"Unfortunately injuries got in the way and restricted my opportunities" : Najaf Shah

Saj

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This interview took place a few weeks ago at Kidsgrove Cricket Club who play in the Staffordshire League. Najaf is the overseas professional there for this season and I'd like to extend my thanks and grattitude to both Najaf and his brother Sadaf for making me so welcome that day at Kidsgrove.


PakPassion.Net: Najaf, how is your season going?

Najaf Shah: My season is going well in England, it’s my sixth year and I have a good reputation here.


PakPassion.Net: You’ve played here (in England) for a while now, how have you benefited from playing league cricket?

Najaf Shah:
League cricket is very important for a professional cricketer and we depend on it. You have responsibility to win matches for your side. It certainly helps improve your game, the more overs you bowl the more it helps you improve as a bowler.


PakPassion.Net: Do you come from a cricketing family, was your father involved in cricket and your brother is playing in this match, how did you get involved?

Najaf Shah:
Actually my father didn’t play cricket, me and my brother both had an interest and started playing in school and then took it to club level and it’s just gone on from there.


PakPassion.Net: What clubs did you start off with, you’ve played for PIA for a number of years, what support did you receive?

Najaf Shah:
PIA have supported me a lot, especially Moin Khan. Rashid Khan and Shoaib Mohammad were there too. I started cricket in Pindi, with Gul cricket club. Then I played for Pakistan U-17s from where PIA chose me. This year I’m playing for PIA and my performances are going well, I’m the leading wicket taker for the department, so my cricket is going really well.


PakPassion.Net: Did PIA select you when you were playing for Gul cricket club or did they send scouts to watch you?

Najaf Shah:
Actually after Gul cricket club I played for Pak U-17’s , then played Asia cup and appeared on TV, I performed well and got signed from there.


PakPassion.Net: I’ve seen pictures of you in the bowling camps and Wasim Akram advising you, what experiences did he share with you, what advice did he give you?

Najaf Shah:
Wasim shared his experience with me, and the camp he held helped me a lot.


PakPassion.Net: What specific advise did he give, was it about technique, run-up, bowling action?

Najaf Shah:
He gave me all sorts of tips on how to bowl on different types of wickets. For example if it is a flat pitch, how to tailor your approach to that. If it’s a green pitch then how to swing it effectively.


PakPassion.Net: Wasim Akram as you have mentioned has given you bowling advice, how about Waqar Younis. Have you ever had a chance to benefit from his coaching?

Najaf Shah:
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to have coaching advice from Wicky bhai. When I was in the team Waqar was no longer with the Pakistan coaching set-up and it was long after he had retired also.


PakPassion.Net: But if the opportunity arose for such coaching? I’ve spoken to others like Rana Naved and he has said that Waqar’s tips on bowling are simply invaluable?

Najaf Shah:
Certainly, he is a bowler of such repute, but unfortunately I just haven’t had that chance to receive any coaching advice from him as yet.


PakPassion.Net: You’ve said previously that Aaqib Javed has been very helpful to you, what advice did he give you?

Najaf Shah:
Well the good thing is that when I’ve toured it’s been with Aaqib bhai and also I’ve performed well so naturally when you do well your performances come under the radar of relevant coaches. So Aaqib particularly said that I should be given an opportunity and that I’m a good bowler. For me he is a good coach, a very good coach.


PakPassion.Net: Moin Khan who is PIA's current coach and a player of greater calibre...what type of coach is he?

Najaf Shah:
Moin Khan may be a keeper but he is very experienced and a really good coach who was behind the stumps for great bowlers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, so he certainly knows a lot about bowling, particularly where to bowl to particular batsmen. It really is great for me to have such a coach at PIA who is very helpful. He is a good motivator and is always looking to push the boys to their potential.


PakPassion.Net: Now going back to you international debut, in Abu Dhabi, against Sri Lanka, against Jayasuria. I remember watching that match you seemed to trouble him quite a bit with bounce, tell me a bit more about the experience, any nerves on that day?

Najaf Shah:
It was very good, I wasn’t at all nervous. Firstly it was a very flat pitch in Abu Dhabi and the first and third ODI occurred there. You could say it was a batting paradise. I wasn’t phased, I knew Jayasuria was a really good player but I was going to stick to my plan and if you bowl well then it’s not possible for him to hit you around. I did beat him early on, but I was unlucky I couldn’t find an edge and missed out on an leg before or two. I didn’t get a wicket but was hopeful I would be selected again.

Unfortunately the injuries got in the way and restricted my opportunities. When I went back to domestic cricket I got hit by a ball and got a fracture on my toe. After that I was out for about 5 months but now I’m working hard trying to make a comeback, my ultimate aim is to get back into the Pakistan side. Last year I performed well and this I hope to perform even better and hope the selectors give me a chance.


PakPassion.Net: Shoaib Malik was the captain when you made yur international debut, a team mate at PIA, what advise did he give you, on the day and in team meetings beforehand?

Najaf Shah:
Shoaib simply said the bowling that you were selected for and what you have been doing in domestic cricket, just repeat that bowling here today too. There isn’t any need do anything particularly special. So it was good advice and he gave me good support.


PakPassion.Net: You mentioned that you had an injury that kept you out for a while, Shoaib was captain then as well for Pakistan, did he ever say anything about you being close to a recall whilst at PIA?

Najaf Shah:
The problem was that I got my injury midway through the domestic season and by the time I was fit the domestic season finished and a few of the younger bowlers emerged and performed well and got some of the spotlight and were heading the wicket taking columns.

When it came to being selected for the Zimbabwe and Bangladesh series (early 2008) obviously the selectors were going to give a chance to the youngsters who had performed well. If I was fit I think I would have been in contention for a place, but that wasn’t to be, the youngsters took the places on offer. But this last domestic season I have been doing well and hope the selectors take note, I have taken 52 wickets this previous domestic season.


PakPassion.Net: Regarding the bowling camps that they hold, do you think they benefit the bowlers more than playing practise matches, what are you thoughts on this?

Najaf Shah:
For me the bowling camps are good, it’s better than sitting at home and doing nothing, at least you get a chance to get some fitness practise in along with the bowling and batting, it’s good for your self development. I think it’s good for the off season and when the boys are free from domestic cricket.


PakPassion.Net: Regarding "A" and academy tours, what countries have you toured?

Najaf Shah:
I have toured many nations, first of all I toured Bangladesh with the Pakistan U-19s then followed with the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand. Followed then by tours to Sri Lanka, Kenya, Namibia. So I’ve been to many tours and also been to Bangladesh twice.


PakPassion.Net: You are from Gujjar Khan (in Punjab) same place as Mohammad Aamer is from, an upcoming youngster who bowled really well in the recent T20 world cup, you’ve obviously seen him bowl, what advice would you give him?

Najaf Shah:
He is a really good bowler and has performed really well especially in T20 world cup, My advice to him would be that he should continue working hard, bowling the way he has been and trying to keep up his level of performance. He knows that if his performances drops then automatically you find yourself out the side, so he must work hard to maintain his form.


PakPassion.Net: You’ve got a great record in domestic cricket, (300 wickets at an average of 24), what do you think of the standard of Pakistan cricket, how can it be improved?

Najaf Shah:
I think the standard is good, last season was good in that only departmental sides played against each other. Departmental cricket is better than regional cricket because all the top level players play and it’s tough cricket, not easy in the slightest.


PakPassion.Net: In terms of domestic cricket, Imran Khan has previously said that changes should occur, what are your thoughts on this?

Najaf Shah:
Changes should occur and I believe things can get better. I really believe in what Imran has been saying, in that quality should increase and quantity should decrease in Pakistan. We have a lot of cricket and have around 20 teams playing which is too much when compared to places like Australia. We can only produce quality cricketers if they play quality cricket at domestic level.


PakPassion.Net: Some of the players that PakPassion has recently interviewed have been alluding that some players are not being chosen on merit but for other reasons, would this be an opinion you share?

