Green Team Exclusive
Sohail Akhtar was appointed as Lahore Qalandars’s captain in this year’s Pakistan Super League. The team and the captain were more active than before and had performed brilliantly this year, qualifying for the top four for the very first time in their PSL history. Before that, they had always ended up last in group stages.
However, all had come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All the training and the normal routine has stopped. Sohail begins by talking about how the current situation has changed his life.
“First of all, I would like to say that this is the first time in my life that I’ve been quarantined. There are no activities going on. All we can do is pray to the almighty Allah for the end of this virus and keep the world safe.”
“As for the PSL performance, we were having quite a lot of fun given the way we had performed this season. Given the way we had built our strength, we were hopeful that we would win this season. Once this situation is cleared if God wills, we will try to carry on the momentum we had.”
Before the fifth season of PSL, Lahore Qalandars were led by four different captains in Azhar Ali, Brendon McCullum, AB de Villiers, and Fakhar Zaman. But in the fifth season, the management announced Sohail Akhtar as the new captain of the team. Sohail recently led Lahore Qalandars to victory in Abu Dhabi T10 tournament final. Sohail expressed his feelings when he came to know that he will be leading the Qalandars side.
“Leading the side was a good experience for me. The team management was with me building up in the last two years. I was the captain of the T10 league in Abu Dhabi and then everywhere we go to Australia, I go there as a captain. Credits go to the management Aqib Javed and the way they had groomed me over time. I have played under AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum, Mohammad Hafeez, and Fakhar Zaman. And I’m really thankful to the senior players like Hafeez and Salman Butt and Fakhar Zaman who scored both on the field and off.”
As for the performance of Lahore Qalandars, he said “When the whole team comes together and performs on the field and off the field, the results come off better. That was the reason we have done better this year as we have done in the last few years. The management had given me the free hand as they have given to the previous captains before. They always said us to play the team which you feel is better. I want to thank the management for whatever the request I have asked them, they have fulfilled and I hope that we will end at a better stage this event.”
Sohail was asked that who from the management came to tell him about the captaincy title he was given and how he felt during that time. Sohail responded:
“As I have already told you that for the past two years I was being groomed for captaincy. The credits I will give is the management of Lahore Qalandars. The management plan was to make a captain from PDP (Players development program) and I was from PDP. The foreign player who comes here doesn’t really know who’s the expert at what position but the players who have been part of PDP knows.”
The Lahore Qalandars management, after the end of 2019 season, approached Sohail and told him that he will be the next captain of Lahore Qalandars in 2020. Sohail further mentioned that he knew which players are an expert in which department and they wanted to take those players. Such as Dilbar Hussain, a fast-medium bowler from PDP as we have seen in the tournament.
“I have talked with all the bowlers and players. And Dilbar has impressed them. Even foreigners. And I believe in the future that whoever will come from PDP, will rule the world.”
Sohail has played in different positions in the team. Most notably, he is seen better when he opens at batting. Sohail talked about which position he felt better during his time at the crease as a batsman.
“We had a difficult time in making the combination because this time we had about 4-5 batsmen who were openers. We have seen their performances in different leagues as openers or one down. My plan was that, because I already had experience in the middle order, I thought of playing as a pinch hitter. However, that wasn’t successful so I decided to open.”
In the PSL 2020, Lahore Qalandars began with four losses in their first five matches. However, their last half group matches, Lahore Qalandars made a massive turnaround and won four out of five matches, hence qualifying for the knockout stage for the first time. Sohail was asked what was the main turnaround for a fine transformation of a team like Lahore Qalandars.
“Every time during the draft when he picks the team, we pick those who perform is every league he plays around the world. Like Chris Lynn and Ben Dunk. There was also Dane Vilas but unfortunately, he couldn’t deliver. But if you look at his (Dane Vilas) domestic and league careers, he averages about 45. Then we had Lendl Simmons but he had national duties during PSL so unfortunately, he couldn’t come.”
“We picked the best team. And even after losing the first three games, I still believe in this team. I always said to my players that it’s a matter of one match. And once that happens, we can outclass any team at any stage.”
Sohail also talked about how big players like AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum have boosted the players, telling them what they need to do in some situations. He says that it was an amazing experience overall for his team sharing the dressing room with them. For them, not only they had learned, but they also have enjoyed themselves with them.
