How do you feel about your successful series in India?
There is a unique thrill and passion involved in Pakistan-India matches. I am proud of how I did there. I enjoy playing against India, and every time I have played them, at the Under-17 or U-19 level or for the national team, I have scored runs.
All your three hundreds have come against India, and most of your runs too.
Playing against India is very important, not only for a player but also for fans. The one who performs well against them is an unforgettable hero. The Indian crowds are very supportive towards their team. They clap hard, shout hard, hoot a lot, and sometimes become hostile towards the opposition. Every single voice within the stadium is against you. That increases the pressure on you. The only way to be heard in such a crowd is to overwhelm them with your performance.
I talked to myself, kept my nerves calm and waited for my turn to perform. I enjoyed that. I really wanted them to be quiet and feel the pressure I did on the field.
You spent nearly three years away from the national team after an impressive start to your international career. Why did it take so long to come back?
I was distracted and lacked a basic awareness of cricket. I was a raw cricketer. I was a talented batsman but my goals were all blurred. I was immature, didn’t know the tactics of playing according to the conditions, didn’t know how to tackle scoreboard pressure, and I struggled to convert fifties into hundreds. I did manage to play international cricket in 2008 but didn’t improve, so I was pushed back into the wilderness.
I regret not keeping myself in the best shape. Had I maintained myself earlier, those years might not have been wasted. Perhaps I wasn’t serious about my cricket and life was moving ahead unplanned.
But I think there may have been some good to it. Since I wasn’t settled three years ago, it brought the best out of me. It took time, but I am now an improved batsman, and the process of learning never stops.
I worked hard, especially on my fitness, and now I am more consistent with the bat. I have grown a lot more mature than before and now have an assured place in the side. I can’t afford to be complacent anymore since I am in a situation where teams will have done their homework on me. I have to think ahead and give them nothing.
How do you maintain your fitness when you are not playing?
Cricket is my life and my ultimate priority right now. When I return from any tour, I spend a day or two with family and then head to the academy to start my demanding routine, just like any office-going person starts his day in the morning and returns home in the evening. I am here all day, practising and training under the specialist trainer and coaches. I do enjoy stuff outside cricket, like socialising with friends, but most of my friends are also cricketers, so in every way I end up with cricket.
Who were the people who helped you build your career?
My brother Yasir and a friend, Kashif Siddiq. Choosing cricket as a career isn’t a straightforward business in Pakistan, but seeing my infatuation with the game, my brother chose it for me. He would take me to the ground when I was about ten or 11. I was never allowed to watch TV, because he thought it might affect my eyesight. He developed a strict routine for me. I had to sleep around 9pm, because we had to get up early for a morning practice session at the Muslim Model School’s nets at Minto Park. In the afternoon, I went to the Ludhiana cricket club.