Najaf Shah:
For regional cricket there is some grain of truth in this. All the top cricketers play for their respective department sides but in regional sides, the president or chairmen do seem to get an opportunity to get in a player they favour. There is often a place for them given that the top cricketers are to be found in departmental cricket rather than regional cricket.


PakPassion.Net: The wicket keeper for PIA, your colleague Sarfraz Ahmed, a very talented cricketer, tell us more about him?

Najaf Shah:
From what I’ve seen of Sarfraz, he is one of the best youngsters around in Pakistan and I think he will improve a lot. If he carries on the way he is playing then he will play a lot for Pakistan in future.


PakPassion.Net: Any others youngsters that you seen at PIA alongside the likes of Fahad Iqbal? What about youngsters at any other side?

Najaf Shah:
PIA does have a lot of good youngsters, there is Khurram Manzoor, Fahad Iqbal…I’ve already mentioned Sarfraz. Then in bowling there is Anwar Ali. So the talented youngsters are there, I’m not quite sure what is stopping them performing at their top level but they are good players and just need to keep working hard to improve their game and force their way into the side.


PakPassion.Net: Have you been watching the current Sri Lanka series.

Najaf Shah:
(laughs) Yeah, I’ve have been watching but it’s a frustrating experience. Because we went there as world champions and naturally people have a higher expectation of our side, a raised standard, thinking we are the best side in the world, but the performances have been poor, playing even worse than Bangladesh then of course people will start questioning the commitment of the players.

The batting especially has been really poor, collapsing frequently and creating a bad impression in test cricket, but maybe because we haven’t played that much in test cricket we can hopefully learn from this and improve.


PakPassion.Net:Najaf, all the best from me and the PP community, we hope you all the best in the future and I hope to see you soon.

Najaf Shah:
Thank you very much brother.
 
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You can see more pictures of Najaf in the PakPassion gallery.
 
Some honest answers.

I'm particularly impressed that a perennially successful domestic player, for a change, is not blaming politics, nepotism, or money for not being in the international squad.

There are quite a few domestic performers who could stand to adopt this type of mentality.
 
The injury that took him out for 5 months probably explains why he isn't in the A squads or in the reckoning for the national squad but he sounds like a hardworker and all his stats point to him being a wicket taker

I hope he carries on all his hard work. Hopefully he'll have a great domestic season so that Iqbal Qasim sits up and takes notice. Is he any leaner than before Saj? he looked quite bulky when he made his debut

The only thing i found a bit naive on his part was that just cause we're t20 world champions doesn't mean we're gonna blow everyone apart at test level. Thats a whole different ball game.

His answers were short and sweet. Sounds like a pretty straight forward guy. Hope to see him play for Pakistan in the future and as a regular
 
His answers were really short and to the point but some of them should have been more explainatory but anyways...good luck to him.
 
Najaf is one of those cricketers who are currently out of favour with the selectors and he's not even getting a look in to any of the Academy or "A" tours.

He really needs a big season in domestic cricket with PIA and who knows he could be back in the reckoning for at least the "A" team.
 
Saj said:
Najaf is one of those cricketers who are currently out of favour with the selectors and he's not even getting a look in to any of the Academy or "A" tours.

He really needs a big season in domestic cricket with PIA and who knows he could be back in the reckoning for at least the "A" team.

When does the domestic season start ?
 
Juggernaut said:
When does the domestic season start ?
September. Its a big season ahead in my opinion as there is a new selection committee and as Iqbal Qasim said to me the other day they are wiping the slate clean and opening the door to anyone who is performing well.
 
Saj said:
September. Its a big season ahead in my opinion as there is a new selection committee and as Iqbal Qasim said to me the other day they are wiping the slate clean and opening the door to anyone who is performing well.

When does the season end ... September till when ?
 
Juggernaut said:
When does the season end ... September till when ?
There are usually a one day competition, 4 day competition and T20 competition too. They usually span it out over a few months.
 
Many thanks once again to Najaf for this interview and of course best wishes from PakPassion to him for the future.
 
Good to see Najaf doing well today.

Another of Pakistan cricket's sad stories.
 
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