Besides PSL, Sohail has played the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy where he picked figures of 5-45 and once he used to be a good all-rounder. Sohail bowls medium pace. But due to back problems, he couldn’t deliver as an all-rounder. But he says that in the future he will start to bowl again as he has been practicing.
In the Abu Dhabi T10 league, Sohail scored a century and played with former Pakistan batsman Imran Nazir. He shares his experience in that tournament.
“I think in that league a lot of players and their careers have changed. You know that Lahore Qalandars pick players from such places where they are not well known. Street crickets like Haris Rauf, or Mohammad Faizan and Maaz Khan. Nobody knew them. They didn’t know much about cricket. We picked players though PDP and there was this tournament in PDP where we select the best.”
“In the game against Yorkshire, we learned that they were talking about how our players didn’t know much about cricket. I accepted that challenge and we show that there is no less cricket in Pakistan and Pakistan has a lot of talent. We just need a platform so that they can show their talent. You have seen how we have defeated some top-class teams. They were champion (Yorkshire) team and we had street cricketers beside a couple of players. And I thank the almighty for the victory.”
In one of his memories, Sohail shares a thrilling game against Karachi Kings in the 2018 season. Lahore needed 3 runs off 1 ball and Sohail was on strike. He swung his bat hard but it was only caught at long-off. However, Usman Shinwari, the man who bowled the last over, overstepped. There was no run taken in that illegal delivery. Lahore then needed two. In the legal final ball, they managed one before the non-striker was run out to bring super over. The super over though wasn’t as thrilling as it was. Lahore won the game as Karachi couldn’t chase down 11 runs.
Sohail reminisced this moment. “It was my first PSL and you know how tough matches are between Karachi and Lahore. Before the fin over bowled by Usman Shinwari, Mohammad Amir was bowling the penultimate over. With me was Mitchell McClenaghan. He told me to take a risk on Amir’s over. I told him I better stay and you should support. I will score on Shinwari’s over. Amir had bowled well in that game and I felt I could hit on Shinwari’s over. We played a lot of domestic games so I felt I can charge on his over.”
Sohail then went on to explain how the over went. He said that the first ball went for 2 runs, then he hit back for a boundary the next. And then he hit 6 on the third ball. The equation came down from 16 from 6 to 4 off 3 balls. Then McClenaghan was run out while trying to take two. The new batsman tool single to give Sohail the strike. Three was needed for the final ball.
“I remember at the last ball I hit straight to the fielder and all the Karachi Kings fans and the management were jumping in joy. Then all of a sudden my eyes went up on the screen and I saw that Shinwari had overstepped. You know in situations like these there was so much pressure. A human cannot control his emotions. It still feels like it was yesterday and this is
the beauty of PSL that we give each other tough times even when your teammates are playing for other teams.”
In this season of PSL, however, Usman Shinwari was playing under Sohail Khan.
Sohail wanted to carry on with cricket for longer formats. He used to play a lot of Quaid-e-Azam matches for FATA. He says that he wasn’t getting near what he wanted. Until one of his friends called him and said that Lahore Qalandars are taking trials and he wanted Sohail to give a chance. His FATA coach, Ayaz Akbar, supported him with this. His club coach Waseem Raja also supported him, telling him that he must give trials.
“I didn’t play cricket for three years and I didn’t want to go and my fitness lev wasn’t that good but Akbar and Waseem were telling me that I must. I got a call from Aqib Javed and he called me at the academy. He saw my fitness level and got worried but he made me play some matches. I performed well and Aqib Bhai told me that I will play PSL. He trained me for the next three to four years. I was super fit before my first PSL.”
I personally asked Sohail on the live comment section whether he thought of playing cricket. Sohail, besides hitting hard and long maximums, had the patience in him to play longer. Sohail responded to the question.
“I think given how cricket has advanced, even in test cricket on day 1 you get to 300 to 350 runs. My favorite is red-ball cricket because it’s fun to play. I bowl in four-day cricket because I’m a little afraid of bowling in T20 cricket. But it’s fun in four days. But as a cricketer, I’m giving myself a full chance. And no matter what format I get to play, I want to play for Pakistan.”
- Interview by: Shahzaib Ali and Sohail Khan
- Report by: Anas Chishty
- Edited by: Faizan Hayat Khan
Watch the full interview on Facebook by following the link below: