working hard and by Allah’s will, he will get his chance. He is improving day by day and he is also under Sajid’s Bhai.”

Sarfaraz even reflected on his passionate son Abdullah, who we all have seen his videos playing cricket with his father.

“It’s like he only knows cricket and no other game. He was only three months when we won the Champions Trophy. Let see what happens. He only knows cricket. He has a bat and bowl. I have been his net bowler though I am the one who needs net bowler (Sarfaraz chuckles) because it’s been a long time since I have practiced and now my heart desires this. These days, I am Abdullah’s net bowler.”

Sarfaraz further reflected his family’s importance.

“I went to Hifz the Quran and I went for studies and when I came to studies, those things become a bit difficult because of cricket. Even I got beaten with slippers and hangers and bats. But when I started to appear in the newspaper, the family started to support me.”

Sarfaraz is known to enjoy reciting naat and he speaks how naat has been under his family. His father has always supported him. He also said that whatever he saw in his childhood has stuck in his head and continue to do the same.

You can watch the interview by following the link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM_SP33Hxp8&list=WL&index=5&t=0s

  • Interview by: Shahzaib Ali & Sohail Khan
  • Report by: Anas Chishty
  • Edited by: Faizan Hayat Khan
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